The digital keyboard piano comes in many different forms. It can be quite confusing to budding pianists, particularly if there is a wide array of choices in the stores today. This is the reason why you see several keyboards when professional artists perform live on stage. Knowing each type can make your choice easier and would eliminate any chances of making a mistake in your first digital piano purchase. On the other hand, if you are an intermediate player or a professional musician, having more information is an advantage as you can explore more options before buying anything.
Convenience and cost are two of the main reasons why most people today prefer using a digital or electronic keyboard to a traditional acoustic piano. The versatility it offers to musicians has contributed to the continuous popularity of this musical instrument. Having access to hundreds up to thousands of sounds is a great advantage, particularly to those who want to write music. It can also be easily carried as it is lightweight, and the price tag is more affordable than its acoustic counterpart.
Types of Digital Keyboards
Most of these digital keyboards look fairly the same except for some additional features as manufacturers keep on upgrading them to a much-complicated mechanism. Let us look at each type and the unique features that each of them can offer to musicians.
These digital home pianos come in three variations: portable, upright, and grand. The most popular among the three is the portable piano, which you can bring wherever you want. It has something for beginners, intermediate, and professional pianists. One can easily just put it on a table or any surface as it does not have wooden legs. There is a retractable metal stand, so it is quite convenient to set it up anywhere.
The digital and acoustic versions of the upright piano as well as the grand piano have similar silhouettes and lacquered finish. The digital versions are lighter in weight, so they are easier to move as compared to traditional ones. While they may also have 88 black and white keys, they do not rely on strings and hammers to produce a sound. They use analog sensors for keyboard action and computer chips to mimic the sound of the acoustic piano. Depending on the piano brand, some of these digital keyboards have 128-voice polyphony, demo songs, midi recorder, lesson function, several ports for easy computer connectivity, and more incredible features.
The stage piano is a portable type of digital keyboard that most professional musicians use going from one gig to another. While it shares the same portability feature as the digital home piano, the difference lies in the quality of materials used to make them. A stage piano is sturdier, which is perfect for live stage performances. They are built to withstand the rigors of regular professional playing. The features that this type of digital keyboard offers would depend on the brand, but it does not have as many functions as compared to an arranger keyboard. You may find some manufacturers offering keyboard stand and music rack with it, but some are sold separately, including the sustain pedal.
Organ Digital Keyboard
The authentic organ uses pipes to create that distinctive sound, and most old churches would use this majestic instrument for their special liturgical rites. Today, you can still produce vintage organ music with a smaller and compact electronic organ. There is no need for the hundreds or thousands of metal pipes any longer as some of these modern organs can easily mimic a massive-sized pipe organ.
This type of keyboard is what most musicians called a one-man-band. An arranger keyboard is mostly used by solo artists who like to perform on stage with all types of instruments at hand. Instead of having a band around him to provide different sounds, pressing a few buttons will do. Those sounds are all easily accessible on the arranger keyboard. It is like having the whole band performing with the artist as it has a built-in auto-accompaniment feature. It has bass, drums, and other features that will make solo performing a breeze, particularly for those who like to compose songs anytime. The recording capability of this type of keyboard with USB connectivity also makes it even more attractive for amateur and professional songwriters.
The digital workstation is an upgrade to the arranger keyboard. It is simply having a computer in a keyboard. All the necessary components that a producer would need to manipulate every single detail of a song are included in the workstation, be it sampling, layering of effects, sequencing, filtering, recording, or editing. You name it, and the workstation keyboard can provide it along with computer integration. Some models have a built-in synthesizer. It is the total package that every single songwriter, musical arranger, or record producer would need.
When you need a collection of new sounds, create unique sounds for a song you are writing, or just want to layer effects on the music you are working on, the synthesizer keyboard is what you need. It comes with a library of effects, filters, and tones that you can manipulate. Manipulating waveforms comes with many presets, which makes mixing different sounds to create a new one quite easy. The functions and features will depend on the brand, but most of them offer simple to advanced synthesizer keyboards. Synthesizers are very useful for creating special sounds and beats via its built-in analog or digital processing features, which you simply unaccessible on other standard keyboards
Terms Commonly Used in Digital Keyboards
As musical instruments continue to be upgraded, several new tools and mechanisms are introduced. It is only expected that more complex words are added to the digital instruments’ vocabulary. To fully appreciate and understand the pros and cons of the modern electronic keyboard, it is best to understand the most common terms associated with it. Being familiar with them would allow you to explore all possible options when choosing your keyboard.
Action: It refers to the way the keys feel when being pressed by the fingers while playing. You will often encounter these words: Weighted action, Semi-weighted action, Synth-action, and Hammer action. The first two words share the same response with a traditional acoustic piano. Synth-action is similar to using an organ, which offers no resistance when playing. Hammer action would need mechanical hammers to get this type of response that the classic acoustic piano key bed provides.
Computer Connectivity: Electronic instruments today are built with several ports that can be connected to the computer through cable wires and others thru wireless apps. If the instrument claims that it has USB, Firewire, MIDI, mLAN, Bluetooth, and other digital ports, it would mean computer integration is available. It would also mean it is capable of transferring audio files for storing or editing. The digital keyboard can also access cloud-based music libraries from smartphones or tablets via Bluetooth wireless connection.
Controllers: The wheels, knobs, and sliders on the keyboard console represent the controllers. This is what you use to control the flow of your music editing, mixing, and playback.
Input/Output: Professional musicians would immediately look for the input and output terminal of the keyboard, which is located at the back. This is to avoid having to buy a separate interface by checking the built-in audio ins/outs. All external gadgets are connected through this terminal, such as speakers, headphones, amplifiers, mixers, and DAWs.
MIDI Compatibility: MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface which was introduced back in the 1980s. This is for electronic instruments and computers to communicate. It does not matter if musical gadgets such as a sequencer, drum machine, synthesizer, and computer are made by different manufacturers as long as they are MIDI compatible, both can share sounds.
Multitimbrality: The ability of an electronic keyboard to simultaneously play different sounds and also with different filters. It is similar to polyphony but slightly different in such a way that instead of the simultaneous playing of notes that trigger individual envelopes in polyphony, the amplification of envelopes in multitimbral is the same for all of them.
Number of Keys: Universal piano keyboards are built with 88 keys, but there are those with 61 keys and those with far less.
Polyphony: This refers to the number of notes that a digital keyboard can create simultaneously. Those with comprehensive polyphonic ability can easily reproduce an orchestra ensemble. Still, if the number of keys has been exceeded, it will either mute or dropped the notes and replaced them with other notes.
Sampler: It is similar to a recording device but with the ability for the audio to be manipulated or edited, played back, and not just simply be recorded.
Sequencer: In a more simplistic term, it can be compared to a multi-track recorder but with enhanced capability. Through the MIDI connection, you can record different files and play them back in a different sequence.
Storage: It refers to the allotted space or bank where audio files can be stored. Electronic keyboards are equipped with either limited built-in storage or a USB port to transfer files to an external storage device such as flash drives or smart media card slots.
Touch or Velocity Sensitivity: The speed or level of force needed in pressing the keys in the keyboard in creating a sound.