Keyboard or Piano?
|So…you want a keyboard, do you? The first thing you need to decide is why you need a keyboard. If you are a pianist looking for something to practice on then your best bet is a digital piano. If you’re looking for an all-round instrument to compose on and perform live then you need a workstation keyboard. We’ll concentrate first on digital pianos.Digital Pianos
Firstly, you need to consider the sound it makes. If you’re using it for a replacement piano, it should sound like a piano! The notes should resonate accurately and respond correctly to differences in key pressure.Secondly, a digital piano should feel like a piano. On a weighted keyboard, the bass keys should be heavier than the treble keys. Ideally, you should test the action on the keys before you make a purchase or seek advice on the particular model from someone with more experience if you are unsure. If the action is too heavy it could result in tired, sore hands after a brief tinkle.Finally, you need to think about where you will be using your shiny new piano; at home or for performance. If you’re looking to use it on stage, you’ll need to get one with an in-built amp. For home use, an in-built amp isn’t usually necessary but you should probably consider one with a headphones socket if you want to remain on good terms with your neighbours!Keyboards
Keyboards differ from digital pianos in the range of sizes; from 25 key (or two octave) models through to full-size 88 key (or seven octaves and a minor third). The size you’ll need depends on how much room you have to spare and the complexity of the music you will be using the keyboard for. As with digital pianos, key action varies from manufacturer to model. Some of the pricier models have graded hammer action to emulate an acoustic piano action while the cheaper models have the standard plastic spring-loaded keys which respond identically regardless of whether they’re bass or treble. Which you prefer is personal choice really – some people prefer the hefty “real” feeling of graded hammer action while some people prefer the even feel of the none-graded keys. On the shorter models, such as 25 key, where the octaves are transposable, the non-graded keys are much better.Above the keys you will find the control panels. The screen should be brightly lit and clear enough to be read in low light, ideally centrally placed. The sliders and fader knobs should be intuitively placed and robust enough for repeated and frequent sliding and twisting. Some slide freely and some click by levels, you’ll prefer which you prefer – free sliding faders allow for more precise alterations but can become victim to slight knocks.Another consideration is the number of voices, styles and backing tracks you require. If you’re looking for a MIDI trigger keyboard then less voices (or none at all) are necessary. If you’re in a space-age electro band and need a million sound-effects, synth noises and drum beats, then a large scale workstation keyboard would be better for you.
Keyboards come with a wide variety of features in addition to the voices and backing styles. Many now include USB sockets to hook them up to your computer and/or SD card slots for adding additional voices, styles or tracks and for recording your own compositions directly onto. For the songwriter with their own home studio, this is a godsend! For absolute beginners, some keyboards have light-up keys and in-built teaching software to guide you through the learning process. Other features to consider include metronome, MIDI ports, trigger pads, sliders and speakers. Again, for home use (or use as a MIDI controller) high-wattage in-built speakers will be less important but become a necessity for stage use. For live performance use, a general rule of thumb is 1 watt per person. If you’re playing a large capacity venue and your in-built speakers don’t have the necessary wattage, a keyboard amplifier can be added.
Once you have decided what your keyboard will be used for, how many keys you will need and what features you are looking for, you should have a look what is available from different manufacturers. When you have decided that, you should buy the best keyboard your budget will allow. With both digital pianos and keyboards, the more you pay the better the product. Pricier models include specialist features that make them stand head-and-shoulders above the cheaper models such as graded hammer action, wooden keys, sleek polished wood cabinets as well as superior electronics. Cheaper models come into their own if you need something compact, portable, simple to use. For the best of both worlds, there are mid-priced keyboards with the quality electronics in a plastic case, for example.