The Key Difference Between Pianos & Keyboards

Hello Everyone,

I have made this video to help explain to you the difference between an acoustic piano, digital piano and a keyboard. I have written a brief explanation below.

People often ask me questions like “what’s the difference between a piano and a keyboard?” or “what keyboard would you recommend?

I have made a video to show the differences and I will explain it here to help you decide what instrument would be best for you.

An acoustic or “real” piano basically has strings inside that are stopped from resonating by “dampers”. There is one for each key. When you press a key down you are physically forcing a “hammer” to hit a string. As you do this the damper is released from the string allowing the string to make a noise ie the note. When you release the key you have pressed the damper returns to the string and stops it from playing. A full size piano has 88 keys. The piano in my video is an upright piano which means that the soundboard and strings are going vertically (on an angle) rather than horizontally as on a grand piano. This means the hammer that hits the string is forced over as apposed to up on a grand piano. This is explained in the video in more detail for you to understand. A grand piano has a faster “return” on the hammer than an upright piano because the hammer on a grand piano hits upwards and after the hammer hits all it has to do is fall down. On an acoustic piano the hammer has to fall back as shown in the video. The piano shown has 3 pedals the one on the right hand side is the “sustain” pedal as most people call it. When you press this pedal down it releases the dampers from all the strings and allows them to continue to play and gradually fade away unless you take your foot off the pedal and allow the dampers to return to stop the strings from resonating. The middle pedal in known as a practise pedal by most people and this basically locks into place and puts a felt in between the hammers and the strings to give a quieter sound. The pedal on the left hand side in this piano moves the “action” of the hammers closer ie the whole mechanism moves closer to give slightly quieter sound. As you spend more money on an acoustic piano the materials improve such as the quality of the wood and the strings and many more. This in turn means you get a better tone and playability.

People ask me, What is the feel like? What is the action like? What is touch response or touch sensitivity? Basically this is the volume going up and down based on how hard you hit the key. So, if you hit the note hard the sound is loud, if you hit the key softly the sound is quiet. On an acoustic piano you can get lots of dynamics in-between soft and loud with tone changes due to the nature of how you play and strengthen the muscles in your fingers to create more expressive playing.

A digital piano is designed to copy an acoustic piano by simulating the hammer action but use a digitally produced sound. A benefit may be that you can turn the sound up and down, use headphones and have more sounds to play with.
A digital or electronic/electric piano as some people call it, have what is known as a weighted key action. This is when the simulation of the hammers is achieved by having a small weight on each key. This again allows you to get more dynamics within your playing and makes it feel like a real piano. As you spend more on a digital piano you get a better sound a key action. This is achieved by having better speaker system, more sounds and different cabinet design. A main improvement as you spend more is the technology put into creating a more realistic key feel. On an acoustic piano the hammers on the left hand side are bigger and taper down to be smaller on the right hand side. This means that the amount of pressure needed to get full volume is slightly less on the right than the left. I hope that makes sense! I show you and explain this in more detail on the video. So, as you spend more on a digital piano the realism improves as the research, parts and technology get better until there is an actual piano hammer in the digital piano with a digitally produced sound instead of a string.

About keyboards now, most keyboards have 61 or 76 keys (as opposed to the 88 keys on a full size piano) and are played using a style known as “keyboard style”. How you play a keyboard is usually by using the rhythms, styles and accompaniments. Generally what you do is pick a drum beat, play a group of notes with your left hand known as a “chord” (this makes a band playing sound) and you play along with the melody with your right hand. So your left hand plays 3 or more notes statically (changing as the music progresses) and the keyboard creates the backing or band playing for you whilst you right hand plays the tune.

On a piano you play by creating all the music yourself requiring more effort with your left hand in order to sound good or fluent. A keyboard does not have a weighted key or hammers in it but has usually a “spring” key action. This is when a spring is used to make the key return to position. This means the feel is very light compared to a real piano or digital piano as you are not physically pushing a hammer but simply pressing the key down with very little resistance. Some people start on keyboard with the intention of moving on to piano later. This is possible but you need to understand that because the keys are not weighted you are not strengthening your muscles in you hands to be able to cope with the pressure required when you move onto a real or digital piano. You need 88 keys eventually to particularly get the bass notes required to be able to play your pieces of music. When you start to learn you use the middle section of the piano and gradually expand as your playing progresses. On a keyboard you may find it has touch sensitivity (also known as touch response) but because the keys are so light it is very difficult to get the dynamics and expression in your playing. The notes go from soft to loud very easily and to get any expression in-between quiet and loud is very difficult. If you want to learn piano you really need a real piano or a digital piano to give you enough keys and the correct feel in order to be expressive and get the dynamics required. If you want to make music and want lots of sounds and are happy to learn chords rather than left hand playing techniques then maybe a keyboard is better for you.

All this and more is explained and demonstrated to you in my video.

If you want any help please email us at enquiries@rimmersmusic.co.uk or call us on 01772 622111 or call into any of our stores and we have well trained, helpful knowledgeable staff that will give you the time and advice you need to make the right choice of instrument for you. We also have tuition at our stores and online tuition videos to help you to learn to play.

I hope you find my explanation and video useful.

 

All the Best
Graham Blackledge

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3 Comments

  • My son, 15 years, has been playing piano for over 6 years now on a digital Yamaha Aries and has had lessons throughout. He wants another piano though he has been very satisfied with the Arius. Not knowing anything about pianos myself, I am researching piano types online in order to understand what I will buy my son. I do know that I want a piano that will serve my son’s developing skills for a long time. I’m not sure how much money I can afford, but I will start at $800 and may go as high as $2500-$3000. From what I have just read on Rimmers, I know that we do not want a keyboard. But now I have to consider between an upright acoustic or a grand. Another major area of concern is this: I cannot see getting a piano that needs someone to come and tune it, unless the quality and price is such that it would best serve my son’s piano growth. So at this time, I guess that I am leaning towards an electronic piano. I would really appreciate any thoughts on this matter that would help me to make a decision on what kind of piano I’ll now buy. thank you.

    • Christian Redfearn

      Hi John
      We always advise that the golden rule for buying any musical instrument is to aim for the very best you can afford, which is especially true when looking at pianos for a child who is eager to progress further. If you have the space and budget available, then an upright acoustic would be the best for your son to continue on. Even better if you think a grand piano is within budget! As your son carries on through more and more advanced piano pieces, they will require greater use of dynamics that only an acoustic piano can truly offer, or at least a digital piano within a similar price bracket.
      With regards to tuning, pianos aren’t like guitars which need constant tuning and retuning on a daily basis. To keep a regularly played piano in concert pitch tuning in we would advise getting it tuned every 6 to 8 months. The price of tuning is normally similar to what a drummer or guitarist who regularly play would spend on accessories over this period.

      For further information, please don’t hesitate to call us on +44(0)1772 622111 or email customerservice@rimmersmusic.co.uk

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