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How to Choose a Keyboard for the Beginner

Being a beginner isn’t easy. Maybe you never took a lesson or even touched a keyboard except for using the one on your computer to send a few e-mails and post pictures of your cat. Now you want to start to play the musical keyboard for fun, so how do you choose the right keyboard for you?

Perhaps you’ve bought (or inherited) a rather old, beat-up acoustic piano and have only been taking lessons for a little while. You’re doing okay with your lessons, but your piano sounds bad, won’t hold a tuning, or takes up too much room in your home, so you’re considering moving into the electronic realm.

Whatever your beginner story, here’s a small list of things to consider when choosing an electronic keyboard:

  • Piano features: The first fork in the road that you must consider when selecting a keyboard is whether you want to play primarily acoustic piano sound and styles of music. If so, you need to be sure that whatever you’re looking at offers that sound; most keyboards today do, and you’ll be surprised to see that even some organs and programmable synthesizers do. The basic piano features you need in this situation are

    • A weighted key mechanism: Only a weighted key action gives you the true piano feel experience.

    • At least 61 keys (5 octaves): Remember that an acoustic piano has 88 keys (a little more than 7 octaves). For beginner lessons, you play in only one to three octaves, but you’ll be expanding your reach farther in no time.

    • At least one pedal to help you sustain your notes: This feature is called a damper pedal on an acoustic piano but may be called a sustain pedal or just a momentary pedal depending on your model. It may come with the unit, but you may have to purchase it as an option instead.

  • A variety of sounds: Every beginner should get a keyboard that offers more than one type of sound regardless of whether he has a piano-centric musical taste or goal. Being able to hear what you play with different tones keeps your playing and practicing experience interesting and fresh.

  • A metronome or drum rhythms: To develop your playing, you need a steady time-keeper to help get your rhythm solid. A metronome is the device students use for this purpose. Back in the day, it was a wooden, wind-up box that had a metal wand that swung back and forth, clicking as it went, but metronomes migrated to being electronic years ago.

    In your keyboard it can be as simple as a steady click or beep that you can set the speed of; you can also use built-in drum rhythms to not only keep your time steady but also make your practice and performance more polished-sounding and fun. You can buy these features separately, but getting a keyboard that already includes them is much simpler.

  • Other aids for study or learning: If you’re planning to study or take lessons or you want some help in learning to play, you should consider having a simple onboard recorder, which allows you to record and then listen back to your playing. Evaluating what you’re doing is so much easier as an observer than as a participant.

    Some keyboards offer onboard lessons or helpers to learn included songs, which can be a great way to have a patient teacher always on call. Finally, having MIDI (the Musical Instrument Digital Interface) on your keyboard enables you to connect the keyboard to a personal computer or tablet device for fun and learning. Pretty much every keyboard made since the mid-’80s offers MIDI.

  • Accompaniment features: Some keyboards can provide extra band members to play along with you. You can simply add an extra hand for your piano playing or go all the way up to the sound of a full group of players: drums, bass, other chord parts, and fancy extras. Taking advantage of these features can deliver a very full sound without a lot of playing technique or effort.

    Accompaniment can make your practice time more interesting by letting you hear your pieces in different settings and give you the experience of playing along with other musicians.

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