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What Am I After? A Keyboard or Piano?

The two terms are often used interchangeably, and to an inexperienced eye, a digital piano and a keyboard can look incredibly similar. To make things even more confusing, there are some blurred lines between the two, and some models bridge the gap – belonging to both groups.

All in a muddle? Don’t be. In this article, we’ll go through what defines and separates the two instruments, and what they’re typically used for by musicians. By the end, you’ll be able to tell what’s what – and more importantly, which one is right for you.

What is a keyboard?

Broadly, a keyboard is any electronic instrument with a piano-style interface. This means that, strictly speaking, everything we’re going to talk about in this article is a keyboard. That’s right – technically, all digital pianos are keyboards.

However, not all keyboards are digital pianos. And amongst musicians, a keyboard has its own identity and uses, separate from those of a digital piano.

Good quality keyboards usually come packed with a huge number of sounds, effects, and features.

They can possess anything from 25 to 88 keys – which normally have a light, easy-to-play action. Some keyboards synthesise their sounds, whilst some use pre-recorded sample libraries.

It’s also common for keyboards to have “arranger” features, allowing you to add layers upon layers of different sounds and pre-recorded tracks. These are used by composers and performers alike to create rich textures and complex soundscapes on the fly.

Many keyboards are available with a MIDI connection, meaning you can connect to a computer and control software used for learning, composition, and production.

What is a stage piano?

A stage piano is a type of keyboard which has been designed with a focus on replicating the sound and feel of an acoustic piano.

This means they tend to have 88 keys (as many as a real piano), and the keyboard is hammer-action – which gives it the same feel and touch as an authentic piano by physically simulating the mechanism of the acoustic instrument.

Instead of hundreds of different sounds, digital pianos usually limit themselves to just a handful. They almost always use sampling rather than synthesis, and the default sound will be a high-quality rendering of a grand piano.

In contrast to feature-rich keyboards, stage pianos tend to be a bit more stripped-back, instead concentrating on delivering an authentic piano experience. They do often have a few auxiliary functions for recording or layering sounds, but this is much less of a priority.

Other types of digital piano

A stage piano is only one kind of digital piano. Stage pianos have a focus on portability, as they have been designed – you guessed it – for use on stage. This makes them perfect for gigging musicians.

However, those looking for a more permanent fixture in their home might be interested in digital uprights and digital grand pianos. These larger, heavier instruments offer the touch, feel, and aesthetic of an authentic acoustic piano – with none of the costs for maintenance and tuning.

The most premium digital pianos available are hybrid pianos, which incorporate authentic hammer mechanisms and top-of-the-line sound systems to deliver the finest possible digital piano experience.

Which should I buy?

Well, it depends on what’s most important to you.

If you’re interested in learning and practising traditional piano pieces and techniques, then a digital piano is what you should be looking for.

The authenticity of the touch response and tone mean that everything you learn at home will be applicable on acoustic pianos – which, as a pianist, you will need to play in concerts, rehearsals, and grade exams.

If production, composition, or electronic music are more your scene, then a keyboard might be for you. More sounds, effects, and an easier key action all lend themselves to unhindered creativity.

If you’re struggling to choose between a keyboard or a stage piano, keep in mind that there are many models which bridge the gap, offering the realistic playability of a piano alongside auxiliary features more commonly associated with keyboards.

Many stage pianos now come with a MIDI connection, so if you’re a pianist who’s interested in recording straight onto a DAW and utilising composition and education software, then you needn’t compromise on key action.

As long as you know which features are most important to you, you will definitely be able to find an instrument that fits your brief – and hopefully, now you’ll know where to start looking!

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Content Editor - Orchestral and Keys

Ben is Gear4music's Content Editor for Orchestral and Keys. He's a true jack of all trades - he reckons he could pass a Grade 1 exam on literally any instrument. He's also a true master of none - and can't remember how to do any of the cool stuff he learned on the instruments he's actually studied.



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