If you are in the market for a digital piano keyboard, then I am going to assume your purchase is for one of the following reasons:
- It is for yourself and you are either, a) a beginner or b) can already play
- It is gift for some else and they are either, a) a beginner or b) can already play
- You are buying for a band, group, school, or club.
Whichever of the three categories your purchase falls into, there are a number of things to consider when purchasing a digital piano keyboard. Firstly, unlike many products, the person who is going to be using the product has to be taken into consideration. I say this because, if you were buying an X-box or an iPod for example, the person’s level of ability to use it is not really going to make that much difference to the buying decision.
However, there are several factors that need to be thought through depending on whether the person using the digital piano is an absolute beginner or a seasoned player.
Below I have outlined a number of these factors as well as a number of functions and features you will want to consider for any digital piano you are thinking of buying. There are in no particular order of importance but each should be assessed and considered before buying a digital piano keyboard.
Ease of Use
You will find that the control setup varies a great deal depending on the make and model of the digital piano you are considering. They can range from just a handful of buttons and an on/off switch to a whole array of controls, buttons, switches and LEDs on the higher specification models. This may be a consideration if the piano is intended for someone who struggles with how to turn on an electric kettle, however, for the other 99.9% of the population, I do not believe any of the control set-ups are beyond the comprehension of anyone. All come with instruction manuals, and even if it does take a little longer to understand some pianos than others it will be worth it for the additional functions and sound quality it will undoubtedly give you.
Dimensions / Weight / Portability
In truth, most digital pianos have similar dimensions but if there is a specific space or room it needs to fit into then you need to check these before purchasing. A more prevalent factor is the weight particularly if the piano is being bought for a child. At the lower end, they tend to weigh around 20 – 25 lbs. which means they can be moved from one spot to other with too much effort. If the piano is going to remain in one room, then this is of no consequence but I know many players who love to play their piano in different rooms and even outdoors on the patio or decking, for example.
Always check whether the piano can be powered by batteries and if it does and you want to power it this way, you will most likely need to purchase these separately. Shipping regulations state that most products are not allowed to have the batteries already installed so bear this is mind. Another thing to check is whether or not the power supply unit is supplied with the piano. There are some which do not and require you to purchase this separately.
The digital pianos we will be looking at are the full-size 88-key configuration. However, there are variations in how each keyboard functions. Firstly, there is the ‘action’ of the keys which relates to how closely the playing of the keys matches how it would feel if you were playing a real acoustic piano in terms of the weight and pressure. This is important if your piano playing involves playing an acoustic piano at school or other piano lessons.
You also want to check if the keyboard can be split. This is a function that effectively splits the keyboard into two halves, which allows two people to play together at the same time. This is a great function when you have a piano tutor sitting next to you as you can both play the same tune simultaneously. It also allows for your right and left hands to be playing different ‘voices’ during a piece of music. For example, your left hand could be playing strings, whilst your right is playing electric organ.
Voices relate to the different sounds that your digital piano can play when you strike a key. These sounds replicate what you might hear if playing another musical instrument. These tend to be grand piano, electric piano, organ, harpsichords, bass, strings, and electric guitar and for each of these, there can sometimes be different versions. The number of voices and the variations that can be achieved will depend on the specific product. If your keyboard can be split two players can both be playing, but the voice or instrument that is heard when they each play a note is different.
Record / Playback
When learning this can be an excellent way for you and/or your piano teacher to assess your progress. It is a function that you tend to find on the higher end models. These recordings are stored internally on the piano rather than recorded externally via a connection to your computer for example. Obviously, there will be a limit on the memory a digital piano has and the amount of playback it can record. If you feel that you would prefer to record a lot of your playing, then look for a digital piano that has a USB connection. This way you can connect to your PC and record using music recording software.
Check whether or not the digital piano you are buying comes supplied with a pedal or not. For those that don’t, the pedal will need to be purchased separately, although they tend not to be too expensive. The pedal is not essential but as you progress the ability to use a pedal to sustain or reverberate a note or chord will become more desirable.
Sound Output / Speakers / Headphones
One obvious and desirable feature is that your digital piano sounds as good as it possibly can. This will be very much influenced by the rating and quality of the speakers. These tend to be stereo speakers but always check. The wattage rating of the speakers should also be checked. If you want to connect external speakers, then this will depend on the digital piano having the appropriate Midi or USB connections. This will vary from product to product so always check this prior to purchasing.
Finally, if you want the ability to listen to your playing privately most digital pianos will have a headphone socket for you to do this. Always check the specific headphone socket type as it may not match the headphones you were planning to use. If it doesn’t, new compatible headphones will need to be purchased.
Having the ability to connect to your laptop or computer is hugely desirable but in some cases this option is not included so always check this. USB connectivity allows you to use piano teaching software on your PC, record whilst you’re playing using recording software and also to connect to online teaching programs and other websites. There is a vast array of piano tutorial and virtual teaching programs available online and if you do not have the luxury of a private tutor then these programs are ideal for learning. If you feel you will benefit from such a program, then it is important that the digital piano you select has a USB connection
Teaching Software / Programs
Some digital pianos are supplied with free tutorials pre-programmed within the product or alternatively they may have a trial access to a piano teaching program on the internet. Obviously, this requires the ability to connect to your home computer so ensure it has USB connectivity.
Some digital pianos have a range of tunes and music already preprogrammed into them that allow to either play along or with the more basic ones assist in your learning to play.
Obviously, this is not a list of every function that you need to consider when purchasing a digital piano, but it serves as starting point for the most important factors.