Absolutely! You can learn the piano on a keyboard for sure.
I’ve played piano for more decades than I want to admit, and while I love a great acoustic piano, the innovations in digital piano keyboard manufacturing have come light years in advancement and it is possible to purchase a wonderful instrument for comparatively cheap.
Here’s what you need to know first about learning on a keyboard:
- You need to look for is a keyboard with weighted keys. Weighted keys react like an acoustic piano with 22,000 moving parts, so that you can get different sounds by HOW you touch the keys. In addition, you’ll weighted keys for great muscle control and dexterity development.
- Think about it this way: if you were strolling on a treadmill, you wouldn’t get the benefits of working harder with an incline or running at a fast speed. Those stronger developing muscles won’t be there when you plan to hike to a spectacular trail, or you won’t have the stamina to walk the streets of Paris on that long planned for vacation. It’s a case of a little resistance yields better results in the long run!
- When I teach people piano, I can tell right away if they have a keyboard at home that is unweighted. Their hands are less sure of themselves, and when they play a real acoustic piano they complain that it is hard to push down the keys. They have been playing an instrument that is TOO light a touch on the keys. Synthesizer keyboards are a very light touch.
The Digital Instrument
- Keep in mind that keyboards are computers. They are going to break, have circuits that fail, processing innards that can’t keep up with updates from the program just like your laptop or desktop computer. Repairing them is very expensive, and often exceeds the price of buying a new one! So, in my opinion, it makes sense to not spend thousands and thousands of dollars on a top of the line keyboard until you go ‘pro’ and need the features of expensive instruments and frankly, so you can also write off the expenses of updating your keyboard when it goes glitchy on you.
- Also, finding a qualified technician is difficult even in a larger city. You don’t need a traditional piano tuner, you need a tech/computer/keyboard expert. I live in a city of several million in greater urban area and there are TWO technicians in total. They have a long wait list for service. If you opt for a digital piano in a heavy cabinet, you’ll have to haul it to them, as they won’t be able to do in-home fixing. Unlike acoustic pianos wherein the tuner/technician comes to your home.
- Keyboards are portable unless you spring for one in a cabinet/stand, which means you can store it behind the couch, in a closet or choose to leave it sitting out. That’s a HUGE benefit!
Digital keyboards easily integrate into your home where ever you go!
What Features Are Really Important
- While it is a ton of fun to play with all the voices in its programming, unless you plan on turning into a music mixer and layer many voices together in a music editing program, or record yourself playing multiple instrument voices, you really only need piano sound.
- If you DO intend to delve into music mixing, you’ll need a keyboard with MIDI capabilities. MIDI is a computer language that your keyboard speaks to computers, which is where you’ll do the actual mixing. The keyboard with MIDI is your input device TO the computer. If your keyboard does not have MIDI exporting capabilities, the computer program can’t recognize the audio data.
- At the minimum, you’ll want 61 keys. I always prefer 88 though, because when I teach piano we start right in within the first three months of lesssons using all 88 keys. I always feel bad for my students when they can’t practice using the entire keyboard of 88. You’ll be missing out on some of the fun with 61, but it is still a viable option.
- Since we’re talking about a computer instrument, I ALWAYS recommend purchasing a reputable, professional brand. You’ll want to capitalize on an excellent warranty because it is an electronic gizmo, well, you know what I mean about electronics/computers!
- I always recommend buying a pedal, if it doesn’t come with one and a good set of over the ear earphones. That way you can crank it up and enjoy, even if there is someone else in the room who needs quiet. HUGE BENEFIT!
- A stand is optional, but the height where you place the keyboard is CRUCIAL. You want your arms to be out from your body 90 degrees with no bent wrists. Sitting on a stool is not the best posture for keyboard playing and practicing, but until you buy a stand, the arm position is the most important issue.
- A headphone jack is probably always included, but make sure, just in case. You’ll appreciate the benefits of using headphones and so will your roommates.
- Bluetooth is a deal-breaker for many people who want to connect their keyboard to an iPad or tablet. There are a ton of really useful and fun apps that will sync up to your keyboard, but if you can’t get one with Bluetooth capabilities, make sure it has an output port that will work with your device and connector cables.
- Speaker location. If you want a big sound without needing an amplifier, consider a model with bigger speakers. The sound quality and volume between a $150 keyboard and a $700 keyboard are huge.
- Small keyboards called MIDI keyboards are intended for music layering and composing with music annotating and mixing programs. They are an entirely different beast from ‘keyboards’. They are not used for performing or for learning the world of piano and their number of keys are really limited. Here’s what a MIDI keyboard looks like:
My Keyboard Recommendations In Descending Order of Cost and Features
I love a Roland keyboard. The Roland company has specialized in manufacturing excellent, professional-quality keyboards for decades. Their keyboards are their pride and joy, and the quality shows. If you watch lots of live music, Roland is often the choice of rock bands and other digital performers. Their sound and key action is, in my opinion, just fantastic.
The advantage of this keyboard is that the four speakers are on top of the unit, and this gives a big sound. If you plan to play in a venue, you could get away without using a mic. If you want a keyboard with so many voices and sounds that you can recreate dozens of instrument sounds, this is a great choice of instrument. It has Bluetooth connectivity, so you can stream music through your phone into the keyboard speakers to play along with your favorite songs. You can hook up a mic into the input port and use the onboard speakers as your amp. You can even record whole performances to USB memory through the USB port. If I had the budget, this would be my first choice in keyboard.
- 88 weighted keys
- 384 Polyphony (unique voices)
- Concert quality sound
- 15 piano sounds
- 15 organ sounds
2. Roland FP-30
This is the piano I own. The sound is surprisingly bold and rich. The keys are the longest I’ve found in the market and feel like real ivory. The spring action on the weighted keys is adjustable in five resistance levels by user. The Roland app that you can download to your tablet lets you control all the options for easy and clear manipulations. I love that the keyboard panel is uncluttered, which makes the keyboard itself less bulky in size and easier to understand. I would spring for the higher quality pedal than the one that comes with the keyboard if you get serious about piano music.
- 88 weighted keys
- Powerful speakers are mounted under the unit
- Great sound
- Streamlined dashboard for simplicity
- Very narrow depth, so it takes up less square footage than most keyboards
- USB and Bluetooth connectivity to phone and tablet apps
- Roland app lets you control all the voices and settings on your tablet or phone
- Split voice capable
- Split keyboard for ideal teaching (you play high, the student plays low and it all sounds as if it were centered at middle C)
This piano comes in a very close second to the Roland Fp-30. It has speakers on the top and facing downward for a fabulous big sound. The black keys are about 1/3 inch shorter than the Roland and the keys don’t feel like ivory, but they are matte textured and feel great. The Yamaha P-125 has 192 polyphony sounds, so you’ll never get bored with fun voices. What is lacking is onboard MIDI capabilities. So if you are hoping to do some composing and have your piano translated into written music via a program, this won’t work. You’ll have to record your song onboard, upload it to your computer and translate it into Midi format with a program. This company has a long, excellent reputation and many professional musicians only use Yamaha.
- 88 weighted keys
- Big glorious sound
- iOS app to control the selections on your keyboard
- iOS app will let you stream your favorite song and it will display the chords so you can play along!
- Split mode capable to play different voices in each hand
- Great bundle deal with everything you’ll need: pedal, bench, stand, cords, dust cover
Casio is another respected brand of digital keyboards and many professionals love them. This Casio has proprietary weighted keys called the Tri-Sensor Scaled Hammer Action II for great responsiveness and sensitivity. A slender chassis means this keyboard takes up less square footage in your home without compromising sound.
- Dual-mode for teaching
- Two-layered tones in the right hand and different layer for bass for a great recording
- Dual headphone outlets in the front
- USB MIDI
- 128 polyphony voices
The Alesis brand is well respected and this model comes with semi-weighted 88 keys. Not packed with a ton of options, nevertheless, this is a solid option at a low price point.
- Capable of running on batteries or power cord
- 128 polyphony voices
- Semi-weighted keys
- pedal not included
- 1/4 inch headphone jack
- Rated well by users
- Entry-level price
A great bridge between 61 keys and the full 88 is the Yamaha 410 coming in with 76 keys. Not weighted keys, but touch-responsive for light, medium and heavy touches, it’s a great beginner piano for morphing into DJ mixing and creating on the fly.
- USB audio recorder or connect to the device
- 758 voices
- Groove Creator for DJ music creation with Intro, Section change and Musical Climax and a Quick Sampling function
- Lots of live voice control options to change sounds on the fly
- Not MIDI capable
Compact and affordable, this is a great entry-level keyboard. The sound is the best you can get for this price point. The keys aren’t truly weighted, but they are far better than the typical synthesizer-style keys you’ll find on most keyboards in this price range. It has an onboard mixer called GO-MIXER that allows you to connect your tablet or phone directly to the keyboard for great audio recording. Now you can create your own music videos of your playing to share with others!
- 61 Keys standard size
- Better feel than unweighted keys, they are touch-sensitive
- Free online lessons partnered with SKOOVE
- Bluetooth MIDI connectivity
- Onboard Bluetooth speakers
- Highly rated by users
- Capable of running on batteries!
Not weighted keys, but touch responsive, this bundle is a good value for an entry-level keyboard.
- 61 keys
- 600 voices
- 1/4 inch headphone output
- Bundle includes stand, bench, instructional DVD and pedal
I hope you dive into learning the piano! It is totally doable and thanks to digital keyboards, it is affordable and fun!