Five Things You Need To Know When Buying A Digital Piano or Keyboard

With so many different options and brands to choose from, buying a new keyboard or digital piano can be a scary process. Find out exactly what you should be looking for in a keyboard with these helpful tips!

For years now, people have been coming up to me with a look of crazed confusion, dread and desperation on their faces. Did they just witness a murder? No, worse. These poor victims are falling prey to an age old problem. In a world cluttered with Yamahas and Casios, it can be nearly impossible to figure out which digital piano or keyboard will work best for you. That is why I have crafted a special gift just for you, confused piano purchaser. I give you the five most important keyboard features to “check off your list” while out shopping for a new digital piano or keyboard. If you’re planning on using your keyboard to play all types of non-classical styles, here are a few points you’re going to want to keep in mind:

An 88 note keyboard is… key

Almost every modern acoustic piano has 52 white keys and 36 black keys for a grand total (pun intended) of 88 keys. If at all possible, I suggest trying to get a full sized keyboard.  When playing in the styles I teach, even though you will not be reading notes way above or below the middle staff, you will be playing much higher and lower on your piano than most beginning students who take classical lessons.  For the small increase in price, the extra notes are well worth it. At a very minimum, don’t buy a keyboard with less than five full octaves. It will likely end up in your closet in lieu of a larger keyboard.

5 Important Things To Know When Buying A Keyboard_korg-tinypiano-1

(Don’t do what this person did!)

Make sure the keys are standard width

One of the most fun things you will gain by learning to play the piano is the ability to sit down at any piano or keyboard and enjoy playing it. For this reason, you want to make sure the keys on your new digital piano or keyboard are standard size.  If your keys are standard size, you should have no trouble sitting down at any keyboard or piano and playing a tune. Beware of the very inexpensive “toy like” keyboards. They usually have narrower keys than a piano.  A standard piano key will be approximately 23 mm wide. I say “approximately” because every key on a piano is not exactly the same width (another topic for another article…). If it is around 23 mm you are good to go. If it is significantly narrower, move on to a better keyboard.

The keys should have some sort of “weighted” action

Another difference between traditional and digital pianos is the way it feels when you physically press down on the key. In a traditional piano, your key is attached to a lever which then causes a felt-covered hammer to strike the strings inside the piano. Again, in order to ensure you can play on any piano, you want the key press to feel similar on your digital piano even though there are no hammers or strings inside a digital instrument. To imitate the feel of an acoustic piano, manufacturers use some variation of what is known as weighted action. It basically makes the keys feel more like the keys on a traditional piano.  A digital piano or keyboard will typically either have weighted action or not. Without weighted action, the keys on the keyboard will feel more like an organ. Try to find a digital piano or keyboard with weighted action keys. It’s easy to move to an organ when you’re used to weighted action keys. Not so much in reverse …

Pay for what you’ll actually use vs. more bells and whistles

When shopping for a digital piano or keyboard, you will be overloaded with a plethora of “bells and whistles” in the form of buttons, lights and often, hundreds of different instrument sounds.  In my experience, the vast majority of those “extras” will go unused throughout the life of the instrument. You will likely play your instrument on an acoustic piano setting about  95% of the time. The other 5% you will use 4-5 other commonly used tones I have listed below. In the real world, you just don’t use a piano with something like a tuba sound very often.  

  • Acoustic Piano
  • Electronic Piano (AKA a “Fender Rhodes” sound)
  • Jazz Organ (AKA Hammond B-3 sound)
  • Acoustic “Nylon String” guitar
  • Acoustic Bass
  • Electric Bass

If you do want to spend money on keyboard “extras,” here are a few features you can find on many digital pianos and keyboards which are actually very useful.

One, a built-in metronome can be very handy rather than having to keep a separate metronome around. Two, the ability to “split” the keyboard into two halves, each with their own sound. This is a great feature because it lets you play a bass line with your left hand while playing chords and/or a melody in your right-hand with different sounds. You see a lot of solo piano players using this feature when out playing gigs and accompanying themselves singing.

Make sure it has pedal(s)

The last really important thing to look for when searching for a digital piano or keyboard is to make sure it comes with a pedal. At a minimum, you need a pedal called a sustain pedal. If it is a digital piano as opposed to a smaller keyboard, it will likely also have a second or third pedal. Just make sure you get the sustain pedal because it’s impossible to play in modern styles without one. So there you have it! Those are the five minimum things I suggest for anyone looking to purchase a new digital piano or keyboard. These days, the technology behind digital pianos and keyboards has gotten so good that, in many cases, digital pianos are a better, more practical option rather than shelling out top dollar on a concert acoustic grand.  Keyboards and electric pianos typically take up less space, never go out of tune and in almost all cases, can be used with headphones so you will not drive others crazy while you’re practicing. Most importantly, have fun and good luck on your future piano related purchases! Tell us about your favorite keyboard in the comments below!

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51 Comments
  • Regina from the Bronx
    Posted at 18:39h, 14 July Reply

    When I started to take Piano in a Flash, I purchased a 66 key Casio CTK-4200. I still use the Casio on a regular to basis to “pound out” (or learn) a tune. When it I have learned the song, I “move” the song to the digital piano. After I started Course 4, my husband realized that I wanted to keep progressing with the piano. Therefore he bought me a digital piano as a Christmas present. It was a (Yamaha DGX-650 which has a 88 weighted key action). It makes me sound really good!!!! If I can play it, it must be easy.

    P.S. He paid for it but I helped to pick it out.

    Regina from the Bronx

  • Moving
    Posted at 12:55h, 03 March Reply

    Looks like a really cool program. I could bring this up with clients I work with. How long does it take to complete the course in it’s entirety? Thanks -Ryan

    • Scott Houston
      Posted at 12:46h, 24 March Reply

      Hi Ryan! I am so sorry for the delay in responding … I just saw this post from a few weeks ago. Oops! Your question is kind of a trick question because everyone is so different regarding whether they have any skills whatsoever coming in, or like most, are starting absolutely at square 1. Having said that, in an attempt to tackle this question in the past, I really spent some time going through everything I cover in all 6 Courses (from a pedagogy standpoint) and compared that to covering an equivalent amount if you were taking traditional weekly lessons. I came up with a time span of my full Course being the equivalent to somewhere between 3 and 4 years for a pretty serious student plugging away consistently taking weekly lessons. But wait!! That is NOT how long it is taking most of my students in this program – most are forging ahead significantly faster than that. I think that is primarily due to the fact that I have completely removed the arbitrary “7 days” wait between lessons that always occurs in weekly lessons. Instead, my students are able to pace their progress through the lessons according to their natural ebbs and flows depending on what they are finding easy versus challenging. We are finding that students will go into kind of a “burst mode” and sometimes get on a roll moving through what would be a month or two of traditional lessons in a week or so. Then, you’ll see a slacking off of progress at times when someone bumps into something in a lesson that really seems to be giving them fits where they just keep plugging away on the same thing for a while until they finally are ready to move on. I’m just crazy excited about how well all this is working. The two concepts that A) whenever a student is ready for more information I am ready and available 24/7 to give it to them, coupled with B) the reality that never again will students be forced to, in essence, “waste” a lesson by showing up once a week whether you are prepared or not are working out better than I could have ever imagined. People are having a ball and playing up a storm!

  • Howard J Robbins Jr
    Posted at 14:42h, 21 June Reply

    Is a Lowrey EZP3 Digital Piano by Kawai good for beginners? I need to know.

    • Scott Houston
      Posted at 12:33h, 23 June Reply

      I don’t “endorse” any particular brand, but it looks like an excellent choice from what I could find…

  • Jimi Bradfield
    Posted at 15:37h, 22 June Reply

    I have a beautiful digital piano & an organ that has all the
    instruments & backgrounds. They are both Thomas brand. I inherited them & took some lessons a few times but never stuck with it. I always seemed to be so busy, but now am retired. I know how to read the notes
    & some chords. Do you think I could learn being a
    Senior? But, I’m in great health & very active. I do
    Love it. Do you think the piano or organ would be best to learn on? Thanks, Jimi

    • Scott Houston
      Posted at 12:27h, 23 June Reply

      For fear of sounding like I’m telling you what you want to know, I absolutely think you can play piano. We have TONS of students that are seniors … As to whether a piano or an organ is better to learn on, I have designed this program specifically for piano.On a completely personal note, I like to be able to go anywhere there is a regular piano and know that I can sit down and play it and there are a lot more pianos out in this world and there are organs:-)

  • Carol Lea
    Posted at 22:47h, 03 August Reply

    My new digital Arius periodically makes sputtering sounds. What should I do to fix it? I’m wondering if it’s a problem with the assembly or does it react to Wi-Fi or ???

    • Scott Houston
      Posted at 14:37h, 04 August Reply

      No clue on fixing pianos Carol – Your dealer you bought it from should be able to help you out…

  • shelley weddel
    Posted at 15:58h, 25 August Reply

    O like your blog. I’m considering on learning piano. I’m checking out digital pianos. Does your course have a fee?

    • Scott Houston
      Posted at 11:45h, 28 August Reply

      Yes we do charge a tuition fee. You can find everything here:
      pianoinaflash.com/pricing

      Good luck with your digital piano purchase! It’s a good route to go for most beginners …

  • Celia
    Posted at 21:44h, 01 September Reply

    I don’t read music at all but always wanted to learn piano so I would be a real beginner. Does your course work for those of us that are music illiterate?

    • Scott Houston
      Posted at 08:22h, 04 September Reply

      Celia – It does. The Courses pretty much assume zero reading ability at the start. We have a ton of students were in exactly your situation as they began and are now having a ball. 🙂

  • AJ
    Posted at 17:29h, 06 November Reply

    Hi Scott,

    I’m considering learning to play piano, but can probably only really afford a 61 key beginner keyboard at this time. Will there be a significant difference in the learning process because there are fewer keys? I am instrument-illiterate, but it seems like it’d be harder for me to learn if your courses are teaching chords/keys/patterns that I can’t replicate on a 61 key keyboard. It might be a dumb question — like I said, instrument illiterate!

    Thanks in advance.

    • Scott Houston
      Posted at 12:41h, 05 February Reply

      A 61-key piano will be just fine to start with AJ. No problems whatsoever, until you start getting much more advanced …

  • Kathy
    Posted at 19:27h, 25 April Reply

    How many pedals should a digital piano have? Thinking about buying one.

    • Ryan Eldridge
      Posted at 10:44h, 26 April Reply

      Kathy,

      The only pedal that is really necessary is the sustain pedal, which allows you to hold, or sustain, a note after you have lifted your finger.

      Ryan
      Piano In A Flash

  • Helen
    Posted at 11:09h, 28 July Reply

    What can you tell me about the qualitiy of a Shamrock Ditigal piano. Itis top of their line 128 instrument Premie Baby Grand?

    • Piano In A Flash
      Posted at 15:57h, 30 July Reply

      That would be a great piano to get!

  • Joy Butler
    Posted at 02:37h, 15 August Reply

    It’s so awesome that I stumbled upon your post because I am about to buy a piano for my youngest daughter. It really helped when you said that we must ensure that we are buying a piano which keys are standard width. As far as I can remember, my grandmother told me that a piano can still get out of tune even when not being played. She says it’s all about the humidity of the surroundings.

  • Benoit Music
    Posted at 09:38h, 05 September Reply

    Couldn’t agree more. Without the weighted keys your playing just won’t translate onto a real piano, and how many of us really use all those different options on a keyboard? Really, what most people want is to replicate the sound of a few of their favourite songs, and that means a standard piano sound.
    Thanks for the article.

  • Ravi Pod
    Posted at 11:30h, 17 September Reply

    I am considering to buy one of the below 2 Pianos. Which one you recommend and is extended warranty worth adding to the purchase? Thanks a lot!!

    Williams/Rhapsody-2-88-Key-Console-Digital-Piano (https://www.guitarcenter.com/Williams/Rhapsody-2-88-Key-Console-Digital-Piano.gc# ) or
    LAGRIMA Digital Piano, 88 Key Electric Keyboard Piano for Beginner/Adults (https://www.amazon.com/LAGRIMA-Electric-Keyboard-Instruction-Headphone/dp/B07C97WJ1Q/ref=sr_1_1?s=musical-instruments&ie=UTF8&qid=1537196694&sr=8-1&keywords=88-Key%2Bkeyboard%2BConsole%2BDigital%2BPiano%2Bwith%2B3%2Bpedals&th=1 ).

    • Ryan Eldridge
      Posted at 16:35h, 17 September Reply

      The one from Amazon should be just fine. I don’t think a warranty is necessary.

      Ryan
      Support
      Piano In A Flash

  • Rappph
    Posted at 08:20h, 25 September Reply

    When i start my digital piano goldstar gs1000 it shows the divide by zero error, and I can’t play it. Any idea how to fix it?

  • water filter
    Posted at 05:01h, 24 October Reply

    Thhis websikte was… how do I say it? Relevant!! Finally I have
    found something which helped me. Many thanks!

  • Roxanne
    Posted at 15:28h, 26 October Reply

    Hello, My granddaughter wants a piano/organ or just piano keyboard she is only 11yrs old and do not want to put alot of money in to it till I see she is interested in it. Can you tell me I see some are just battery 61 keys and some electric what is better

    • Ryan Eldridge
      Posted at 09:34h, 29 October Reply

      Roxanne,

      The power source isn’t going to matter. Battery might be cheaper, but you’ll obvious have to continue to buy batteries for it if she uses it often. Besides that, a 66 key keyboard is a great one to start with. If you make sure the keys aren’t weighted, that will be the cheapest option for you.

      Ryan
      Support
      Piano In A Flash

  • Brianna
    Posted at 10:49h, 31 October Reply

    Umm hi so I have a question,
    Is it ok if I use my adaptor to play my electric piano while the batteries are still inside.

    I’m just curious if something wrong might happen if I do so.

    • Ryan Eldridge
      Posted at 10:51h, 31 October Reply

      Hello,

      It should be fine!

      Ryan
      Support
      Piano In A Flash

  • Aoyagi Ruito
    Posted at 03:56h, 21 November Reply

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  • hot water pipes
    Posted at 08:13h, 26 November Reply

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  • Vincent M
    Posted at 23:33h, 06 December Reply

    Hello, congrats for your website which is great, well presented and well written :). My question :

    I owned 2 digital pianos. My first one was a Yamaha p-45 and then i upgraded to a Korg D1. Those are good stuff except for one thing : The sustain is very weak on both. I don’t know if it’s normal and recurrent among digital pianos in general, but some notes and passages really need more and it’s very limited compared to other pianos (acoustic) that i played on. I tried different pedals, including a half-sustained one (DS-1H from Korg) but it is the same for all of them. Did you experience the same feeling ? Or was i unlucky to experience such a bug on both pianos ? Thanks in advance 🙂

    • Scott Houston
      Posted at 11:22h, 07 December Reply

      I’m assuming whee you state “some notes and passages really need more” you are talking about the length of the delay? If so, the issue is probably more a function of the speaker size and quality built in to those digital pianos than the actual tone generator creating the sounds. You can tell that by putting on headphones where you should be able to clearly hear the full length of the delay in its entirety. it is often kind of shocking to hear how great a digital actually sounds through headphones as opposed to the bit of “downgrade” that happens once those great sounds are forced to play through smaller speakers, with usually less acoustical surrounding than an acoustic piano had through its large soundboard.

  • Vincent M
    Posted at 23:36h, 06 December Reply

    Hello, these are indeed very true and useful advices for people wanting to actually learn to play the piano. Good job !

  • Vincent M
    Posted at 17:36h, 13 December Reply

    Hello, thanks for your reply. Yes i am talking about the lenght of the delay, which is very, very short. The D1 has no built-in speakers and i use either studio headphones or studio monitors so unfortunately, the issue does not come from that parameter :(.

  • Rosemary
    Posted at 20:49h, 02 February Reply

    I learnt to play the organ, but stopped about 35 years ago and now I find I forgotten how to read music like before, and use it on the keys. However, being a senior I am going to start again with probably a keyboard also with organ tone for classical music, until I am sure I can really re-learn it. Is a Yamaha keyboard for beginners good, or should I go for an e-piano? Thank you so much for your reply!

    • Ryan Eldridge
      Posted at 10:00h, 04 February Reply

      Rosemary – A Yamaha keyboard is great! That is the brand we typically recommend.

  • David
    Posted at 21:59h, 02 March Reply

    I have a lot of brief downtime, that I would like to
    spend practicing. Wish I could find a Keyboard, under
    30″ long and battery powered for portability,
    headphone jack for playing anywhere, but Full
    Size Key (or close to it), and NOT a controller
    (don’t want to carry a laptop, too). Know I am
    asking for a lot in one Keyboard, but any
    suggestions??
    THANKS!

    • Ryan Eldridge
      Posted at 13:52h, 04 March Reply

      Hello,

      Check amazon. They have a lot of great and affordable keyboards. You can search for anything you want your keyboard to include or not.

      Ryan
      Support
      Piano In A Flash

  • Monika
    Posted at 18:57h, 13 March Reply

    Hello,
    I’m so glad I found this website! Really helpful. I have a question, I’m thinking of buying a second hand electric piano for my 5year old son. I found Kawai CL25 that seems good (88 keys, 1pedal, very compact) but I would love to have a professional opinion as I don’t know anything about pianos. The other second hand piano in a good condition that I found is Kawai CL36 (88 keys, 3pedals). Which one would you recommend for a 5 year old boy? Also, I would like it to be good enough so I don’t have to change it in a few year’s time and universal enough so he can play other pianos (including acoustic pianos) without it being too different. I might also give it a go myself. I am sorry for all these questions but I really don’t know anything about pianos. Thank you!

    Monika

    • Ryan Eldridge
      Posted at 13:20h, 14 March Reply

      Monika,

      The Kawai CL25 would be a great one! No need to have 3 pedals for a 5 year old. One is fine. And that keyboard should last you a long time.

      Ryan
      Support
      Piano In A Flash

  • word
    Posted at 19:35h, 04 April Reply

    Hi there, yeah this paragraph is in fact nice and I have learned lot of things from it concerning blogging.
    thanks.

  • Nate
    Posted at 12:59h, 06 April Reply

    Is a RockJam RJ761 a good beginner piano?

    • Ryan Eldridge
      Posted at 10:57h, 08 April Reply

      Hello! We suggest something with more than 36 keys. Also, if that monitor on the keyboard only displays pre-downloaded content, then it is unnecessary. However, if it can access the internet (like google or something like that) then it would be helpful because you could watch our lessons from it. Hope that helps!

      Ryan
      Support
      Piano In A Flash

  • Taylor Bishop
    Posted at 08:36h, 13 May Reply

    I wanted to thank you for helping me learn more about digital pianos. It’s good to know that you should find a piano that has weighted action keys. I’m kind of interested to learn if different pianos would have different weights to the keys or if it’s typically the same.

  • Carol A. Khalek
    Posted at 08:51h, 19 June Reply

    Hello,
    I am not a beginner nor piano expert and I’m on a very tight budget.
    I was offered a Roland EX-20 that is only produced for the Middle East and Africa for $330 (40% off).
    It has 66 keys which is the drawback but with that kind of price, I don’t know if 5 octaves will be enough especially that I’m looking for a durable option.
    Any recommendations on whether to get it or not?

    • Ryan Eldridge
      Posted at 10:09h, 19 June Reply

      Hello!

      That Roland sounds great! 66 keys is a great starting point and more than enough to get started. You do not have to start out with a full 88 key keyboard or piano.

      Ryan
      Support
      Piano In A Flash

  • Brenda Gondak
    Posted at 02:01h, 22 September Reply

    My daughter wants to learn piano. I have an older Casio keyboard, and also borrowed a Yamaha keyboard. My daughter wants to download a teaching app on her iPad, but she thinks she needs a midi port in order to connect it to the piano. Is a digital keyboard what she needs?

  • rohit aggarwal
    Posted at 02:20h, 23 November Reply

    thanks for the information

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