What Is The Difference Between A Digital Piano And A Keyboard?

What Is The Difference Between A Digital Piano And A Keyboard?

When first jumping into the world of pianos, it can be difficult to distinguish some of the terminology that many online sources use when trying to explain or describe what the differences are between instruments.

Today we want to help break down those barriers and explain the differences between what a keyboard and what a digital piano is. Whilst the two may sound similar, in our opinion, they couldn’t be farther apart from each other!

If you are just looking to get started learning the piano, or are beginning to research the kinds of instruments out there, be sure to read this first so you don’t get caught out!

A Brief History Of The Keyboard And Digital Piano

Firstly, a little history is important here. Electronic pianos have been around since around the 1950s in some way or another, however these are highly different from the digital pianos of today. These instruments were originally to attempt to replicate acoustic pianos in a more compact space.

Whilst they were a fantastic first step in creating highly functional and intelligent digital instruments, as with all technologies, the first examples were incredibly clunky and quite simply, sounded terrible as the technology was not yet developed enough to record piano sounds effectively.

However overtime, the technology became increasingly more sophisticated, with more features and enhanced tones and sounds. These developments continued to improve to such a point that by around the 1970s, the technology was sophisticated enough that it became increasingly popular within the 80s synthesiser, keyboard and disco movement.

During these early stages of music technology development, these new and exciting instruments were referred to as keyboards and ever since then, the term ‘Keyboards’ has stuck around, made even more popular as they became household instruments and were considered to be a staple way to either learn the piano or dabble in the piano without the need for a larger acoustic instrument.

The term ‘keyboard’ stuck around for a long while, however as the technology continued to develop, manufacturers were able to introduce the likes of weighted key actions, similar to that found on a real piano. Suddenly, due to the incredibly large differences between the two (that we’ll come onto momentarily), digital pianos and keyboards soon became two incredibly unique instruments with completely different functionality and use.

What is The Difference Between A Keyboard and Digital Piano?

As mentioned, nowadays, the keyboard and the digital piano are very different from one another, whilst they may look similar, there are a few differences to easily identify the two.

Starting with the keyboard, keyboards use what is known as a sprung loaded action in order to create their sound. This means that when you press the key, it hits a sensor and it is simply a spring that is giving the resistance to the key and causing it to pop back up.

This typically means that keyboards have just two modes when a key is pressed: On, or off. The note is either being played, or it isn’t. This means that it is generally impossible to ‘play softly’ or ‘loudly’ on a keyboard as the key will feel the same, no matter how it is pressed and the sensors don’t have this level of sophistication.

Likewise, unlike digital pianos, the other tell tale sign for a keyboard is the number of keys. Where digital pianos will almost always have 88 keys, a keyboard can have far fewer. It’s often not uncommon to see 61 or 76 key keyboards and are often far smaller.

Keyboards typically have far more button functionality and far fewer keys such as the one above.

...So how are digital pianos different?

Digital pianos are different due to not only having more keys (88 - the same as most real acoustic pianos), but the actions within are far more sophisticated.

Instead of being sprung loaded, they utilise technologies that are known as ‘weighted keys’. This means that on a weighted key, instead of the spring providing the resistance and causing the key to bounce back, there is a physical weight underneath the key action that is lifted when the key is pressed.

This means two things: Due to the resistance being far more akin to an acoustic piano, the ‘feel’ of a digital piano is far closer to a real acoustic piano, and secondly thanks to developments in the sound samples recorded for each key, you are able to play softly when the key is pressed lightly and louder when the key is pressed harder, giving you more expression and control over your play.

This GP-310 by Casio is a highly sophisticated digital piano that actually has real hammers inside!

Do I want a keyboard or a digital piano?

For those wanting to learn ‘the piano’, as in Beethoven, Mozart, classical or jazz etc. We would 100% recommend opting for a digital piano over a keyboard every single time. You simply have far more control and more
ability to express music as you would be able to on a real acoustic piano.

You may also like: The best ways to begin learning the piano

That being said, the best way to learn the piano is on a real acoustic instrument, which many new players are unaware can be easily fitted with silent systems to allow for silent headphone play.

However, this is not to defer those from keyboards. Keyboards are fantastic instruments for those looking to add artificial sounds or synthesisers into their sounds or recordings. Particularly for those in electronic bands or those who record music on their computers using samples, a keyboard may be just what you are looking for. We do not offer keyboards at Millers as we are piano experts and other retailers can provide keyboards on far greater scales!

To conclude, Keyboards are sprung loaded, with springy keys that only allow for one level of volume, whilst digital pianos use weighted keys, that are lifting a weight and allow for different sounds to be produced based on how hard the key is pressed.

For those looking to get more sound from their digital piano, read our guide on how to make your digital piano sound more like a grand, or for further advice on pianos, contact our experts today!

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