Digital Piano Vs Keyboard: What’s the Difference?

Are you in the market for a piano? If so, the digital piano vs keyboard decision is one you will likely have to make.

Before settling for either, it helps to understand the differences between these two instruments.

In this article, we are going to look at some distinct features of both the digital piano and keyboard.

What is a digital piano?

A digital piano aims to replicate the sound and feel of a regular acoustic piano. There are, however, significant differences in the way the two instruments produce sound.

The acoustic piano depends on three assemblies to produce sound: the key, hammer, and lever (wippen). When the pianist presses the key, the lever lifts and propels the hammer to strike a set of strings. This striking action causes the strings to vibrate and produce the desired sound.

In contrast, digital pianos lack the key-hammer-lever assembly found in the acoustic piano. When you press a key on a digital piano, an electronic sound generator produces the desired sound, which is in turn amplified through a speaker.

Some digital piano models come with hammers but these are not for striking strings as is the case with acoustic pianos. Instead, the hammers simply help to modify the sound produced by the piano to make it sound like an authentic acoustic piano sound.

Types Of Digital Pianos

Types Of Digital Pianos
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There are numerous types of digital pianos. Examples include stage pianos, arranger pianos, console pianos, hybrid digital piano, digital grand pianos, and portable pianos.

All these types of digital pianos fall under one of two categories: upright and portable digital pianos depending on how the instrument has been constructed.

Upright Pianos

These types resemble acoustic pianos as they are fixed in a wooden cabinet. They also come with built-in speakers and can produce several different sound effects.

Portable Pianos

Portable digital pianos are also known as stage pianos or workstation pianos. Their portability makes them a popular choice among touring musicians.

Unlike upright pianos, portable ones do not have inbuilt speakers. Instead, you would need to connect an amplifier to the piano to project sound.

What Is A Keyboard?

What Is A Keyboard
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A keyboard can be defined as a piano-like instrument that can produce different sounds other than the piano sound.

A significant difference between digital pianos and keyboards is that keyboards do not have the full 88 keys of a standard piano and lack fully weighted keys. The presence of few keys makes the keyboard smaller but will not affect your ability to create music.

Keyboards rely on a semi-weighted key action that allows the key to quickly return to its original position after it is pressed.

Some piano makers add some weight to the keys to increase resistance and boost the dynamic of the sound produced so that the tone closely resembles that of an acoustic piano.

A distinct feature of the keyboard is its portability. These models also come with inbuilt speakers and an arranger, allowing you to play a background track as you play the keys.

Generally, keyboards are a good choice for beginners, if you are looking to make music on the go, or want to experiment with diverse sounds. These models come with numerous technical manuals and tones, allowing you to create all sorts of sounds.

Examples of keyboards include MIDI controllers, synthesizers, workstations, arranger keyboards, and performance workstations, just to mention a few.

MIDI controllers and synthesizers are a popular option among music producers and professional musicians. These models come with a wide range of rhythms, tones, voices, and sound effects to allow creative freedom in the production of music.

Digital Piano Vs Keyboard: In-depth Comparison

Digital Piano Vs Keyboard In-depth Comparison
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Now that you know the basics of a digital piano and a keyboard, let’s have an in-depth look at the specific difference between these two instruments.

Physical attributes

Some basic keyboard pianos look just like digital pianos. Both instruments do have a keyboard and some digital pianos are portable.

However, many digital pianos are usually already installed in a wooden body giving them a similar appearance as the traditional acoustic piano.

Keyboards on the other hand are bought and used as portable instruments.

Number of keys

An important distinction between a digital piano and keyboard is the number of keys on each instrument. Digital pianos, like acoustic models, come with the standard 88 keys and 6 octaves and create an authentic piano sound.

In contrast, keyboard pianos have between 41 and 76 keys with 5 octaves or less. Due to its few keys, an electronic keyboard will be more compact than its digital counterparts.

Key size

The keys on a digital piano are of a similar size to that of an acoustic piano. On an electronic keyboard, the keys tend to be slightly smaller.

Beginners might find that the small key size makes learning the electronic keyboard easier compared to the digital piano.

Presence of weighted keys

Weighted keys are an important consideration when deciding whether to buy a digital piano or electronic keyboard. In acoustic pianos, the keys are naturally weighted.

Some players prefer weighted keys but not all piano-like instruments come with weighted keys. That being said, a good quality digital piano will have weighted keys.

Weighted keys increase resistance and enhance playability. These types of keys respond to the amount of force the player uses to press the keys.

If the keys are pressed hard, the instrument will produce a loud sound. The sound will be subdued if a small amount of force is used to press the keys.

Weighted keys can produce this effect because the keys are built to have a heavy bottom and a lighter top. The additional weight makes the sound produced by a digital piano to sound like that of an acoustic piano.

Keyboards will mostly not have weighted keys or will only come with semi-weighted keys. As such, the keys respond rapidly to the slightest touch.

Sound quality

When deciding between a digital piano and a keyboard, you will have to think about the kind of sounds you want to experiment with.

Digital pianos are built to play like and sound like a standard acoustic piano. These models do not have a hammer-string action like the acoustic piano. Instead, they rely on technological modifications of acoustic sound to produce the desired tone or rhythm.

High-end digital pianos come with extra sound effects from a variety of instruments, giving you more leverage when creating music. The technology used in digital pianos samples acoustic sounds such as electric piano sounds or bright piano sounds, helping you to play around with different tones.

Keyboards on the other hand do not deliver the authentic acoustic piano sound, more so on cheaper models. Synthesizer models do have more sound and tone varieties sampled from different musical instruments such as the organ and bass.

Price

Price is an important consideration if you are in the market for a musical instrument. There is a large price difference between digital and keyboard pianos.

Digital pianos are cheaper than acoustic models but pricier than electronic keyboard pianos.

If you are on a budget and are looking for a starter instrument, the keyboard might be a good choice. A good quality keyboard will also come in handy if you want to experiment with diverse sounds.

How To Choose A Digital Piano Vs Keyboard

How To Choose A Digital Piano Vs Keyboard
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So, now that you know the differences between the two instruments, you might be wondering how to choose the right one.

Here are several things to keep in mind when selecting between a keyboard and digital piano:

Budget

A keyboard, even a high-end one, is less pricey than a digital piano. If you are just getting started with pianos and have a small budget, you can opt for a keyboard.

That being said, if you are serious about learning how to play the piano and do not want to go all out on an expensive acoustic model, a digital piano is worth investing in.

Space

Do you want a piano-instrument that you can carry around or are you looking for one that will stand tall in your living room?

If space is an issue or you are keen on portability, the keyboard piano will likely meet your needs.

Some digital piano models such as the slab type are portable while others can be mounted on stands or a wooden cabinet to mimic an acoustic piano.

Purpose

The digital piano produces a sound similar to the acoustic piano, making it a good choice if you are looking to start playing the piano professionally.

On the other hand, you will require a keyboard if you want to experiment with sound, for example as a producer or musician in a studio setting.

Summary

Digital pianos and keyboard pianos are both great starter instruments. If you are looking to do more with your instrument, high-end digital and keyboard pianos will give you plenty of options to manipulate sound and create music to your liking. Other factors to consider when deciding between a digital vs keyboard piano are price, portability, and maintenance.

Do you have any questions or comments about digital and keyboard pianos? Lets us know below—we’d love to hear from you!

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