AZ PIANO REVIEWS!: Digital KEYBOARD vs Digital PIANO - What's the Difference? REVIEW - Digital Piano Reviews

May 28, 2010

Digital KEYBOARD vs Digital PIANO - What's the Difference? REVIEW

UPDATE - February 15, 2014 - People ask me all the time, "what's the difference between a keyboard and a digital piano?" It's actually a simple answer but also can still be a bit confusing. Here's what you need to know:

Regular Grand Piano
A regular acoustic piano has 88 rectangular black & white keys that are "weighted" (feel heavier to push) and move up & down in a fluid motion when played. A regular acoustic piano also produces a piano tone when piano "hammers" inside the piano strike the strings which then creates vibrations which are amplified by the wooden soundboard in the piano. And finally, a regular piano has 3 pedals which are accessed by the player's foot (the right one is the most important) and activate functions generally designed to make the music sound smoother with sustain lingering sound and/or softer volume. That's the simple explanation of an acoustic piano. Although all regular acoustic piano brands & types differ slightly in their touch & tone, they usually have similar characteristics in the way they operate and behave.

Kawai CE220 Digital Piano
A DIGITAL PIANO, in the strictest sense, tries to duplicate how an acoustic piano operates as well as how it feels and sounds. They can be lighter weight and portable, or come in heavier grand and upright looking cabinets that resemble the look of an acoustic piano. Most of the basic digital pianos not only have regular acoustic piano tones, but they also have anywhere from 6-400 or more additional instrument tones as well. So the normal definition of a digital piano is an 88-key instrument (portable or stationary) that tries to duplicate the key weight, key-touch, sound, pedaling, & function of an acoustic piano.

A KEYBOARD, on the other hand, is missing one or more of those features. It may sound like an acoustic piano, but not feel like one at all. Or it may feel like an acoustic piano, but not sound like one at all. Or it may feel & sound and operate like a digital piano but not have 88 black & white keys (maybe just 49, 61, 73, or 76). I have also played keyboards that appear to be a digital piano because it had 88 piano style keys but the keys weren't weighted (just light & quick spring movement) and the sound was more like an organ or synthesizer keyboard. So that wouldn't qualify in the traditional way. Owning a digital piano with 88 keys that are realistically weighted and move up & down correctly (as compared to a good real acoustic piano) is really what you should have if at all possible, especially if you have piano students in your home.

Keyboard
Generally speaking, most mainstream digital keyboards these days try to duplicate the sound of a regular piano (more or less), but they normally have either 61 or 76 light weight modified piano keys that do not move or react like piano keys. In other words, it's like typing on a virtual keyboard (such as an iPod) as opposed to a regular keyboard attached to your computer. It just doesn't feel right and piano teachers generally do not like them because their touch response cannot duplicate piano music very well (I would agree). However, they do have lots of other sounds and features that can be fun to use. I will say that when it comes to beginning piano students (especially young ones) who have never played before, spending around $200 or so on a keyboard to start off with is certainly less costly than spending a lot more money on a good digital piano, so that's a big consideration. However, playing a non-weighted spring action keyboard, when the goal is to learn to play the piano, can create problems especially for the younger player. They can develop bad technique and playing habits on lightweight keys if allowed to play them for too long of a time (months or years), so if you are going to be using a keyboard for practice, don't do it for very long, especially if the student is taking piano lessons. Get into a good weighted touch digital piano as soon as possible, especially if you (the student) are progressing in your playing ability.


Sophisticated, technologically advanced keyboards that focus primarily on accompaniment chord styles & rhythms are called "arranger keyboards." They are used by people who want to sound like a "one man band" or by musicians for playing "gigs" without the need for other players being there. They normally come in either the 61 or 76 key versions (although mostly 61-key in the US), and arranger keyboards work best with "unweighted" or only slightly weighted keys because of the need to use other instruments sounds and music styles with drum patterns while playing the keyboard. All the major keyboard manufacturers make "arranger keyboards" and not only are they popular in the US, they are especially popular in Europe. Actually, pro arranger keyboards are my favorite type of "keyboard" and I have played literally hundreds of them over the years for home and professional use. Typically, the cost of these keyboards range from approx $1000 to $5000 depending on what you like and what you need.

Roland Fantom Synthesizer
Synthesizers (aka: synths or workstations) are digital "keyboards" and can have 37, 49, 61, 76, or 88 keys (synth keys are lightweight keys with spring action and are not the same as a piano weighted key) and are used primarily used to play contemporary music as well as modifying the tones that are already in that keyboard. They are used by musicians who like to adjust and change many functions on the keyboards as well as do multitrack recording and real time sound looping and performance. There are also keyboards called samplers and controllers that have specialized uses for certain types of pro applications.

Korg Kronos Stage Piano-Synth
Typically synthesizers do not have built-in speakers because they are primarily used on stage or in places where you connect to an external sound system. There are some 88-keydigital pianos that are also synthesizers and sound & feel  more like a piano (although some do not), and they do SO much more than a regular digital piano that they are generally not referred to as a digital piano, but a "piano synthesizer" or "workstation." Like I said, these definitions can be a bit confusing and overlapping.

So a Digital Piano tries to duplicate what a regular piano does and some do it very well! The home portable & cabinet digital pianos that also have lots of extra functions & features incl drums, chord styles, recording, etc., are still be called "digital pianos" but they can also be called "ensemble digital pianos" because they have fun accompaniment features and do so many more things to enhance the piano playing experience. 

Yamaha Tyros arranger keyboard
Most of the major keyboard/digital piano manufacturers these days make keyboards & synthesizers and some of the popular higher priced ones are the Yamaha S-950, Yamaha Tyros 4,  Korg Kronos, and the Roland Fantom series. On the lower end of the keyboard price range are very nice technologically advanced models from Casio such as the WK7500 and XW-G1. You can also get beginner keyboards for under $100 from Yamaha & Casio which are good for young children or even adults just to have fun and/or learn some basics.


As for digital pianos, some of my favorites are the Roland FP7F (approx $2000 discount internet price), Roland HP505 (approx $3000 discount price), Yamaha CLP440 (approx $3000 discount price), Casio PX750 ($799 internet discount price), andPX780 ($999 internet discount price), and Kawai CE220 ($1899 internet discount price), among others. Go here to check out the new Casio PX780: Casio PX780 review

Casio PX750 Digital Piano
I play, own, and teach on digital pianos, digital keyboards, synthesizers, and have been around them all my life. I like them all for what they do and they allow me to musically express myself in different ways. So if it were up to me, I would have at least one of each of my favorites...and I do (even more than that! My advice is, if you want to play the piano, are going to take piano lessons, or just want to have fun but play correctly, then get a good digital piano (portable or cabinet version) as opposed to a keyboard. There really is a noticeable difference and music comes out much better on a quality piano key weighted touch digital piano. After you have played a digital piano for a while, then it can also be very enjoyable in getting & playing a keyboard or synthesizer in addition to the piano because the keyboard or keyboard synth will enhance your playing experience even more in different ways. But the primary thing to do is get a good, solid digital piano. Many of the new digital pianos now have a high speed USB output to computer or iPad for some exciting learning and practice programs and Apps. These things are especially exciting for kids & adults alike and motivate people to practice more (and better) and help overall music understanding. There are a lot of good piano choices in various price ranges so if you want help in deciding what would be best for you and/or your family, please contact me and I will be happy to give you some personal helpful advice:)

If you want more info or advice on which model might be best for you or how to get one of these instruments for LESS than store or internet discount prices, please contact me at tim@azpianowholesale.com or call direct at 602-571-1864 (if you live in the US).

* I recommend eMedia educational software. If you decide to make a purchase after clicking on link below, I have arranged a big discount for you direct with eMedia for their educational software and that discount price is displayed through this link only! I want to see everyone learn to play and enjoy piano!

6 comments:

  1. Hi,

    I am quite a beginner in learning piano, i want to enjoy music and planning to learn piano seriously. I want to know what is the low priced digital piano best for enjoyment and sound quality. i am more into classical music such as Mozart and i take classical seriously but i can't afford to buy a real piano or grand piano.

    I've seen alot of Yamaha digital piano like Clavinova and they all sound good, but i can't decide which one of them really produce good sound quality or perfect tones.

    Your advice on playing on digital piano first before getting into keyboard is really helpful :D for beginners like me. I started on keyboard and it really not turn well. I wanted to start all over again with digital piano.

    This is a very good blog on piano review. I'm so glad that i found it.

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  2. Thanks for these descriptions, very helpful. I've pretty much had a keyboard my whole life (play casually, never had lessons but consider myself pretty decent) but would like to get into it a bit more and hopefully start our daughter playing as well. Will definitely upgrade to a digital piano now.

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  3. Do digital pianos also produce sound according to how hard or softly we press a key like in an acoustic piano!

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  4. yes, and some digital pianos do that kind of thing better and more realistically than others.

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  5. Useful to me, thank you for allowing me to figure out the difference between these piano, the choice of which I know the piano.

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  6. Great explanations for these subtle differences between digital pianos, keyboards, and synthesizers.

    Personally, in terms of replicating the feel of a real piano keyboard, I found that the Roland fantom x 8, a synthesizer, to feel better than that of any digital piano I played on.

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