The short answer is you’ll need 61 keys at a minimum to learn to play the piano.
The second best answer is you’ll need 76 keys, BUT the best answer is 88. Confused? Read on for the full information on why each one of these may be the right choice for you!
How many keys do I need to learn piano?
A better question might be: How Many Keys Do I Need To Learn Piano style=”font-size: 16px; font-style: normal; font-weight: 400;”> well.
- When I teach piano, starting with the very first lesson I start teaching my students how to use every key on the keyboard. Not by reading notes yet, but by naming each key and by doing drills on the keys for speed and dexterity. Besides being very useful, it is so fun for students to hear the full complement of the highest high notes down to the lowest low notes!
- It helps you feel in command of your instrument! Those keys are there to serve you.
- It helps you explore creating your own sounds to a better extent! If you want to play like a tinkling music box, those super high notes will come in handy. If you want to sound like Darth Vader, very low notes are more like that bad dude.
Is it crucial?
Nope. Not even close. We won’t actually get to using all the notes of the keyboard using written piano music for maybe two years. If all you are after is to create simple harmonies while you sing, or use a limited keyboard to learn the basic two octaves of notes on the staff, then a 61 key piano will do just fine.
If you are wanting to create some sounds like you hear on your favorite playlist, then 76 keys will give you a great range of sounds to explore and to learn piano for several years!
If you are embarking on a serious study of piano, then you’ll crave all 88 keys as you learn fancier and more robust sounds and skills.
Pretty much all 61 key pianos are very close to each other, often looking exactly alike. That’s because they are all made in China and private label the models out to individual companies with slight changes in presentation. You can check out the reviews on marketplaces like Amazon and find out that the owners all pretty much say the same thing. At an entry level price point, it’s apples and oranges.
Don’t confuse very small keyboards with Midi keyboards. Midis are used to play keys that are translated into a computer language that desktop and laptop computers use in music notation writing software, among other things. These keyboards aren’t meant to learn the piano, think of them as data entry devices. Here’s what a Midi keyboard looks like:
Advantages of 61 keys
- Cost. Smaller keyboards are uber affordable and a great entry keyboard into piano playing, sometimes coming in under $100.
- Which is an advantage, if you are trying to supply a classroom with affordable keyboards, or you intend to tote it around and get it banged up a bit.
- Portability. They aren’t quite small enough to fit into a backpack, but they are designed for daily portability and transport.
- Very light weight
- Not weighted keys which means it is possible to play a sound with very little pressure. This is great for people with hand limitations like arthritis or who want to do lots of scream’n runs in some rock and roll licks.
- Perfect starter piano for kids
Disadvantages of 61 keys
- 61 keys are typically not weighted keys. This means they are a very light touch to depress the keys enough to get sound. That can be a problem for learning serious piano. Weighted keys mimic Grand Pianos – you need to activate some small muscles to depress a key enough to get a sound which means you have to do exercises and drills to increase your muscle control and dexterity. The more you do that, the more artistry you can pull out of your instrument. When I’m teaching, I can always tell when a student has a piano at home with unweighted keys. They always complain that it’s too hard to play my pianos.
- Don’t expect them to last years and years. You truly get what you pay for when it comes to quality keyboards.
- If you are learning to read piano music, you will run out of keys at the lower end of the keyboard by the time you are on to your second level of method books.
- Not a great sound, but if you are a child, you won’t even notice it.
- There will be very little sound continuation (vibration) after you depress the key. An acoustic piano will continue to vibrate the strings like a harp and the soundboard inside the piano will echo a fairly long time with sound. 61 keys pianos are going to drop off the sound right away. Not so delicious to the ear.
- Do NOT get light up keys!! Seriously, you will not be helped in the long run, it’s a crutch. AND it is one more electrical thing that may eventually break down and not work.
Alesis Melody 61 MKII | 61 Key Portable Keyboard
For this price point, you ‘ll get everything a beginner needs for quite a while with this package.
- music stand
- 300 fun voices
- Music rest
If you are taking your keyboard to class every day, or toting it from place to place often, it’s worth the cost to purchase a water-resistant hard shell case like this one. Electric pianos can be pretty fragile.
Donner 61 Key Keyboard Case
This is much better! 76 keys give you most the keys of a Grand Piano and the quality is a bigger step up too. For just a little more money, you may never need an 88 key piano. Often having great onboard speakers, the quality of sound is louder, fuller and richer.
The size is still smaller than 88 keys, which means it takes up less room in your home. For many of us, tight living spaces mean a sacrifice in what we want. With a reputable brand, there won’t be much sacrificing with 76 keys. I highly recommend Yamaha, Roland and Casio brands.
Advantages of 76 keys
- Typically much better construction and quality
- Much better and bigger sound
- More instrument voices for fun mixing and exploring
- USB capabilities to connect to tablets and computers for programs and tutorials
- Some have onboard Midi connectivities for interfacing with music writing and recording programs
- Touch sensitivity keys or sometimes weighted keys for more realistic Grand Piano playing
- Better warranties
- Full-sized keys don’t feel like a toy
- They aren’t exactly miniature in size….they will come with a larger footprint than the 61 keys
YAMAHA PSR-EW300 SA 76-Key Portable Keyboard Bundle
It is from the highly respected Yamaha company who makes world famous quality pianos from Concert Grand Pianos, to acoustic to professional recording studio keyboards. This model is really kind of a bargain. The sound quality is light years better than a typical 61 key piano. It is still considered a portable size and is lightweight, coming it at 17 lbs WITH the metal stand. You can easily lift the piano itself with one hand. This is the piano I recommended my tightwad son buy my granddaughter, age 7, so I could begin teaching her with online lessons. We’re good to go for atlease three years with this setup.
- Great Yamaha quality – a highly reputable company
- Still a small size than the full 88, so better portability
- Midi capable for digital learning, recording and applications
- Touch-sensitive keys (not as good as weighted, but much better than 61 keys) for dynamic controls
- 574 instrument voices
- bundle with pedal and stand
- Good sound quality
- USB to host port
- Lightweight for easy lifting
- Great price point
- Highly rated by owners
88 key pianos
I will always opt for the full 88 keys given a choice. If you rely on a Yamaha or Roland, the sound will blow you away. Triple the price of most 76 key pianos, they are worth every penny in my opinion. (Once you play a Grand, you’ll be forever spoiled and crave that resonate, gorgeous sound). With a good set of headphones designed for music, my favorite 88 key portable Roland comes as close as it’s possible to get to a $30,000 Grand Piano! If you invest in this piano, or one like it, like the Yamaha P125, you’ll probably never want or need another piano.
Advantages of 88 key pianos
- If you are hoping to explore bring out your artistic capabilities, you’ll crave 88 keys
- Most of them are weighted keys for fully responsive control and expression
- Superior sound
- Professional recording and playing capabilities
- Most have Midi interface capabilities for working with computer music notation and music editing software
- Excellent quality and durability (but hang on there, they are computers in essence, and apt to breakdown and go out of date like computers)
- Most come with a sustain pedal, and some have the three pedals like a Grand Piano for an additional cost
- Capable of being housed in a cabinet for a nice furniture acoustic piano look
- Pretty wild computer onboard programming for lots of options
Disadvantages of 88 key pianos
- Cost. Most start at triple the cost of low end 71 key pianos
- Heavier for less easy transport and lifting.
Please read my extensive article on how to buy the best keyboard for your uses here.
This is the keyboard I own. I love it! With a pair of great headphones I hardly miss my Grand Piano, because I can play in total isolation and privacy and not sacrifice sound at all. And that says a lot. I know it is a portable, but unless I’m setting up in a venue for a performance or for my student’s recital, I won’t risk traveling with this. The cases for 88 keys are as much in cost as the instrument itself. If I’m wanting a frequent traveling piano, I’ll opt for the less expensive and lighter weight 76 key models.
- Extraordinary rich sound
- 88 weighted keys
- Imitation ivory textured keys
- Onboard speakers and amplifiers
- Midi capable
- USB port for connectivity to computers
- Ultra slim chassis for compact square footage
- Simple controls and easy to use
- Lots of other features you won’t need for a while as a beginner
Last words and ProTips
Getting started should be a great adventure and loads of fun! Even if you start on a super cheap piano, you’ll take your skills and knowledge a long way! Please read my other articles to help you on your journey. Have FUN!!
Can You Learn Piano On A Keyboard? article here.
How Much Are Piano Lessons? article here.
Can I Teach Myself Piano? article here.
Is It Too Late ToLearn The Piano? article here.