One of the biggest topics of confusion in the world of digital pianos is the differences between digital piano and keyboard instrument types. Throw synthesizers into the mix and the distinctions become even more unclear.
While there are some similarities between these instruments, there are some key differences as well, and which type will be best for you depends on what you intend to do with it. In order to shed some light on the subject, take a look at this short guide that explains an electric piano vs keyboard as well as a synthesizer vs keyboard.
A Digital Piano
A true digital piano is the closest of the three to an upright acoustic piano. These instruments are usually furniture model pianos, meaning they are upright and come with a cabinet, although some pianos that are not upright could still be classified as digital pianos if they have a fully-weighted, 88-key keyboard.
Digital pianos always come with a full-sized, 88-key keyboard that is fully weighted in order to replicate the feel that the keys of a quality acoustic piano have when they are struck. Digital pianos come with plenty of extra features, settings, and modes, though often not quite as many as a digital keyboard.
Again, the primary focus of a true digital piano is to sound and feel as close as possible to an acoustic piano while still being lighter, more affordable, and offering much more functionality.
As such, digital pianos are the preferred instrument if you are wanting to learn to play the piano or if you are looking for an instrument that will have a prominent, permanent position in your home. Digital pianos are much lighter than acoustic piano, but still not light enough to be considered truly portable.
In a single phrase, digital pianos are the closest of the three options to a traditional piano while still offering their own set of unique advantages.
Digital pianos are actually a blend between an acoustic piano and an electronic keyboard. If you’re looking for greater sound variation, digital pianos are the great option because you can easily and conveniently modify sounds. Compared to a keyboard, digital pianos are generally larger even though they have the same keys as an acoustic piano. Digital pianos are considered to have good sound quality because unlike keyboards, they come with built-in speakers. Most digital pianos have a MIDI output which facilitates connection with a computer via an interface. This allows you to customize i.e. record and edit your own music as well as include additional parts and instruments.
Keyboards are primarily designed around a single concept—portability. These are instruments that are made to be put in the trunk of your vehicle and taken anywhere you please with little hassle at all. Because of this, keyboards are the preferred instrument for traveling musicians.
In order to keep a keyboard lightweight and portable, the keys are only partially weighted, if they are weighted at all. While this does sacrifice some realism, it drastically cuts down on the weight of the instrument.
Often, a keyboard will not even have a full 88 keys. 61 key keyboards are even lighter and more compact while offering a very similar playing experience, leading them to be the preferred choice of many. Since a digital keyboard has to travel a lot, durability is especially important.
Keyboards must be able to survive being frequently loaded and unloaded without suffering even the slightest damages. While they are not always the best instrument to learn on, this durability does make them very “kid friendly”.
This durability, along with the fact that the difference between digital piano and keyboard costs can often be drastic with the keyboard usually being much more affordable, means that a keyboard makes a great instrument for introducing a young child to the piano.
Whether you are looking for an affordable “kid friendly” instrument or a high-end music-making machine to use in traveling performances there are keyboards that are made to fit your needs.
A Keyboard is mainly built for beginners and intermediate users even though there are some varieties that are designed for advanced players. In most cases, keyboard users are interested in sampling other machines and trying to experiment with a wide variety of tones and voices. It’s important to mention keyboards were designed to primarily produce the sound of piano without too much maintenance and hassle that comes with a real piano. In fact, a keyboard is tailored to serve the needs of users looking to produce music rather than those interested in creating music. Keyboards have hundreds of tones and have all types of bells and whistles. The aim of a keyboard is not to create a realistic piano sound but rather implementation of a vast array of electronically devised and synthesized sounds.
Synthesizers are more of a controller than they are a musical instrument in and of themselves and are typically used in either stage performances or music production.
They may have either 37, 49, 61,76, or 88 keys and their keys are only partially weighted if they are weighted at all. Like keyboards, synthesizers are often transported back and forth frequently, so it is important for them to be lightweight and portable.
Really, the main difference between synthesizers and keyboards is that synthesizers have a lot more built in functions and are used almost entirely to either play or produce a more modern, electronic music or to modify various tones on the go, either in a live performance or in music production.
Synthesizers rarely ever have built in speakers since they are almost always connected to an external sound system. They do, however, come with tons of various settings, modes, and controls that allow you to make almost limitless adjustments to the sounds you play.
Because of all these controls, learning how to properly use a synthesizer can have a steep learning curve even if you are already an accomplished pianist. However, if you are the creative type looking to create your own unique sound then it is hard to beat the control and options that a good synthesizer gives you.
Synthesizers are classified under a category of keyboards known as electrophones. As opposed to keyboard whose sounds are already recorded, a synthesizer has the capability to make and create its own customized sounds. Synthesizers are digital and require data input which triggers a note or sound. The MIDI input which is composed of messages instructs the synthesizer to play the sound you desire. Keyboard don’t require any trigger. Synthesizers allow you to make more sounds which allows great flexibility and convenience as opposed to preset sounds associated with stand-alone keyboards.
Which to Choose
The battle of digital piano vs keyboard or of synthesizer vs keyboard really comes down to what you are wanting to do with the instrument.
If you are wanting a piano to put in your home and move around very little, or if you are looking for a digital instrument that plays and sounds as close as possible to an acoustic piano then a digital piano is your best bet. If you want a more portable, affordable option, then a keyboard is a good choice to consider.
Likewise, if you need an instrument that is more durable, either because you are purchasing it for a child or because you plan to move it around a lot then a quality keyboard is a good choice.
If you are a performer, choosing between a keyboard or a synthesizer really depends on the style of music you play and how technical you want your performance to be. Synthesizers offer more control and options but are much more technical instruments and often end up producing a more modern, electronic sound.
If you are producing music then a synthesizer is hard to beat. If you are stage performer who just wants a portable, durable piano to perform with then a keyboard is a good choice. Determine what you want to get out of the instrument and choose your piano accordingly.
Both digital pianos, keyboards and synthesizers each have their own unique role. In the question of keyboard vs digital piano or any other comparison between the three, it really isn’t a question which one is better outright, but a question of which one is better for you.
Do a little research on the various types of keyboards, digital pianos, and synthesizers that are available today and choose the one that will benefit you most as a musician.