The electronic keyboard is a very practical and low cost way to start playing a keyboard. Many will come with basic keyboard skills instructions.
Whereas a digital piano will usually have a fairly standard and basic feature set, portable keyboards come in a variety of different keyboard lengths and sizes, and generally include a host of digital sounds and accompaniment features. They usually have built-in speakers and battery operation is common with smaller models.
These keyboards take full advantage of digital technology, providing auto accompaniment features which quickly allow beginners to play pieces of music. Drum, bass and chord parts can be triggered, shaped and stored in memory using the left hand, whilst the right hand plays the melody. Schools often choose portable keyboards to provide entry level instruction for young beginners, as immediate results can be mixed with basic teaching. A portable keyboard can also be an introduction to the piano when it is felt that the child has reached a sufficient standard.
While great for beginners most portable keyboards will have a use-by date as the player gets more experienced and as the music they are playing becomes more complex. The reasons for this are:
- While most instruments these days are touch sensitive, which means they sound softer with a light touch and louder with a heavier touch, they are limited in their expressive range compared to a good digital piano and certainly limited compared to an acoustic instrument.
- Most are limited to 61 keys whereas most of the piano repertoire played today at some point will use the full 88 keys of the piano keyboard
- Speaker quality is limited by their smaller size and the sound over time becomes less satisfying
Some buying tips
Tip 1. Make sure the instrument has a 5 octave keyboard, which means 61 black and white keys. This length of keyboard allows for the majority of the basic piano repertoire to be played and is ideal for the beginner. Some keyboards will have more keys, but you don’t want less than 5 octaves.
Tip 2. Make sure the instrument has full size keys. This means the keys are the same size as an acoustic piano.
Tip 3. You also want touch sensitive keys. This means that, like an acoustic piano, the volume of the notes is louder when the keys are struck harder. This can also be known as semi weighted or fully weighted piano action keys, or touch responsive keys.
Tip 4. A sustain pedal input is important. This allows connection of a sustain pedal, which enhances the expressiveness of the performance. Just like the sustain pedal in a piano.
Tip 5. If you’re planning to connect to a computer, then a USB or MIDI connection is vital. With sequencing software installed within a PC, these connections allow players to record, store and arrange music within a PC environment.
Tip 6. Digital effects, such as reverb, chorus and delay enhance the overall sound of the instrument and make playing much more fun.
Tip 7. An on-board song recording or sequencer allows players to record their own performances and store them within the keyboard. Many instruments offer multi-track recording.
Tip 8. Check that the instrument comes with a height adjustable stand to put the instrument on, a music stand to put the print music on, and a power chord with 220v adaptor so you can plug it in. If you’re buying on the net from an overseas store then this 220v power adaptor is critical.
Tip 9. Some instruments have a hybrid keyboard. These are keyboards that offer an extended range of keys (76 or 88 notes) which combine the functions of a keyboard with more piano-like performance potential.