Need help deciding whether a keyboard or a piano is the right instrument for learning music? This article will explore keyboard vs piano, both advantages and disadvantages, so that you’ll know what’s best for you.
For developing hand strength and musical sensitivity, an acoustic piano is the best choice for beginning piano students. Electric pianos are also a good choice, and they cost less and take up less space. Keyboards, usually the least expensive option, are not as ideal because their keys are not weighted and don’t have touch sensitivity. This means a keyboard won’t provide the same kind of playing experience as an electric or acoustic piano.
Keyboard vs piano: the feel
The feel of playing an acoustic piano is different from any other keyboard instrument. When you play an acoustic piano, each time you press a key, a mechanism inside the piano swings a hammer to strike a piano string. The harder you press the key, the harder the hammer swings. The strength of your fingers is the only thing powering the hammer’s movement. This means that as you practice and play an acoustic piano, it exercises your fingers and makes them stronger.
Electric pianos are designed with weighted keys to mimic the feel of an acoustic piano. This means that playing on an electric piano will develop the same hand strength as playing on an acoustic piano. It won’t feel exactly the same, but it’s not hard to switch between playing an electric piano and an acoustic piano.
Most keyboards don’t have weighted keys. This means that the keys have very little resistance to being played. Students who have only played on a keyboard may take some time to adjust to using their hand strength and arm weight correctly if they switch to playing on an acoustic piano.
Keyboard vs piano: the sound
One of the most significant differences between an acoustic piano and all other kinds of pianos and keyboards is the sound. An acoustic piano produces sound using actual hammers hitting actual strings and resonating in an actual instrument made of wood and metal. The full, rich sound of an acoustic piano can’t be replicated. The range of volume that an acoustic piano can produce, from soft to loud and everything in between, gives a musician the ability to play with great emotion and sensitivity. Not even the best electric piano can reproduce that.
Electric pianos can have a very good sound. They use sounds sampled from acoustic pianos and played back over an internal speaker as the electric piano is played. How good the electric piano sounds is limited by the quality of these speakers, and no speakers can ever recreate the exact experience of hearing an actual instrument. Electric pianos with touch sensitive keyboards can play sounds that are loud or soft, but rather than being able to play at any volume, electric keyboards tend to have a few set volumes that their keys are programmed to produce depending on the speed at which the key is depressed. One advantage to the sound of an electric piano is that a musician can plug in a set of headphones and play without disturbing anyone else in the room.
Keyboards are not meant to sound exactly like a piano, but instead are electronic instruments that can be set to make all sorts of different sounds. Most do not have touch sensitivity, so the volume is controlled by a knob or sometimes a foot pedal. While the synthesized piano sound of a keyboard usually doesn’t sound as nice as a real piano, a keyboard often has lots of different electronic sound options that can be fun to play with, such as strings, brass, organ, bells, and even percussion instruments. Keyboards are easily portable, extremely versatile, and we hear them played all the time in popular music performances, recordings, and even film and television soundtracks.
Learning on a keyboard vs piano
For a beginner, learning to play the piano on a full-sized keyboard is similar to learning on a piano, but there are some critical differences. First of all, both instruments have about the same layout, so learning the note names and their relative positions will be the same. A music student who learns on a keyboard will also be able to play a piano. However, when switching from a keyboard to a piano, it may take time to adapt to the hand strength required. Also, developing a good touch that allows a student to control how loud or soft they are playing can’t be done with a simple keyboard.
Another setback to learning on a keyboard is that some keyboards do not have as many keys as a piano. This can cause frustration for a student who is beginning to learn pieces written for a wider range of notes than their keyboard supplies. Also, keyboards usually only come with one pedal compared to the three pedals on an acoustic piano. Keyboard pedals aren’t built in, but are plugged into the keyboard with a cable. This means they aren’t fixed in one place and move around a lot if they’re not secured. Because of this, it can be difficult to develop good pedaling technique.
Students who learn to play on an acoustic piano benefit from having a full range of notes and an instrument that helps them develop both hand strength and sensitive playing. Learning on an acoustic piano allows you to develop a sensitive touch so that you can control how loud or soft each note sounds. No electronic instrument can match the rich, full sound of a good acoustic piano, and coming back to that sound every day can help motivate students to continue learning.
Playing keyboard vs piano
Some benefits to playing on a keyboard include the ability to play with headphones. It’s true that an acoustic piano may have a “quiet pedal” that reduces the volume of the sound, but this pedal usually affects the feel of playing the keys and the instrument can still be heard. With a keyboard, students can plug in their headphones and play without disturbing anyone else.
Another advantage of keyboards is that many of them can be connected to a computer and used with a wide variety of music education, music notation, and music production software. Keyboards can also be set to make different electronic sounds, which are fun to experiment with. Some keyboards even have the ability to record and play back, allowing a musician to play a duet with a recording of themself!
For the simple enjoyment of making music, the beautiful sound of an acoustic piano provides a very rewarding experience. When playing a piano, a musician can create a wide range of sounds simply by the way they interact with the keys. There is nothing that quite matches the experience of playing an acoustic piano.
A quality electric piano mimics an acoustic piano as much as possible, and is also a good choice, especially when budget and space are limited. Electric pianos in some ways provide the best of both worlds, giving a musician the ability to practice with headphones and select different instrument sounds while helping them develop the hand strength and sensitivity needed to get the most out of their playing.
Examples of pianos and keyboards we recommend
Our favorite brands of acoustic piano:
Our favorite electric pianos:
- Yamaha Arius
- Casio Privia
Our favorite keyboards:
- Yamaha PSR
- Casio CT
To learn more about each of these instruments, check out this article on choosing a piano or keyboard for the beginning student.