Choosing the piano, keyboard, or synthesizer that’s right for you depends on a variety of circumstances. First, let’s look at the difference between these types of instruments.
Acoustic Upright Pianos
An acoustic piano is the classic mainstay of the instrument, existing for hundreds of years and played on by the greatest of composers. They are upright and always contain three foot pedals: a soft pedal, a sustain pedal, and a middle pedal, which leaves the pressed keys sustained, but not the keys played after.
They are almost always 88-keys (7 octaves), leaving every song playable (depending on your skill level, of course). They tend to be more on the expensive end, due to the complexity and detailed craftsmanship of the instrument, as well as the quality of the materials.
Digital Pianos / Keyboards
This is the broadest category in the group of instruments. This instruments can range from 25-keys all the way up to 88-keys. Some are upright and some are flat, needing something for them to rest on. If you’re at home and want to sit while playing, a specific seat for these instruments will suit you great. If you’re interested in performing live and possibly want to stand up while, playing, you’ll need a stand that raises to the height of your choosing.
These types of instruments offer a huge range of capabilities, such as pitch and octave control, instrument sound, and even may offer a metronome to practice your rhythm and timing, an internal drum machine, turning the keys into specific drums. Some even have a bank of background songs and drum patterns where you can play along to them.
Synthesizers are all about manipulating sound. EQ, waveforms, and many different effects like delay, reverb, and distortion may be available to tweak to the exact way you want. Some synthesizers are made more for live performance, while some are strictly MIDI, meaning you will be manipulating the sound inside your computer only (although some you can do both).
Some have multiple faders and knobs, leaving you extra control over your sound. This especially comes in handy for a live performance if you prefer to not have a computer on stage. You can do these adjustments straight on the front of the synthesizer.
How many keys do I need on my piano or keyboard?
This essentially depends on what you want to play. If you’re looking at a MIDI synthesizer where you will be inputting all of your playing to the software inside your computer, you may only need a 25-key model since you can edit your compositions inside your audio editing program or digital audio workstation, also known as a DAW if you’d like. It can save space and even leave you with more versatility in your DAW, moving around notes and chords in your program.
For a complete beginner who wants to learn to play keyboard, a 25-key up to a 49-key will be sufficient. Only the most advanced songs tend to use the full 88-keys of a keyboard in a single piece. Therefore, an advanced piano player would want a full 88-key piano or keyboard since he or she will most likely enjoy playing more complex pieces that use more octaves. An advanced electronic musician may still only need a 49-key, rather than an 88-key, because they edit and manipulate so much of their music inside their computer, rather than straight from the physical instrument,
Basic beginner keyboards are very inexpensive. Although without the bells and whistles, they are great to start learning scales, chord progressions, and new songs.
The Casio SA-78 Mini Keyboard is the best choice for children, as it has smaller keys and also includes drum sounds, so your child can have fun playing drum patterns all in one.
The Casio CTK 1300 is a 61-key full sized keyboard with 100 built-in rhythm and 100-built-in sounds.
Mid-Range/Professional on a budget:
The Yamaha PSR S670 Digital Keyboard is one of the best you can get for the price range, and if you order from Musikshack, you will also receive a free case for safe portability.
High-end/Best you can get:
The Yamaha Tyros 5 61 Key Arranger Workstation is top of the line. If your order on Musikshack, you will also receive a set of free speakers and a stand.
For stand alone keyboards, you might want to consider a keyboard stand, especially for live performance. Consider a CA keyboard Stand Single X Type, a great bargain.
You might also not be satisfied with using an office chair or living room chair to sit in to play. Piano and keyboard benches, as they are called, are made to sit in the correct position. Some are even adjustable in height, so you can find the right height to play so you don't strain your wrists during performance.
If you’re purchasing a keyboard or digital piano, many models do not come with the traditional upright acoustic piano effect pedals. A footswitch/pedal can emulate not only the effects on an acoustic piano, but you can also use the pedal to trigger any effect available in the keyboard.
The Yamaha FC 5 Foot Switch is another great bargain.
For traveling, you might consider a case if you don’t want dings and scratches on your instrument. Musikshack has its own brand of keyboard cases in two different sizes. Both products are lined with thick nylon foam padding and include a separate pocket for storing adaptors, cables, pedals, or even music books if you’d like.
If you’re looking for a synthesizer and are considering producing music inside the digital audio workstation on your computer, you’ll need a specific connector to hook up your synth to your PC or Mac. A MIDI to USB cable will accomplish this. The MIDI side connects to your synth and the USB side connects to your computer. The Yamaha UX16 USB MIDI Interface is a high-quality USB-MIDI interface.
With so many options available in this field of instruments, find what is exactly right for you.