Best Keyboards for Piano Lessons

by SusanM

The best keyboards with the essentials needed for piano lessons.

When I was a piano teacher there was one question I heard more than any other.

Is it okay to use a keyboard at home instead of a piano?

As a qualified music teacher my answer was always - it depends.

Some keyboards are totally inappropriate for learning piano on where others make a good alternative to buying a piano.

Can Kids Use Any Keyboard?

Before I go through the essentials for any keyboard that is going to be used to learn piano on I need to correct a common myth that I heard so often as a piano teacher.

The myth that a child can learn piano on anything - even if it is only a toy piano or keyboard is a belief that has ruined many piano lessons.

This myth is a BIG problem for a piano teacher. It is actually no different than saying it is okay to learn to play soccer with a child's tiny hi-bounce ball. Hi-bounce balls, the tiny rubbery balls that have a massive bounce when you drop them on the floor, are great fun for kids. They can certainly help a child's coordination too but you wouldn't think of attending a soccer lesson with one. These small balls are just too different and they would end up not knowing how to play correctly with a normal sized soccer ball. It would be almost impossible for them to join a soccer team because they would not have learnt the right skills.

Learning piano is exactly the same. If you start with something that is vastly different to the real thing it will create a lot of problems with learning. I have had child students who came to me after learning on a toy (or poor quality) keyboard for a few months who just could not make the change to a piano or good quality keyboard. So parents beware when you choose an instrument. A keyboard is fine - but it must be the right type and never, ever a toy.

The Size of the Keyboard

The size of the keyboard changes how many keys it has (as well as the size of the keys which I will discuss next). A piano student will outgrow a keyboard that is too small just because they will advance to piano pieces that need keys that aren't on their keyboard. This will mean you will need to upgrade to a new keyboard as soon as they can play anything more than the very easiest piano pieces. Although buying a keyboard with more keys can be a little more expensive it will save you money in the long run if you do not have to upgrade every time a new level of piano skill is reached.

The Yamaha EZ-200 is a good size. It has 61 keys. A piano usually has 88 but 61 keys should give a student many years of learning. This is because the highest and lowest keys on the piano are usually only used by advanced or professional level players. This keyboard also has all the other essential features needed that I will discuss next.

Yamaha EZ-200 Keyboard
Yamaha Corporation of America

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The Size of the Keys

The size of the keys is an absolute essential. It's even more important than how many keys the keyboard has. Having too few keys will only be a problem when the student advances to harder pieces. It will not change how they are learning their piano technique. Different size keys will create problems with learning piano technique from the first day of lessons.

When you learn piano you use your unconscious muscle memory. Playing the piano is very complex skill. If you cannot use a well developed muscle memory things will become too hard. This means a student will not be able to play anything except the easiest, beginner piano pieces. Some cheaper and especially toy keyboards have keys that are smaller than normal. This causes BIG problems with muscle memory because the brain will be memorizing the movements needed for these smaller keys rather than for normal  sized keys. This means a student will not be able to play on any other piano or keyboard.  Only the one they have at home (the smaller keys come in many different sizes so it will really be limited to the one they have at home). This is of course a situation that is best avoided by buying a keyboard with keys that are the correct size.

All the keyboards I've mentioned here have the right sized keys. The Yamaha DGX-530 Keyboard has the same number of keys as a piano (88). The keys are also lightly weighted. Piano keys work on gravity and an internal mechanism so they have a little weight when you press down on them. This is a good thing because it is easier to get different shades of loud and soft than with a key that goes down too easily. This is important with touch sensitive keyboards which I will discuss next. So when a student plays the DGX-530 it means they will feel like they are playing piano keys. This makes it much easier to swap from a keyboard to a piano. This keyboard also has all the other needed features - so even though its more expensive than the first keyboard recommended it is a better choice because of the weighted keys.

Yamaha DGX-530 Keyboard
Yamaha Corporation of America

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Yamaha DGX-530 Keyboard

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Touch Sensitive Keyboards

Learning to play piano is not just about hitting the correct keys. It is also about playing musically. This means playing loudly and softly with all the sound levels in between. Many keyboards are not touch sensitive which means it does not matter whether you hit them soft or hard they make exactly the same level of sound - the only sound control is from the volume button. This means you cannot make changes when playing, shades of loud and soft are not an option - this means you cannot learn to be musical.

Although touch sensitive keyboards are not quite as sensitive as a piano they are significantly better than keyboards without this option. This means a touch sensitive keyboard is an essential for piano lessons.

All the keyboards shown in this article are touch sensitive.

What About a "Pedal"?

Learning to use the main pedal on a piano is essential to learning how to play. Most piano music needs you to know how to use the right pedal (called the sustain pedal). Most pianos have two pedals. Keyboards usually do NOT have this pedal. This means you would need to buy a new keyboard with a sustain pedal soon after starting lessons. (All the keyboards I have mentioned have a sustain pedal.)

Digital pianos are good alternative to a keyboard. They normally have all the essentials you need to learn piano. Like the right size and number of keys, touch sensitivity and a sustain pedal. The Williams Allegro Digital Piano is a good example. It has the full 88 keys. It is touch-sensitive but it also has a special feature with the keys which makes them feel a lot like piano keys.

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Williams Allegro 2 88-Key Hammer Action Digital Piano LN

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Other Keyboard Options

Keyboards often have things like sound effects. You don’t have to have these unless you want them. This is because as long as the keyboard or digital piano has all the things I have mentioned it will be fine to learn piano on.  Things like sound effects are fun but are not essential to having a good keyboard to learn piano on. 

Another Music Article

Tips and tools for teaching piano theory to kids
Updated: 09/13/2012, SusanM
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