Students often ask me if they should play the piano or keyboard. I always reply that both instruments are OK, but there are some differences to be aware of. I can also recall the same question from back in the days when I owned a music store. And since I sold both pianos and keyboards, I always tried to give my customers honest advice.
Most people think it’s the same to play the piano or keyboard, but it’s not quite that simple. In this article, I will try to explain what I consider to be the main similarities and differences. And I will try to point out the pros and cons.
I am going to break this down into 5 topics:
- The first starting with the definition of a keyboard instrument.
- The second is about the piano, hammer action, and weighted keys.
- Then some benefits of playing keyboard instruments, including portable keyboards and digital pianos.
- Furthermore, I will continue to list some pros and cons that are good to know when you choose to play the piano or keyboard and point to some criteria for the best instrument selection.
- The last sections are about choosing the right instrument for yourself and how to learn to play it.
Definition Of A Keyboard Instrument
As the name says, a keyboard instrument is a musical instrument played using a keyboard, meaning a row of levers that can be pressed by the fingers. The most common keyboard instruments are the acoustic piano, church organ and various electronic instruments like the electronic organs, synthesizers and digital pianos.
Pianoforte – Hammer Action & Weighted Keys
Bartolomeo Cristofori created the hammer action mechanism when he invented the piano in 1698. The piano was first called pianoforte, meaning soft and loud, but later on, it was shortened to just piano.
The hammer action mechanism means that when you play the piano, hammers are hitting the strings. This action makes the keys weighted and it requires some force when played on. Weighted keys let you play the piano very dynamic, and by using the pedals you can influence the sound even more.
The Keyboard – Lots Of Opportunities
All instruments with piano keys are keyboard instruments, but the musical keyboard word has become the common name for electronic instruments like synthesizers, portable keyboards, and digital pianos.
This wide range of keyboard instruments gives the keyboard player a lot of opportunities. If you prefer to play weighted piano keys, a digital piano is a right choice. If you like fat synth sounds or a lot of effects, a synthesizer is an instrument for you. The easiest and perhaps funniest keyboard to play is the portable keyboard. Portable keyboards are easy to place, bring and play. You can also play catchy rhythms and music styles along with your musical tones.
Pros & Cons
I play both piano and keyboards. My assessment of what are the pros and cons of either playing the piano or keyboard is based on my experience as a musician, music dealer, and teacher. All information is meant to help you choose the type of instrument you want to learn how to play.
Playing the Piano:
- Weighted keys. Play with dynamics and sensitivity
- Acoustic sound. Enjoy the real acoustic piano sound
- Play all kinds of music. Great for both classical and modern music
- Limited sound variation. Few possibilities to change the sound
- Hard to play quietly. Could be disturbing to others when playing
- Non-weighted keys. Easy to play on for children
- Play many “instruments”. A wide range of instrumental tones to choose from
- Chord accompaniment. Play along with music styles and rhythms
- Silent practice. Play with headphones without disturbing anyone
- Synthetic sound. Cheap keyboard models often have “cheap” synthetic sound
- Speaker sound. The built-in speaker sound can be poor if not connected to external speakers
Selecting The Right Instrument For Yourself
Which instrument to select? It’s impossible to provide a simple answer to that question, cause there’s always more than one perception. There are differences, but much is quite similar to whether you choose to play the piano or keyboard.
Here are three essential questions that should be answered before choosing what you want to play:
- Which instrument do you like most? Visit a music store and check this out.
- How much you are willing to pay for the instrument? An acoustic piano is expensive to buy and it costs money keeping it tuned. Most keyboards are much cheaper and they don’t ever need to be tuned.
- Do you have enough space at home for a big upright piano, or could a smaller and portable keyboard be an option?
All of these questions must be considered before selecting the instrument you want to learn to play.
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Learning How To Play
Once you have chosen an instrument, it’s important to find out how to learn to play. Does your hometown have a music school? Is there any private music education or any music teachers teaching your instrument? I think most people prefer to learn to play by taking lessons with a teacher. When learning from a teacher, it can be easier to understand what is explained and how it is done, though many are also good at learning just by seeing and hearing, and then trying for themselves.
If it’s hard or quite impossible to hire a music teacher, there’s a huge selection of online learning programs you can take. Choosing an online learning program gives you the advantage to take lessons when you have the time to do it. Whatever training you choose, it’s important to find a schedule that works and that gives you good progress.
I hope my views may be useful if you plan to play the piano or keyboard. My advice and consideration are based on many years of experience both as a musician, dealer, and teacher. I’ve had students who made it and some who gave up, but I think I can say that playing a musical instrument giving them something they’ll remember forever. There is no shortcut to learn how to play, and you have to practice a lot to get good at it.
The most important thing is not whether you choose to play the piano or keyboard but to enjoy playing a musical instrument. Everyone has music inside and everyone can develop musical skills. Be sure to find your musicality and make it flourish. And remember, it’s never too late to start.