It’s safe to say that at some point or another, we’ve dreamed of playing some sort of instrument, be it a guitar, violin, or piano. However, learning any musical instrument means you have to have your own instrument to practice, and sadly, pianos aren’t the easiest instrument to come by. Not only are they expensive, but they’re also quite large and take up a lot of space.
If you want to learn piano, but you’re discouraged by the reality of getting a piano, your mind may have wandered to getting a keyboard instead. However, can you learn to play piano by using a keyboard? Keep reading, and you’ll find out.
The Short Answer
You can certainly learn how to play the piano by practicing on a keyboard. These two musical instruments are very similar in shape and configuration, so practicing on either one will enable you to play on the other.
However, you still have to keep in mind that as you continuously develop your piano skills and techniques, a keyboard may present some limitations further down the road. Unfortunately, when that happens, you’ll eventually need to upgrade to an actual piano, be it an upright piano, baby grand piano, or grand piano.
What’s the Difference Between a Piano and a Keyboard?
So, if acoustic pianos and keyboards are so similar, what actually sets them apart as two different instruments?
Method of Sound Production
For one, pianos and keyboards produce their sounds in different ways. Keyboards, also known as electric pianos, work by playing and projecting a digital sound recording through amplifiers or built-in speakers.
That’s why you’ll find many keyboards with the ability to play sounds other than those of an upright piano, such as synthesizers, organs, xylophones, electric guitars, and even drums.
Alternatively, actual pianos only produce one sound, and they do that through the combined action of strings, hammers, and a soundboard, with no need for an amplifier or speaker.
Size and Number of the Keys
Another thing that differentiates pianos and keyboards is their size. Generally, all acoustic pianos, upright or otherwise, come with the standard 88 keys, all built to the same width.
However, a keyboard can have anywhere from 49 to 88 keys, depending on the type and model. Not only that, but most of the time, keyboard keys are slightly slimmer than those of an acoustic piano.
Now, while most beginning students may not need the full 88 keys to practice and can suffice with 72 keys, or even 66, they may eventually come to need the entire range of keys as they progress to play more challenging and technically-demanding pieces.
However, if you’re unsure whether you or your child will commit to playing piano, then a small keyboard with a lower price tag will be a great way to test the waters.
Weight of the Keys
If you’ve ever tried playing on a piano and then on a keyboard, you may have noticed that it takes significantly more force to press on a piano key than it does on a keyboard. That’s because a piano key is made of wood and connected to numerous other structures within the piano, so it’ll take a good push to get a solid sound.
Meanwhile, keyboard keys are made of plastic and connected to nothing. As such, lightly pressing on them will consistently produce a good sound, and this can throw students off when they finally start learning on an actual piano.
Thankfully, countless keyboards nowadays can mimic the feel of a real piano by having what’s known as a fully-weighted action. This type of action will allow a pianist to feel just how much force is needed to play an actual piano, though it can never be 100% the same.
Note: Fully-weighted keys may not be the best choice for players who have arthritic diseases or carpal tunnel syndrome. In such cases, a semi-weighted action keyboard is recommended as it still offers some resistance yet is much easier on the joints.
Touch sensitivity, aka velocity sensitivity, is the feature that allows pianists to change how loud the produced sound will be depending on how hard they hit the keys. Now, any standard piano has this feature, yet not all keyboards do. Keyboards without touch sensitivity only offer volume control through a dial or knob, and that’s totally different from how a real piano behaves.
As you can probably tell, a standard piano is very tricky to move, especially if it’s a grand or baby grand piano. Not only is it quite heavy, but it’s also big and tough to maneuver. Accordingly, you almost always have to call moving professionals to help you with the process, or you risk damaging the delicate components of the piano.
On the other hand, smaller and lighter keyboards are perfect for a musician that needs to play at different venues. Though fully-weighted keyboards are on the heavier side, semi-weighted and non-weighted keyboards are perfect for a busker and band musician who needs to shove their keyboard in a car.
One other major difference between an actual piano and a keyboard is their maintenance. A keyboard instrument requires little to no maintenance, only needing a good cleaning and change in batteries or adapters every now and then.
In contrast, an acoustic instrument will need to be constantly tuned and adjusted as the metallic strings, and wood components are affected by their surrounding temperature and humidity.
Sadly, tuning is complicated and needs expensive tools. So, getting a component professional to do the job can be pretty costly, particularly if it’s routine. As such, the parents of a piano student tend to go with a digital piano or keyboard to spare themselves the dollars needed to tune an acoustic instrument.
Perks and Limitations of Learning to Play Piano on a Keyboard
Among the many differences outlined between the two instruments, only three come into play when using a keyboard to practice playing the piano.
First off is the size. Small keyboards with less than 88 keys aren’t ideal for advanced piano pieces as these pieces usually have a wide range of notes. Moreover, these keyboards tend to have narrower keys than actual piano keys, resulting in some mistakes when your fingers move across the bigger keys.
So, remember that smaller keyboards are only okay if you’re still learning music theory and how to read sheet music, identify key signatures, and play chords. Accordingly, they’re perfect as a first keyboard for a child.
The other thing that makes a palpable difference when going to upgrade to a piano after playing on a keyboard is the overall feel. Though many digital keyboards try to emulate these two qualities, they can’t produce the exact same sense, no matter how advanced the technology.
Still, this aspect will only matter when you or your kid reaches a professional level. So, even though pianos and keyboards may not feel precisely the same, practicing piano on a keyboard with a similar feel will significantly help you adjust between the two instruments.
So, all in all, a perfect keyboard for learning piano should be velocity-sensitive and have 88 fully-weighted keys. You should also get at the very least an accounting damper pedal for your keyboard to practice sustaining notes while playing. If you get a keyboard with those features, you’ll be ready to upgrade to a real piano at any given time.
Also, remember that there are various benefits to playing piano on a keyboard, such as the lower price, lack of tuning, and better portability. Moreover, you can also lower the volume or use headphones to practice, which means you won’t have to worry about the loudness bothering your neighbors at any time of the day.
To top it off, an electronic keyboard or digital piano has recording capabilities, meaning you can record and hear your performances as well as transfer them to a computer or tablet. Not only that, but you can also use a software like Sibelius First to compose a song made from the sounds on your keyboard, complete with its own melody, harmony, dynamics, and beats.
What Type of Keyboard is Best Suited for Transitioning to a Real Piano?
Electronic keyboards have many types and styles, the most prominent of which are digital pianos, synthesizers, workstation keyboards, controller keyboards, and arranger keyboards. Among these various electronic instruments, it’s usually recommended to get a digital piano if you want to learn how to play the piano.
Quite simply, digital pianos have all the features that you’ll see in a real piano, just in an electronic form. That means that the size, weight, and overall feel will match quite well. Moreover, you won’t have to pay the hefty sum accompanying real pianos, especially if they’re famous brands, like Yamaha or Kawai.
Now, to give you a quick idea about the other keyboards, controllers aren’t suited for aspiring piano players and are best for future music producers or programmers.
Synthesizers are also more geared toward music production than performance, though they can still be helpful in learning piano initially.
Finally, arranger and workstation keyboards are also great for composing and producing music, but they’re also quite fitting for moderate and advanced pianists.
How to Decide on Which Instrument to Buy?
So, now that you’ve looked at our minor piano/keyboard guide, should you stick with a standard piano? Or will it be okay to learn piano on a keyboard?
Well, several factors will affect your decision.
For one, the types of lessons you take can greatly affect which type of instrument you buy. So, for example, if you’re learning on your own by watching online videos or taking online piano lessons to get some assistance with your posture, fingering, etc., then choosing whichever instrument you like will mostly be okay.
However, suppose you’re taking lessons with piano instructors. In that case, they’ll usually recommend you get a real piano, or maybe a digital piano, as you’ll mostly be learning on a genuine piano when taking your lessons.
Your budget is another essential factor you have to think about. Remember that an acoustic piano is considerably more expensive than arrangers, synthesizers, or even digital pianos, and they also need to be tuned regularly.
So, if you’re not sure whether you or your child will continue playing or if you’re not 100% willing to put the effort and time into learning piano, it’s best you go with the more affordable option so that you won’t regret buying it if you ever stop playing.
Furthermore, you have to look at the space available for placing an instrument in your home. Grand pianos are pretty massive, and even upright pianos take up a considerable amount of space. If you’re limited in this area, go with a smaller digital piano or keyboard to make it fit in your home.
Finally, before deciding on whether you want to buy an acoustic piano, digital piano, or standard keyboard, we recommend checking and playing each instrument at your local music store first.
Maybe you’ll find that a portable keyboard is more to your liking, maybe not. Either way, you should try playing it first and see for yourself what you think and if it’ll suit your breeds and goals.
Keyboards are an excellent way for a beginning student to start learning piano, especially with the development of digital pianos. Not only will keyboards save you a chunk of money, but they’re also highly portable, and you don’t need to tune them. After a while, when your keyboard-playing has reached its fullest potential, switch to a real piano.
Also, remember that the most important thing is to take a step forward and start playing, one hand at a time. If you keep at it, you may one day become a world-class pianist who has live shows and performances.