The keyboard is one of the most popular instruments for people to buy to keep and learn to play at home. One of the reasons that keyboards have become so popular is that they are generally cheaper to buy and maintain than pianos, as well as being easier to move and taking up much less space.
The first generation of electronic musical keyboards was developed in the 1960’s. The first was developed by Robert Moog in 1964 and took the form of a modular synthesizer. The first performance model was made available in 1970. Advances in electronics now means that there are a wide range of different types of electronic keyboards available on the market. These differ in size, configuration and features. This means that it is important to know what you are looking for and to choose your keyboard carefully.
Before buying your first keyboard you should take time to become aware of the different types that are available. While keyboards are made by numerous manufacturers they typically fall into three broad categories; digital pianos, synthesizers and workstations.
These have the same 88-key keyboard as that found on an acoustic upright piano. However, in a digital piano the components that produce the sound (the strings and hammers) are replaced with digital recordings. To play a note you still strike the key but the key strikes an electrical contact that plays the corresponding note sound sample. The sound board of an acoustic piano is replaced with an amplifier. There are two different types of digital pianos. Console models that have built-in speakers, and performance digital pianos, designed specifically for the stage. These are developed to be connected to external speakers to allow the sound to be heard over a greater distance.
These have been developed to be able to reproduce the sounds made by a host of different musical instruments. They are also able to create sounds electronically that musical instruments are unable to duplicate. At the higher end of the synthesizer range you can connect to a computer to program in your own sounds. The connection is made through either a MIDI or USB connection. If your synthesizer has a MIDI connection, you can also connect to other keyboards to create layers of sound.
Workstations or arranger keyboards as they are also known are most commonly found in digital music studios. They are the top of the range sophisticated synthesizers that are able to sequence music, as well as offering recording capabilities, sound synthesis and computer interfacing.
The type of keyboard you will need and the amount you will want to spend will depend greatly on what your musical intentions are. If you, or the person you are buying for is a beginner, or has little to no intention of taking their playing very seriously then there is little point in spending a large fortune. Keyboards that are suitable for beginners and general practice can be found, new, for in the region of $100. However, if you have graduated from being a beginner and are taking your music more seriously, then it is worth spending a little more to gain access to the more professional features.
Your current musical knowledge is just as important as your future intentions when it comes to choosing a keyboard. There are keyboards available that come with built in systems that help you learn to play. This may include having pre-recorded tunes and keys that light up, or are highlighted, when they need to be played. While this is great for the true beginner, it could detract from other requirements if you are at a more intermediate stage. No matter what stage your knowledge is at, consider a keyboard that has a headphone jack. This will provide you with the privacy you need to practice and means that you can practice without disturbing anyone else.
If you are unsure of the type of keyboard you are looking for, then counting the keys could help. Digital pianos have between 25 and 88 keys, while workstations have a minimum of 61. The number of keys is important because it affects the range of sound that the instrument can make.
The more keys there are on the instrument, the greater its sound range. For example, a keyboard with 25 keys has just a 2-octave range. One with 49 keys has a 4 octave range. At the other end of the scale a digital keyboard with 88 keys with have a sound range of 7 octaves. Just remember the more keys the keyboard has, the more difficult it will be to transport it anywhere.
How easily the keys play is just as important as how many there are. Keys that are difficult to play will lead to conditions like carpal tunnel and will not do much to encourage you to play regularly. The two main features of keys that you will find on a keyboard are touch sensitive keys and weighted keys.
The sound capability of a keyboard is one of those more technical elements that becomes more important the more seriously you take your music. The two main elements to take into consideration are polyphony and multitimbrality. While polyphony is the measure of the number of notes that a keyboard can play at any one time, multitimbrality is the measure of the number of different kinds of sounds that can be played at once. It is worth noting that a lower-end keyboard may only play as few as 16 tones at once, while the higher-end workstations and synthesizers play anywhere up to 128 at once.
If you are learning to play, or want a keyboard for additional practice, the one you choose has to be one you are comfortable playing. Simple things really make a difference when it comes to ease of use. Look for a keyboard where the presets are easy to understand and the sounds are logically group. If it has an LCD screen, it should be easy to read. And the documentation, such as the instruction book shouldn’t need its own instruction manual to be understood. So, are you ready to start your search for the perfect keyboard now?