Tips: Top 10 Biggest Mistakes Beginners Make When Buying a Piano Keyboard
In this article, I will be telling you the 10 mistakes that beginners make when buying a piano keyboard.
First of all, do not buy keyboards with mini-keys unless you are getting a keyboard for a very young child under 5 years old with small hands or if ultra-portability is your most important requirement.
Except for a handful of models from established brands, most keyboards with mini-keys are really just toys. As a beginner, you do not want to develop muscle memory in your fingers for mini-keys as it will make transitioning to a full-size keyboard challenging.
Number of Keys
Keyboards come with different numbers of keys. There are keyboards out there with 49, 61, 73, 76, and 88 keys. Keyboards with different numbers of keys serve different purposes. The 2 most common configurations are 61 keys and 88 keys. Beginners should stick to one of these 2 configurations unless you have a specific special reason not to.
For serious classical piano players and for those who intend to sign up for music exams, a 88 keys keyboard is recommended. On the other hand, for those more interested in making pop & contemporary music with all kinds of fun sounds such as organ, harmonica, guitar, trumpets, saxophones, and drum kits on top of the usual piano tone, a 61 keys keyboard is sufficient.
Apart from having different key sizes and a different number of keys. Keyboards come with 3 types of key actions. They are synth action, semi-weighted, and full weighted hammer action keys.
Traditional acoustic pianos have a fully weighted hammer key action and if your objective is to mostly play piano pieces, you should go for a keyboard with a weighted hammer action. However, weighted hammer action keyboards come with a huge penalty. These keyboards are heavy and more expensive due to the mechanism.
Semi-weighted keyboards sacrifice some of the key touch experiences of a fully weighted action while keeping the keyboard lightweight and cheaper.
On the other hand, if you want to play tones other than the piano voice, such as guitars, saxophones, violins, harmonicas, and drums, etc, synth-action keys are preferred. Keyboards with synth-action keys are much cheaper and they weigh much less. It is imperative that you choose the right action according to your musical objective.
Touch Sensitive Keys
When you hit hard on the keys of an acoustic piano, you get a louder and brighter tone. If you caress a piano key, you get a warm and mellow tone. This principle applies to almost every acoustic instrument such as guitars, saxophones, violins, flutes
A musician can express a wide dynamic range with these instruments. There are keyboards with touch-sensitive keys and keyboards with fixed touch responses.
Unless you have an extremely tight budget, try as much as possible to get a keyboard that has touch-sensitive keys. Better keyboards even allow you to configure the velocity curve to suit your playing style.
Digital Piano VS Keyboards VS MIDI Controller
If all you want to do is connect a keyboard to an iPad, smartphone, or laptop to control software instruments and produce electronic music with a DAW. You are better off with a dedicated MIDI Controller Keyboard which is not only more affordable but also comes with loads of knobs, sliders, and buttons optimized for use in a desktop music production environment.
If you are only interested in playing piano tunes, get an 88 key digital piano. If you want to play chords with lush backing accompaniment, arranger keyboards are affordable and are packed with hundreds of tones and rhythms for you to create pop, jazz, and world music. Although most digital pianos and keyboards have MIDI capabilities, the MIDI functionality pales in comparison with a dedicated MIDI keyboard.
If you do not want to spend a few hundred dollars on a pair of external stereo speakers, you should ensure your keyboard has in-built amplification. While a keyboard’s built-in speakers will not be loud enough for large venues, they are sufficient for use in bedrooms and living rooms. The built-in speakers can also be connected to your smartphone or tablet for streaming your playlist.
Paying Too Little (toy built & sound)
If a keyboard is too cheap, it is most likely a toy that sounds terrible and would not last very long. From my experience, keyboards below $150 and digital pianos under $200 usually have reliability issues and have a 1980s sound chip inside so do not be penny wise but pound foolish.
Paying To Much (diminishing marginal returns)
You will experience diminishing marginal returns if you get a really expensive keyboard or digital piano. While a $600 keyboard is twice as good as a $300 keyboard, buying a $6,000 digital piano is not going to be 10 times better than a $600 piano.
For beginners, my recommended sweet spot is under $600 for digital pianos and under $300 for keyboards. This price category is extremely competitive and it is where you will get the best bang for your buck.
Portability & Battery Power
If you can foresee moving your digital piano keyboard around different parts of your home, or bringing it with you on road trips, camping, or for school and church performances, you need to consider the weight and size of the keyboard.
You will also need to factor in that you are not near an electrical outlet when you are outdoors and will need keyboards that run on batteries. Be careful of some digital pianos that are marketed as portable but are so heavy that you will need a chiropractic visit after moving it.
Reliability & Resale Value
Not many first-time beginner buyers consider the reliability and resale value of a keyboard before taking the plunge. Quite a number of nasty cheap keyboards that were sent to me by manufacturers for review were dead on arrival. That is how poor the quality control is. Established brands are more repairable and parts are easily available.
I hope you have found my tips useful in the process of buying your first piano. Do check out my other articles for guides, tips, and to find the best and most suitable piano for you as well. Also, do check out my Piano App and beginner keyboard course available for you.