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Keyboards for Beginners - Where To Start?

Posted by on 19 April 2011



:: Keyboards for beginners - Where to start? ::

"I want to play piano/ keyboard what sort of instrument do I need?"

This is a question we hear a lot from parents and beginners alike. Because there are so many options, we need to narrow it down to the most suitable option for you. Have a look at these questions below :

-How old is the student?
-What style of keyboard/Piano do you ultimately want to play?
-Do you have a budget to work to?
-Do you want it to be portable or a more furniture style piece?
-Will you be sitting piano exams?
-Will you be taking lessons from a qualified teacher?
-Should you have an acoustic piano or will a keyboard or digital piano be ok?

Hopefully by the end of this blog you might have a better understanding of what you may need.

:: Keyboard Types and Terminology::

To help you I will summarize what sort of keyboard types there are:

1/ Beginner Keyboards
2/ Advanced Keyboards
3/ Digital Pianos
4/ Stage Pianos
5/ Workstations and Synths
6/ Digital Grands
7/ Acoustic Pianos

Also, some terminology that keyboard salespeople will talk about regularly will be:

Touch Response - volume of tone will change depending on how hard or soft the key is played. This allows you to play your pieces with expression.
Graded Hammer Action or Hammer Action - keys feel and react the same way as an acoustic piano. The keys are weighted and respond in relation to how you are playing.
Polyphony - this relates to how many sounds can be played at the same time.
Tones - different instruments available e.g guitar tone or piano tone.

:: Getting Started ::

Ok, here is the first and probably most common scenario. You are a family that’s child or children are about to have keyboard lessons. You may walk into a Music store to look at what’s available and walk out with a minor headache. For many parents we want to get our kids started but don’t want to invest too much in case the initial enthusiasm wears off and they don’t continue.

Having taught for over 8 years there are a few tips that I suggest.

Invest in a reputable brand, from a bona fide professional retailer. Should you or your child not wish to continue, a reputable brand will get a better second hand sale price. Reputable brands also offer backup, parts and servicing that you will not get from other suppliers - especially internet-only based sellers.

Buy the best you can afford at the time! Like any electronic piece of equipment the higher the price, the better the quality, sound and touch of the keyboard. This in turn can be more appealing to play and keep young beginners much more inspired early on.

If budget allows make sure your keyboard is at least a touch response keyboard. This allows the student to play with expression which is a technique that needs to be learnt.

Make sure the keyboard key is the same width as a normal piano key. There are some mini keyboards with mini keys out there that are cheap, but will confuse and frustrate beginners if every time they go to their lesson they find the keyboard or piano keys are a different size than the ones they have been playing and practicing on.

For most beginners, a choice of tones is not necessarily a big factor. Most of the time they will use the on board piano sound for lessons and will use the other sounds for fun.

An excellent beginner keyboard is the Casio CTK3000 (pictured below). It is a 61 note touch response keyboard with 400 high quality tones. The Retail price of this is $599 but is on special in any Rockshop for $399 (just to give you a guide of price). Beginner keyboards can start from around $249 to $1299.

Casio CTK3000 - $399 ($599)

Again many people will ask me “what is the difference between the one at $699 and the one at $899?”. This relates quite nicely to car buying. Will the car at $1000 be ok for a beginner to learn on? The answer would probably be 'yes'. Will the car at $2000 be better for a beginner to learn on than the $1000 car and the answer again will be yes of course. The higher the price of the car usually means that the car has better features and therefore would be a better car for a beginner to learn on. This is true of keyboards as well. The $399 keyboard will certainly be ok for a true beginner but the $699 keyboard will have more features, sound better and will probably last longer before needing to be replaced.


:: Digital Pianos ::

Above we have spoken about Beginner keyboards. There are now a growing number of people that prefer to buy a Digital Piano instead of an Acoustic Piano. Buying a digital piano certainly has some advantages over buying an acoustic piano.

1/ you don’t need to tune them
2/ you can put headphones on while practicing and not annoy the whole family
3/ they are easier to move and more compact than most acoustic pianos

I have both an acoustic piano and a digital piano and whilst I wouldn’t trade my acoustic for anything, I play my digital piano much more than the acoustic.

Digital pianos typically have either a Graded Hammer Action or Hammer Action. This is very beneficial when beginning to learn the piano. Anyone can play the piano but not everyone can play the piano well. Good technique is essentially being able to play the piano well and a good keyboard action goes hand in hand with this. As noted above, the Hammer action acts similarly to an Acoustic Piano. To achieve success in piano exams a good technique is essential and although at prep grades, grade one and two we may be able to get by with practicing with our small touch response keyboard at home, within a few years we need a larger keyboard (88 notes rather than the smaller 61 note models) with a better key action to achieve success at the higher grades.

Casio CDP 100 with stand $999 ($1295)

Digital Pianos such as the Casio CDP100 start at around $1000 (see picture above). Again as the price increases so do the features. Instead of a sustain pedal that attaches by a chord we get built in pedal systems (see Casio PX730 below). Cabinet styles change and improve. For instance if you look at the Casio PX730 you can see that this unit is very appealing in its look, has the pedal board attached and has a better speaker system than the CDP100. The PX730 also has 128 note polyphony while the CDP100 has 32 note polyphony. For a little more it certainly has a better feature set that ultimately gives a better playing experience and sound.

Casio PX 730 $1695 ($1895)

As mentioned before a quality key action is paramount to long term playing success. The Roland digital pianos have the best action on the market. For a seriously beautiful digital piano with the best sound quality compare this when looking around. They have an astounding new range out at the moment. The new F110 is a sleek style digital piano which comes in black or white (depending on the style of your home) and is on special from $2499RRP to $1999. This is hard to beat as it's features include 128 note polyphony, a quality sound source, built in three pedal system, key cover and Roland’s PHA alpha II keyboard action. (see picture below). Roland’s cabinets are all solid wood and pedals are metal rather than plastic.

Roland F110 $1999 ($2499)


:: Acoustic Pianos ::

Acoustic Pianos for the beginner are another choice. If you are looking at this sort of purchase, try and take someone with you that knows a little about acoustic pianos and what to look for. Again key action and tone quality are very important. Older second hand pianos might need work done to them to bring them up to a workable level which can be expensive, so choose carefully. Acoustic pianos are also difficult to move so make sure you factor the moving cost in the budget as well as regular tuning costs which should ideally be done every 6 months. A good acoustic piano can not only take you through to Diploma level Piano but it can also be an heir loom for the family to cherish.