General Question

goose756's avatar

Piano or Keyboard?

Asked by goose756 (655points) May 8th, 2009

I’ve been interested in learning how to play the piano, but I have nowhere near enough money to afford one. I’m wondering what major differences there are between digital pianos and keyboards. By not having the full number of keys, how restricted will my playing be? What would be the minimum number of keys you would go to while still being able to play a variety of stuff?

Last, how long do you think it will be before I start to get the hang of it? The only music experience I have is playing guitar, but I don’t know how to read music at all, I either look up tabs or play by ear.

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14 Answers

Milladyret's avatar

Keyboards are cheaper, you can move them around, they are more versatile, they have more uses and never go out of tune (unless you have a problem with your powersupply).

A piano is a piano and INFINATELY more awsome to play.

(And you CAN get a fullsized keyboard, but the cost of those last keys are probably not worth it.)

As for long it will take for you to get it, depends on how much time you put into it.
Good luck :D

MindErrantry's avatar

What @Milladyret says is absolutely true—much more fun to play a piano; the sound is much better quality and, when it comes to pedals, the ones on the keyboard are immeasurably worse (in my experience). It might be possible to find an older piano that someone doesn’t want any more; many people have pianos that are never used and take up space, but the quality might be gone, too! Keyboard should do you, and it’s really fun to put it on the ‘harpsichord’ setting :)

I just learned keyboard (requirement for my music theory class, bleh) in a semester working out of one book; I don’t have any high degree of technical skill, but I’ve played out pieces on my own (not from music—like you, I’m an aural music-learner) and can find my way around somewhat respectably. So it shouldn’t be that hard, although learning to actually read music might be a very good step and ease the process.

augustlan's avatar

I vaguely remember being told quite some time ago that as long as the keyboard spans one full octave, it will be fine for learning and practicing on, for a while at least. I have no clue how many keys that would involve.

Jeruba's avatar

One octave is not enough, I’m afraid. It’s only the 8-note scale, which is the do-re-mi scale and the 5 black half-notes in between. Even simple one-note tunes typically go a few notes above and/or below an octave, and you can’t do anything with chords.

I find an electronic keyboard very confining because I miss the low notes. I’d rather play a real piano. But there are some great things about electronic keyboards. It’s fun to use the different voices. I’ve also enjoyed being able to do things like recording the bass clef in one voice and then playing along with the treble in another, just playing around. And if you share a house with others, it is great to be able to plug in headphones and hear yourself practice while to everyone else you are silent.

Portability and the ability to store and put away can also be pluses, depending on your living space.

If you know your way around the guitar and you already have the relationships of the chords down in the various keys (for example, that the sequence G-C-D7-G in the key of G is the same as the sequence C-F-G7-C in the key of C), there are some things that will come very easily to you on the piano. All those relationships are the same. But on the piano it’s easier to see because corresponding chords are the same shape anywhere on the keyboard; that is, the notes ascend linearly, a half step at a time, and the intervals are constant. So you don’t have to learn the hand position for each chord invidually as on the guitar; on the piano the same relative positions work anywhere on the keyboard. And analogous chords from one key to the next also look the same. You can move a major chord up and down the keyboard starting on any note and the configuration is the same.

Reading music is not too hard; it used to be taught to kids in grade school. You’ll need a little help learning to read the notation, but if you get some simple sheet music for tunes you already know, you may pick it up quickly. But if you can play guitar by ear, you may find you’ll catch on to playing piano by ear quickly too. You are going to have to learn something about fingering, but you might be able to get by with a few lessons or an online tutorial.

Oh, one other great thing about an electronic keyboard. You can interface it with your computer and transcribe your own compositions into software like Noteworthy Composer.

loser's avatar

If you start on a real piano you’ll be able to delevop a very important sense of touch that you may not be able to develop starting on a keyboard.

augustlan's avatar

@Jeruba Well, crap. I must have misremembered. Perhaps it was 2 full octaves?

YARNLADY's avatar

The main difference between a piano that strikes the strings and an electronic keyboard is the quality of the sound. They both play the same, but the sound is produced differently.

It is possible to buy a full size electronic keyboard, but not necessary for the average casual player.

If you intend to become a professional player, you will need a full size. The electronic keyboard is far less trouble mechanically, and portable, so more versatile.

You can also ‘save’ your music, if you are composing on the electronic keyboard.

wundayatta's avatar

Suzuki demands that you have a piano. A keyboard just doesn’t have the touch of a piano—even thought there are ones these days that advertise they have a very similar feel. You need to have a keyboard that is force sensitive. It can feel how hard you hit the key, and produce an attack and the volume that you’d get from a piano. I don’t think they can really do it.

With piano, it really matters how you stroke the keys. You can press them straight down, and you get one kind of attack. You can stroke them as if petting an animal, and get another kind of attack. These greatly affect the richness of the not you’re playing.

The smallest real synthesizers (as in not kids) must have at least four octaves. But if you do get a synthesizer, get a full keyboard if you can.

However, I think it is far preferable to get a piano. As @MindErrantry said, check your local Craigslist or just wander around the neighborhood or check out local meeting halls and schools. There are dusty old pianos that haven’t been used in years everywhere. Get it home, get it tuned (tuning is extremely important) and fixed up, and you can have a piano basically for the cost of transporting it. We got our piano for free, and just had to pay for it being trucked 200 miles (it was a good piano). That came to around $500.

If you have three strong friends, you could move it yourself, but you have to be really careful with it.

Synthesizers are fun, and many people only play them. If you just want to fool around and make a few songs or accompany yourself as you sing some rock or popular tunes, a synthesizer should be fine. It has all kinds of sounds, and you can mess with them and have a lot of fun.

If you really want to understand your instrument and gain enough skill to do interesting things, you should take lessons. You’ll learn how to read music as well as learning good technique.

We started with a synthesizer, but that was mainly for me. I’m not a piano player. When my kids started lessons, we were told to get a piano, and now the synthesizer is mouldering away in my parent’s house. It gets taken out for the kids to practice on when they go up there for a visit.

Piano teaches you theory, just by looking at the keys. I’m a trumpet player, and theory never made any sense to me. Having a piano in the house has taught me so much about theory. I now know what Jeruba was talking about with her chord sequences. You can see a seventh on a piano. On a trumpet, you can only think it. That kind of theoretical approach is just too hard for me.

I like to play by ear, but that’s because it takes me away from myself when I do that. It’s an altered state of consciousness. I can read music, and sight read just fine. But playing by ear—well, I guess you can’t improvise if you can’t do that. Improvisation is the best! (and that’s a metaphor for life, too)

jbfletcherfan's avatar

I had a piano all through my childhood & into my adult life. I played the organ for church for many years. Then we moved & I didn’t have room for a piano & I bought a keyboard. It’s better than nothing, but it doesn’t compare to a piano. Daloon’s right. The touch just isn’t there. You can’t control the volume on a keyboard either. The pedal makes all the difference. Keyboards have no soul…no feeling. They just make a sound. I also play by ear a lot & the feeling of a piano gives so much more expression.

Get a piano if at all possible. The difference is definately worth it.

gailcalled's avatar

I have always made room for a baby grand piano. It was as much a part of my childhood as a bed or toilet. I do have to pay the piano tuner twice a year, however. If you are just learning, an electronic keyboard is good beginning and better than nothing.


GIFTownP's avatar

I’m a relatively good pianist, and I’ve used a Clavinova for a while. Albeit a standalone, cabinet style, it was relatively cheap. As long as there’s basics like volume control, pedals, 10+ instruments, metronome, on-screen equalizer, and MIDI, then it’s probably worth it.

Strauss's avatar

I would agree with @GIFTownP as far as a Clavinova. If you are looking for something to help you learn the basics, there are a lot of brands and models out there with 4 or 5 octave boards as well as built-in learning programs. If you go to a music specialty store (as opposed to a department store or a electronics store), you would probably get a chance to try out different models, keyboard, piano or combo, hands on, and ask the sales person any questions you might have about the difference. Many music stores have teachers who will be glad to take you to whatever level you desire.

ubersiren's avatar

I would get a piano. Look on craigslist for a cheap one. That’s how I found mine… I put an ad in for “free piano wanted- will haul.” It only cost me $40 for the U-haul. A keyboard would be fine to learn on if it was large enough, but you really should have all 88 keys. Eventually, you will want them. And it’s a better investment in the long run.

Piano and guitar are both string instruments (though, piano is also percussion- I know I’ll get crap from some smart ass if I don’t mention that). So what that means is that you already get the concept that you need different fingers on different strings to make chords. Your fingers may already have some of the dexterity you need. If you play guitar by ear, you may have a natural musical talent, which will help.

AshlynM's avatar

I personally practice on a full sized keyboard but I eventually plan on getting a piano.

You can get full sized keyboards, (88 keys) but it’s still not the same as playing on a piano.

Keyboards allow you to record and playback your song. It also allows you to mix different sounds and rythm.

Piano and keyboard feel very different when playing so if you start on one, you may have difficult time adjusting on the other.

Piano allows none of these things. Also, the bigger the piano, the better sound quality.

One of the good things about a keyboard is you don’t have to constantly tune it. Pianos should be tuned at least twice a year to ensure the best possible sound quality. Lots of factors could cause your piano to lose its sound.

Keep in mind a more expensive piano or keyboard doesn’t necessarily mean it plays better.

As for practicing, it’s different for everyone. Regardless of how old you are when you begin to play, practicing piano takes time and effort. You should at practice every single day, for at least one hour. Ten minutes of practice will get you nowhere..

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