What’s the difference between a digital piano and an electronic keyboard?
It’s so tempting to pick up one of those electronic keyboards to give as a Christmas gift. They’re inexpensive, the keys look the same as a piano, they’re easy to wrap. What’s not to like?
Keyboards are fun to play around with. They have all those different voices and rhythms, plus those demo songs that play by themselves. But it takes a child (or their parent) about two piano lessons before they notice the differences – and then the keyboard loses its enchantment.
The biggest difference is the touch of the keys – the way it feels when you press a key. A keyboard has an “organ touch” and no matter how hard or lightly you press, the volume is always the same. You can turn the volume knob up or down, but the pressure on the key makes no difference. For that matter, you could play a keyboard with your nose and it would make no difference in the sound.
But a piano has expressive capabilities far beyond that. You can play loudly, softly and everything in between – all right at your fingertips. As a matter of fact, we got the name “piano” from the longer original name “pianoforte”. Pianoforte literally means “soft-loud”. It got that name because in the 1700’s there finally was a keyboard instrument that could play soft AND loud. The popularity of the piano zoomed until by the middle of the 1800’s every home that could afford one had one. Even sod homes on the Kansas prairie were known to have a “box piano” that arrived by covered wagon for the family’s enjoyment.
A modern digital piano costs significantly more than an electronic keyboard. $800 versus $80 would be an average. That’s because the mechanism required on a digital piano must be finely responsive in order to produce a full range of loud to soft. A good digital piano actually has the same mechanisms under its keys as an acoustic piano (the kind that doesn’t plug in).
An electronic keyboard, on the other hand, works as simply as the typing keyboard for your computer – one contact on each key, ON-or-OFF. And it is priced similarly.
Most people think a young student wouldn’t notice the difference. But think about a singer you especially enjoy hearing. What if they only sang at one volume for everything? Pretty boring, right? So the one single volume on a keyboard soon becomes frustrating to a young student.
A young student isn’t able to tell you what’s wrong. They’ll say things like, “Piano is too boring.” Actually, that comment demonstrates how perceptive youngsters are. They know intuitively that music should have more expression in it than that keyboard can give them. What their spirit longs for is the opportunity to express all the musicality bottled up within them. What they want is a PIANO.
If you want to compare aspects of a digital piano versus an acoustic one, see my article on HOW TO CHOOSE A PIANO.