A common question when starting piano lessons is a keyboard sufficient for learning? Usually yes, an electric keyboard can be used as a substitute for an actual acoustic piano. But the better answer will take a little more analysis into what your plans are for lessons, and what kind of keyboard you have.
Not all keyboards are created equally. If you are to planning on taking lessons with your keyboard we have to test to make sure it will work.
The first question you have to ask is if your keyboard is “touch sensitive”. With touch sensitive keyboards, the harder your press down a key the louder the sound will be. If you already have a keyboard, press a key softly and then press it hard. Does it make a softer and louder sound? If the answer is yes, then your keyboard is touch sensitive. So far so good.
Full Size Keyboard
A typical piano has 88 keys 52 white and 36 black keys. Electric keyboards however can come in a lot of different sizes. Keyboards can have 44, 61, 76, or 88 keys. I personally wouldn’t buy a keyboard without 88 keys because eventually you’ll find music you just won’t be able to play, especially with the smaller keyboards. But if you already have one does this preclude you from taking lessons on it?
If you haven’t had any lessons before, it will be a while until you start to use more than the 61 keys. Most of the music you’ll be playing will be in the middle of the keyboard.
It’s important that you understand how an acoustic piano works, so you can understand the need for weighted keys.
When you press a key on an acoustic piano you are moving a mechanism that moves a hammer to hit a metal string.
When you press a key then, you feel definite weight to the key. This weight is important because it also gives you control over playing a note loud or soft and everywhere in between. The best pianists in the world spend a lot of time making sure they can work with this weight to create a beautiful sound at the piano.
An electric keyboard, by definition does not have this feeling of weight. Why? Because you’re not moving a hammer when you press a key. When you play a key on a keyboard it is just telling the software in the keyboard to play a recording of a note. This is an obvious flaw to electric keyboards. Companies that create electric keyboards have come up a with a solution they call “weighted keys”.
A keyboard that has weighted keys attempts to artificially replicate the feel of a real acoustic piano. This replication can be well done, but it can also be pretty poorly done. It all depends on the keyboard. Although it’s not a requirement for piano lessons, it certainly is an important factor when considering a keyboard.
When You Need a Real Piano
Keyboards just feel different. Top of the line keyboards can mimic the piano pretty well, but with keyboards that good you might as well get an acoustic piano for the price. Once the student gets past the point of playing beginner pieces, they really should invest in a piano. Not all pianos are created equal either. A grand piano does have it’s benefits over upright pianos, just like upright pianos have benefits over keyboards.
Although I have never owned a grand piano, almost all of my practice growing up was done on grand pianos. As a child I would go to my church and practice there all day, and then when I got to college there were grand pianos in the practice rooms.
Some of the more nuanced parts of playing the piano can just not be done well on an average upright piano, and definitely cannot be done on an average keyboard.
I have a decent keyboard at home, and when I just needed to memorize a piece of music, learn the notes, or work on some simple technique my keyboard at home would work fine. But when I wanted to play something beautifully a keyboard leaves a lot to be desired.
If you’re a beginner, or even intermediate learner, don’t let the type of piano you have preclude you from taking lessons. You’re not going to really miss out on a lot by not having a piano. If you are advanced though, it’s time to really start thinking about upgrading, or finding a location that will let you practice on their nicer piano. Do you have a friend with a grand at home? Does the church you go to have one? If so, take advantage of the opportunity to play or practice on them as often as possible!