If you have understood the differences between the various types of electronic keyboards and pianos, and are certain that an electronic keyboard for beginners is what you wish to purchase, choosing one can be a complicated task due to the vast range currently available on the market. For adults who are complete beginners to the keyboard (but wish to master it, or at least play at intermediate level), I highly recommend that you choose an electronic keyboard with the following features.
Keyboard for beginners – Essential Features
1. Touch-sensitive (or velocity-sensitive) keys
Absolutely vital. With touch-sensitive keys, the volume of the individual notes you play will depend on how hard you hit them (much like a traditional acoustic piano). Without them, all the songs you play will feel “soulless” without any variation in the velocity of their notes. Note that this is how the traditional organ works, so keyboards without touch-sensitivity are typically advertised as having “organ keys”, but keep in mind that even traditional organs would have foot pedals to vary the volume.
2. Full-sized keys
Unless you have small hands (in which case you can opt for organ-sized keys), full-sized keys (meaning they are the same size as traditional piano keys) will allow you to get used to the size of traditional piano keys if you do decide to graduate to an acoustic or digital piano in future.
3. At least 61 keys (black keys and white keys combined)
Anything less is really for kids; there won’t be too many songs you can play. Most keyboard for beginners seem to come with 61 keys. However, if you can afford it, and space is not a constraint, I recommend trying to find one with 88 keys (this is what a standard traditional piano has), or at least 76. Why? There are many songs or advanced pieces of music which you will not be able to play adequately with just 61 keys. If you are dedicated to mastering the keyboard, then within a few months, your keyboard with only 61 keys will feel like a toy, and you’ll feel the urge to upgrade it. Better to have spent a little more in your initial investment than to waste significantly more in a few months.
4. 32-note polyphony
This means that the electronic keyboard can produce up to 32 sounds (or “voices”) at once. You might think, how can you possibly hit 32 keys at once? Well, you’re right; you can’t. The thing to take note is: each “tone” (the instrumental sounds e.g. violin, piano, organ, flute, etc.) in your keyboard for beginners can take up multiple “voices” per note/key due to the way they are produced electronically. Perhaps the piano tone in your keyboard takes up 2 voices per note.
In addition, there’s the accompaniment feature, where you can press a single key to play a chord (group) of notes. You also have your sustain pedal, which you can press to “hold” notes over after you’ve released the keys. All this can easily add up to 16 or more voices with just a few keys pressed simultaneously. What happens when you try to play more than the maximum number of voices allowed on the keyboard? The keyboard simply drops the first few notes!
32-note polyphony should be enough for a beginner, and most keyboard for beginners which have the above-mentioned features will come with this feature as well. The higher the polyphony, the better of course, but the more expensive the keyboard will be.
5. AC adaptor power supply
Amazingly enough, some electronic keyboards don’t come with an adaptor as a standard (well, it’s a good thing if you’re looking to upgrade your current keyboard and don’t need another adaptor). Be sure to look out for this when buying your first keyboard for beginners, unless you plan on running your keyboard solely on batteries! You can always purchase one separately, but remember to include it in your budget.
The Yamaha YPT-320 (61 non-weighted keys) is a good keyboard for beginners at a reasonable price (around $200+), containing all the features outlined above.
The Yamaha YPG-235 (76 non-weighted keys) is another great keyboard for beginners for those with a bigger budget.
6. Weighted keys
If you intend to graduate to an acoustic piano in future, or are planning to take piano lessons and practice on your keyboard at home, keyboards with weighted keys are highly recommended. There are many different types of weighted keys. The one that mimics the acoustic piano keyboard most closely (and consequently are the most expensive) are wooden-key action keyboards. Such keyboards have keys made of wood instead of plastic. Other forms of weighted keys include graded-hammer action (here, the keys feel lighter as you go from left to right of the keyboard, which is what happens on an acoustic piano; note that the wooden-key action keyboards have this feature as well) and weighted balanced hammer action (all keys are weighted equally).
Unfortunately, such keyboards with realistically weighted keys are usually significantly more expensive than those without. If they happen to be over your budget, go ahead and get a keyboard without weighted keys (or one with lightly-weighted keys), but be fully aware that traditional piano keys will feel quite a bit heavier, so you’ll need to be prepared for that (hit the keys harder!) if you switch to the acoustic piano. Be aware also that finger strengthening exercises which you can perform on traditional pianos won’t be as effective on keyboards without at least some form of weighted keys.
Note that if a keyboard advertisement doesn’t mention anything about weighted, graded-hammer or action keys, it most likely doesn’t have them. That means the keys don’t offer any resistance when pressed, much like a traditional organ’s.
Keyboard for beginners – Other features
Those are the main essential features to look out for when you’re looking to purchase your first keyboard for beginners. In the next post, we look at some additional features which are nice-to-haves in your keyboard for beginners, but not completely necessary if your budget is tight.