How To Buy An Electronic Keyboard
Sorting out choices among the many available types of keyboards can seem daunting. Many fun and exciting features are available. So as not to be overwhelmed by the choices, it will help to consider first your budget and the types of features you are actually likely to want and use.
When considering your options, here are a few factors to use as a starting-point:
- Use: How do you plan to use your keyboard? Most beginners want and need a basic keyboard mainly for practicing and playing. They may enjoy a few extra fun features, but are not likely to need or use many of the advanced ones that are available. Some musicians are also looking for features that will allow them to perform using a variety of sounds. Others intend to use the keyboard for recording and editing or connecting to and controlling other instruments.
- Size/Range: Keyboards vary in size. Some versions have the standard 88 piano keys, while more portable versions usually have fewer keys, with common sizes having 25, 33, 48, 61 or 76 keys. Anything less than 61 keys will be quickly frustrating to a piano student. A 61-key keyboard can be convenient for carrying around and some practicing, but most committed students and their teachers will eventually want a full-sized keyboard.
- Portability: Do you need to be able to move the keyboard often? In general, keyboards are more portable than acoustic pianos, but some are easier to transport than others.
- Touch: “Touch sensitive” keys give you the ability to produce either soft or loud sounds. This is an important feature for developing musical playing. “Weighted” keys simulate the weighted feel of keys on an acoustic piano. While not crucial at the very beginning, this feature will be important as a student works to develop good technique.
- Sounds: Are you mainly interested in playing with a piano sound, or do you want a keyboard with a variety of sounds? How many different sounds are you likely to use? How “real” do you need those sounds to be?
- Speakers: Smaller keyboards often come with built-in speakers, while more advanced versions often require connection to a separate speaker, which makes higher quality sound possible.
Key features for beginners to consider, then are:
- Number of keys: At least 61, and preferably 76 or 88
- Touch: Touch sensitivity, and preferably weighted keys
- Sounds: A good piano sound
- Speakers: A built-in speaker or separate speaker will be needed
Try out various types of keyboards. Consider:
- How is the sound quality?
- Do you like the pre-programmed sounds?
- How do the keys feel?
- What features are you really likely to use?
Listed below are examples of some of the many features available on keyboards.
- Sounds: Most keyboards have some variety of sounds available. Some use “sampling” to store sounds produced from recordings of the real instrument into its memory chips, while others “synthesize” sounds by imitating instruments through changing the shape of the waveform. Some allow the player to edit the sounds or manipulate them with knobs, “benders” or built in effects, such as “delay” (echo), “reverb” or “chorus”.
- Music rack
- Foot Pedals: Built-in pedals or the ability to connect an external pedal.
- Auto-accompaniment: This feature found on many home keyboards fills in pre-set rhythms and harmonies when you play a melody and/or chord.
- Multi-timbral: This feature allows you to play more than one sound at a time.
- Multi-note polyphony: This indicates how many notes you can play at once. Unless you plan to use the keyboard as a controller, for recording or other advanced purposes, 8-10 is sufficient.
- MIDI-capability: MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. This allows you to connect and play multiple keyboards from one “controller” keyboard, as well as allowing you to “record” to a sequencer.
- Digital recording or sequencing: Multi-track recording allows you to record more than one track. Consider how much it holds and how it is stored.
- USB Connectivity: Ability to connect to your computer.
- Display: Some keyboards display information about the features and sounds you are using. Size and readability can vary quite a bit.
What Else You’ll Need
Keyboard players will also need a stand, a bench, possibly a surge protector and a case if it will be transported. Your keyboard stand should be adjustable to the desired height. Some can accommodate multiple keyboards or components. If your keyboard didn’t come with them, you’ll probably want an external foot pedal and a rack or stand to hold your music.
Keyboard Care and Maintenance
Register your purchase. See the manufacturer’s instructions for care and availability of tech support.