How to Shop for Your First Digital Piano — Part 1

December 26, 2014

Buying your first digital piano can be an overwhelming experience. There are dozens of brands, and literally thousands of different models that look extremely similar, for the most part. In this series titled How to Shop for Your First Digital Piano, you’ll learn what to look for when shopping, and how to make informed decisions so you can spend more time making music!

First, let’s go over some basic terms and concepts you should know.

Digital pianos and keyboards are often available in three sizes, measured in number of keys. 61, 73, and 88 keys are the most popular sizes. 88 keys is often referred to as “full-size,” and has the same number of keys as an acoustic piano. The number of keys you’ll need depends on what your musical goals are.

If you’re serious about learning how to play, 88 keys is the best option because there is a lot of repertoire that covers a larger range than what is available on a 61 or 73 key model. On the other hand, if you’re just looking for a cheaper keyboard to help with notation work, 61 or 73 keys might be just fine. Thus, it’s important to know what your personal musical goals are before shopping.

When shopping for a digital piano, you’ll definitely encounter the term “action,” Simply put, a piano’s action refers to the mechanics of a key’s movement. In the acoustic world, a piano’s action looks something like this.

The weight and mass of the hammer, among other factors, determine how easy or difficult it is to depress the key. A digital piano’s action is totally different because there is no need for a hammer to hit a string. Thus, there is no natural tension to create a sense of weight when playing a digital piano. Manufacturers get around this problem by creating actions with embedded weights. While this does not completely replicate the feeling of playing an acoustic piano, high end digital piano actions feel quite realistic.

Now that you know what action refers to, let’s talk about the two most popular variations — semi-weighted and fully-weighted. A fully-weighted action is what you should be looking for if you’re looking for the best experience. If you’re a seasoned pianist looking for a digital piano to practice on at night, models with fully-weighted actions are the only ones you should be considering. Semi-weighted actions are easier to press, and are more common on 61 and 73 key models. While they can be a bit uninspiring to play for any piano-based music, they are much better suited for playing different sounds like organ and strings. Once again, it’s important to realize what your goals are beforehand.

Keyboard size and the different actions are the two basic concepts you need to know before shopping for a digital piano. In next week’s post, we’ll discuss the major digital piano manufacturers, action quality, and the different kinds of digital pianos.

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