Selecting a Portable Keyboard

There are so many wonderful keyboards and digital pianos on the market that to choose one can feel overwhelming.  The question is really, “What kind of keyboard do I need to begin piano studies?”

In an ideal world, we would all have pianos with 88 weighted keys. While the debate between preferring acoustic or digital/electronic continues, having a piano that is totally functional and in tune  is absolutely necessary.  Does that seem obvious to you?  Perhaps surprisingly, it doesn’t appear that way to everyone.  I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve had conversations that included things such as “most of the keys work” or “my mom had it tuned when I was taking lessons, about 15 years ago,” or “he is just a beginner, so it’s good enough.”  You get the idea.

As much as I want all students to have a full-size piano, I understand that it is simply not always possible.  We need to talk about the next option: portable keyboards.  Before I get blasted by people saying keyboards are never acceptable for beginning piano studies, please know that I am being realistic here.  I would prefer to have students begin with a keyboard than never learn the joys of making music at all because they didn’t own a piano.  And honestly, I would prefer that they begin with a keyboard and not a broken down, never-can-be-tuned acoustic piano simply because it is a ‘real’ piano.

Getting down off of my soap box now, let’s talk about keyboards.  What brand?  I have personal preferences, but that is not what matters.  How much should it cost?  That depends on so many factors beyond the scope of this post.  Here, however, is my list of what I consider minimum standards:

  1.  At least 61 keys, but more is better.  Make sure the keys are ‘full size’, meaning they are the same size as piano keys.  Some keyboards have keys that are a little narrower or not quite as long.
  2. Touch sensitive (or velocity sensitive or whatever the manufacturer calls it). This means that when you strike the key with more weight, it produces a louder sound; less weight creates a softer sound.
  3. A sustain pedal.  This is a footswitch that plugs into the back of the keyboard.  While it is most often called an accessory, I consider it an absolute necessity.  Even if your budget requires you to buy the pedal later,  be sure the keyboard will accept a pedal.  Not all of them do.  (A button marked ‘sustain’ is not the same thing.)
  4. AC adapter.  Keyboards are battery hogs, and regular daily practice is super important.   It is pretty discouraging to hear a student tell me he couldn’t practice because the batteries died.
  5. A stand.  The keyboard should be placed at the correct height so that the proper playing posture becomes a part of the practice habit.  I have students that slump over the piano in my studio because at home they practice on a keyboard sitting on a bed.  Not good.  Along with the stand, you will need a chair or bench at the correct height.

Hope this helps. Got questions?  Ask away!