Electronic Keyboards: A Guide to Buying Your First Keyboard
Anyone learning to play electronic keyboard will need an instrument to practice on at home soon after starting tuition. This guide aims to help beginning electronic keyboard players decide on an appropriate first instrument, as there is an overwhelming range of electronic keyboards on the market today.
As the saying goes “a bad workman blames his tools”, but you can get a great head-start as a musician by purchasing the best quality electronic keyboard you can possibly afford. I’d say you should budget on spending £200-£500 on your first keyboard. This isn’t that much if your going to be forking out for weekly lessons- I imagine you want to hear the the best results of all that time, money and effort when your practising at home!
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Most teachers should have no problem with you waiting until you have the money to buy a good quality keyboard with all the features you need, rather than buying something straight away which will quickly need upgrading. And compared to other musical instruments, good keyboards are quite inexpensive. At least they can sound like any instrument you choose and can play in all styles. The keyboard is certainly the instrument for those who enjoy variety!
Use the jargon buster below to navigate through the huge range of features on offer when buying your keyboard. I’ll explain what each feature does, why you need it, and what to look out for when choosing between keyboards as a beginner.
Keys: Your keyboard should have at least 61, full-size keys. A piano has 88 keys and if you aspire to play piano as well, look for weighted keys which replicate the feel of the piano. However, keyboards and pianos are two different instruments, and non-weighted keys are fine for those beginners who aim to be purely electronic keyboard players.
Sounds/ Voices: The more sounds your keyboard has, the better, but look for high quality realistic sounds. Sounds that have been sampled are generally better than those that are synthesised. Sampled sounds are digital recordings of the actual instrument, whilst synthesised sounds are electronically created, and so less realistic and often poorer quality. Also, choose a keyboard with a realistic and sympathetic piano sound, especially if you aspire to study classical piano as well.
Rhythms: Having more pre-programmed rhythms on your keyboard allows you to be more creative, and play in more styles of music. See if the keyboard has rhythms in the styles of music you enjoy listening to and playing.
Touch Sensitivity: This is essential. Touch sensitivity basically means the harder you press a key, the loader it sounds- like when playing a piano. Without touch sensitivity, you can’t add expression and dynamics to your playing which you will need for a musical performance.
Floppy Disk Drive: Is very useful, so you can save your settings, arrangements and recordings for the future. The newest keyboards now have USB ports and flash drives which are even better if you want to link your keyboard with a computer.
MIDI: This stands for Musical instrument digital interface and is basically an electronic language which electronic musical instruments use to communicate with each other. If your keyboard is MIDI compatible, you can link it up to other instruments and computers. If you have MIDI and a disk drive for example, you can download and use the MIDI files from the web.
Recording: Look out for keyboards that allow you too record what you play in ‘real time’, and record or ‘step in’ the accompaniment section. The more tracks you can record, the better. This allows you to be more creative in making music, and compose and save your own music as well.
Polyphony: This is the ability to have more than one note sounding at the same time. It is essential to have at least 16 note polyphony.
Accompaniment Section: Look for a keyboard with a good accompaniment section. Put the keyboard in ‘fingered mode’, start a rhythm and play a chord to see if the accompaniment section is realistic and musical.
Headphone Socket: Very useful if you don’t want to annoy the neighbours!
Make sure you try the keyboard before you buy to check its user friendly, even if you can’t play much yet. Don’t spend the start of your musical career trying to fathom out how to use an incomprehensible, unfriendly instrument. Choosing the right, good quality electronic will inspire you to work hard at your lessons. Finding an instrument you love should mean you never want to stop practicing!
Polly Powell runs an electronic keyboard and digital piano teaching studio in Weston super Mare, UK. For more information about keyboards, and playing tips visit: [http://www.kweststudios.co.uk]
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