When your child expresses an interest in taking music lessons, chances are good that you’ll give some serious thought to the piano. However, an increasing number of kids and parents are expressing an interest in keyboard lessons as an alternative.
So which one is better: the piano or the keyboard? Is it possible to learn how to play the piano by being taught the keyboard and vice versa?
The reality is that there is a certain amount of interchangeability between the two instruments. That’s because many of the basic techniques largely are the same. Accordingly, someone who takes piano lessons and is diligent about practice will easily be able to become adept at the keyboard, and the reverse also may be true, depending upon the type of lessons they take.
That said, these instruments are not identical. Here are a few of the obvious differences:
- Keyboards are electronic
- Pianos are acoustic
- Keyboards tend to be more portable
- Pianos tend to stay in one place
- Keyboards generally are less expensive
- Pianos cost more, but bargains can be found
Already, you may be seeing the advantages of one of these instruments over the other. If you’re limited on space and money, then a keyboard may seem like a good choice. On the other hand, if you have some space in your home to add a piece of furniture and you can find a bargain, a piano may be the answer.
Keep reading if you want to learn even more about the differences between pianos and keyboards. Once you’re done, you and your music-loving child may have a much better sense of which instrument appeals most to both of you.
Let’s look at some of the basic features that these instruments have in common.
The keys on both pianos and keyboards are identical. Accordingly, a pianist can sit at an electronic keyboard and find that the same hand movements are required at both instruments.
However, there may be differences in the width of the keys. While all pianos have keys of identical width, keyboards may have key widths that are the same as those of the piano or narrower. This difference typically is slight, necessitating only minor accommodations for someone who is more accustomed to one instrument over the other.
“Action” is the word used to describe the manner in which the keys respond when they are pressed. Pianos naturally provide greater, more weighted “action” because they are acoustic instruments. By contrast, keyboards may have incredibly lightweight keys that feel nothing like the action on piano keys. A more expensive keyboard with weighted keys provides a more traditional, piano-like feel, and these instruments may be referred to as digital pianos.
When a piano is played, the sounds that it produces are made through the physical striking of wires. This means that the sounds of the piano are made and amplified physically.
Keyboards, on the other hand, are electronic. They can sound amazingly like an acoustic piano, but they also can be programmed to sound like a harpsichord, horns or almost any other kind of musical instrument or sound. With a keyboard, the player has more control over the volume of the sound produced. The volume may be adjusted by the touch of a button, and it may even be possible to amplify the sound with additional speakers.
Moreover, it may be possible to plug headphones into the keyboard, making it possible to practice without disturbing others in the house.
Pianos always have 88 keys. Some keyboards equal this number so that they can more successfully mimic the sound and feel of a traditional piano. However, if you begin shopping for a keyboard, you’ll quickly discover that some models boast far fewer than the 88-key standard.
If you are considering buying a keyboard for your child and you want them to have an experience that is as close to playing an acoustic piano as possible, then it makes sense to get them a keyboard with 88 keys. If this isn’t possible, then try to spring for a keyboard that has at least 72 keys so that your child has the range that is necessary for playing most popular piano compositions.
Electronic keyboards require little in the way of routine maintenance. It is important to protect them just as you would any other valuable electronic device. Accordingly, you’ll want to protect a keyboard from extreme heat and cold, getting wet or being dropped.
Because a piano is an acoustic instrument that is made of materials like metal and wood, it needs to be kept in tune. Pianos fall out of tune because they are affected by things like seasonal and environmental changes, temperature adjustments and humidity levels. This means that these instruments may need to be tuned perhaps once or twice a year. Usually performed by a professional, the cost of tuning can add up over the years.
Size and Portability
Pianos, even the smaller upright models, tend to be quite large and heavy. This means that they have limited potential for being portable. Accordingly, your child will play the family piano for daily practice, but will play a different instrument at his teacher’s house or on stage during a recital.
Pianos tend to be quite large, and this means that it’s necessary to make room in the home for them. This is not a realistic option for some families.
For them, a keyboard may be an ideal solution. Keyboards may be placed on table tops or they may come with their own stand. This means that a keyboard typically can be packed away when it’s not in use, which can solve a multitude of space issues.
Additionally, keyboard students may have the option of packing up their own instrument so that they can take it along to lessons and live performances.
Whether you’re shopping for a piano or a keyboard, you may be able to find some bargains. An older used piano sometimes can be obtained through classified ads for just $100. While this may seem like an excellent deal, it’s best to approach these instruments with caution. They may require extensive restoration work in order to put them into good playing condition, which means that you quickly lose any of the savings that you initially scored.
Similarly, you can get a brand new keyboard for $100 or less, but it may not be the best deal in the long run. Perhaps that keyboard has far fewer than 88 keys or maybe its action is virtually weightless and not at all like a real piano. This may be a fine instrument for starting out, but if your child is serious about her studies, then her abilities soon may outstrip this instrument.
Generally, better pianos and keyboards can be purchased for more money. You could get a really superior keyboard for a few hundred dollars, and if you’re willing to spend a thousand dollars or more, you can get a genuinely good piano. Of course, it’s also possible to spend multiple thousands of dollars on a piano or keyboard, but that’s probably not necessary if your child is just starting out.
In fact, it might be wise to start off slow with a rental instrument. This might provide your child with a chance to try both keyboards and pianos to see which one he prefers.
Choosing a Keyboard versus a Piano
In some situations, the choice is obvious. You simply don’t have the room or the budget for a piano, so a keyboard is the only way to go. Other parents are torn, feeling like they could go either way.
When this is the situation, take these things into consideration:
- The player’s level of proficiency
- The available space
- The intended use
The more proficient a player is, the more they will benefit from a higher quality instrument. If your child is a dedicated musician, then investing in a good piano is never a mistake.
Similarly, if your child is serious about her choice of instruments, then you probably can make some room in your home for a small, upright piano.
This also is true if your child will be engaging in heavy daily practice, and it’s especially true if you are your child’s instructor or if you teach other students.
If budget is your overriding concern at this moment, then going with a solid keyboard may be the answer. You won’t have to pay much money, and learning on this instrument will help to gauge your child’s continuing interest in music lessons.
Piano Lessons vs. Keyboard Lessons
On a final note, it’s worth considering that kids who take piano lessons usually are taught to play notes properly with each hand while kids who enroll in keyboard lessons tend to be taught to play the melody with the right hand and block chords or one-finger chords with the left hand. The traditional, piano method is considered the more complete, foundational education.
At Prodigies Music, we believe that every child deserves the chance to take music lessons. That’s why we produce colorful, engaging lessons that are meant to drive a child’s imagination and develop in them a lifelong appreciation of music.
Continue exploring to learn more about the many exciting instruction possibilities that we offer.