Digital Piano vs. Keyboard – Best Choice For A Beginner?

Do you want to learn how to play the piano? That’s great! The piano is said to be the king of all instruments, as every musician needs to know how to play it. However, you are not probably considering an acoustic piano, as it is both too expensive and too large for you. Luckily, you live in an era that there are many options out there that will help you learn the piano without actually buying an acoustic one.

So, you are left to choose between all the products that digital technology can offer. Chances are you are torn between buying a digital piano and purchasing a keyboard. Most sites don’t really explain the difference between these two, although they are actually completely different instruments! In this guide we will go through all of their features, ranging from their sound up to their price, to help you decide what is best for you. Are you ready?

digital piano vs keyboard

Purpose

First of all, these two instruments have been created with completely different things in mind. This is important because it affects many of their features. To begin with, digital pianos, as their name suggests, are digital replicas of acoustic pianos. Their goal is to be as close as possible to the “real thing”, which means both copying its sound and the feeling of the acoustic piano’s keys. There are many different brands and models of digital pianos, but they all serve the same purpose: to mimic as much as possible the sound and feel of an acoustic piano.

On the other hand, keyboards do not focus on being a digital version of the “real” piano. In fact, you can find many different instruments under the label “keyboard”, including portable arranger keyboards, synthesizers, music workstations and MIDI controllers. There are also many keyboards that are specifically made for beginners and feature a lot of educational tools such as built-in lessons that can help you out as you start your journey in the piano world. Of course, this doesn’t mean that digital pianos aren’t good for starting out. Keep reading to find out more differences that will help you decide.

Sound

As I mentioned before, digital pianos are making an effort to have a sound that will be as close as possible to an acoustic piano. They manage to do that through a process that is called sampling. In order to understand that, I’ll explain it in a simple way: imagine that digital pianos have already small recorded samples of each note of an acoustic piano, so every time you play a note, it replays the recorded sample. The better the equipment that has been used for the recording process, the more accurate piano sound you get. However, some digital pianos also come with extra voices that allow them to be more versatile.

Keyboards are not focused so much on imitating a digital piano, but rather on giving you many options regarding sounds. They come with various built-in tones (that may include string and wind instruments, as well as drums), rhythms for accompaniment and songs to learn. Note that not all these built-in tones sound realistic, and they might feel too artificial for you if you want to use them for composing. However, most high-quality keyboards provide you with a variety of carefully selected and nicely made sounds.

Keys

Here comes one big difference between digital piano and keyboard that is usually hard to understand by beginners. Digital pianos usually come with touch-sensitive and weighted keys. Are these words unknown to you? Well, it’s simple. Touch-sensitive means that they respond to your touch: the sound is quieter when you press the key softly and louder when you press the key harder. Weighted (or semi-weighted keys) react similarly to the acoustic piano keys that use small hammers to hit the strings. As a beginner, digital piano with weighted keys can help you get used to the sensitivity needed to play an acoustic piano. In addition to that, almost all digital pianos come with 88 keys, just like acoustic pianos.

Keyboards don’t feature weighted keys so that they can be more lightweight. Some keyboards come with touch-sensitive keys, which is something you should pay attention to, if you want to play with different dynamics. Note that some of the most expensive ones might come with semi-weighted keys. Moreover, keyboards often come with less than 88 keys: they might come with 76, 73, or 61 keys, so you should think about whether a full piano range is important for you.

Build and Portability

The digital piano is not only made to sound like an acoustic piano, but to feel like one as well. As a result, it is quite heavy and takes some space, but it is still more compact and lightweight compared to the “real thing”. They can either come with a console design and stand, which means that you have everything you need, or they might need a base and a book stand. Either way, they are not made to be moved a lot, so it is better to have some space in your house that will be devoted just to your digital piano. 

On the contrary, one of the great advantages of the keyboard is that it comes in a compact size and it is lightweight enough to be carried around. You still need to buy a base for it, unless you want to put it on top of a table. So if you plan to use your instrument to play with friends or jam with other people, I would definitely suggest you get a keyboard. One last thing: don’t forget to buy a case for your keyboard (even a hard case if you can afford it), or else you might damage it permanently while carrying it.

Price

The budget is always an important factor when you consider a future purchase. Fortunately, if you have a really low budget but still want to learn the piano, you can get a keyboard for as little as $100, instead of waiting to collect some more money to buy an expensive digital piano. Note that it is better to buy a slightly more expensive keyboard in order not to think that your keyboard is a toy after two months of playing.

However, the value of a product is not only measured on the amount of money that you spend to purchase it, but also on the years that this product will be useful for you. That is why you should consider getting a digital piano even though it is more expensive: its advanced features such as weighted keys and piano sounds can replace an acoustic piano, and it will satisfy your increasing needs while you develop your skills as a piano player.

Education

So, you want to learn the piano. But what exactly do you want to learn? This question is important, as it can help you choose the instrument you need. The resemblance of the digital piano to the acoustic one, makes it perfect for those of you who would like to study classical music but don’t have the space and money for an acoustic piano. That also makes it a bit harder to master in the beginning, as you have to deal with weighted keys.

On the contrary, if you want to play rock, pop, funk and even jazz, a keyboard might be more suitable for your needs. Not only the different voices will allow you to feel like you are playing different instruments, but also the built-in rhythms and songs will facilitate your learning. The keyboard is also a good choice if you plan to learn the piano by yourself, as you can use the included lessons to learn more things.

By now, you should have understood all the basic characteristics that make a difference between a digital piano and a keyboard. But how can you choose which one is better for a beginner? Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy answer to this, but there are a couple of questions you should ask yourself to help you decide. First of all, are you an absolute beginner or do you know a thing or two about the piano? And secondly, where do you intend to go with your piano practice?

For instance, if you are an absolute beginner and you want to try out the piano, but you are not sure whether you will continue playing after six months or a year, it is better to get a keyboard. Not only will it be cheaper, but it will also be easier and more fun to play. On the other hand, if you always wanted to play the piano and you want to invest in something that will last for years, you should seriously consider purchasing a digital piano. The weighted keys will train your fingers to play correctly and it will be easier for you to play the acoustic piano in the future. Think about your future and decide accordingly. Don’t forget that the choice is yours! 

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