Keyboard For Dummies
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If you’ve decided that a full-on piano is not for you right now — or ever — you may be in the market for a digital keyboard instead. You can rent some digital keyboards, but not all. Some of the fancier models are mostly for sale only, although you may find a used one in good condition. On the other hand, plenty of stores offer a rental option on larger digital pianos or digital organs. Many online stores will ship a keyboard to you and provide knowledgeable staff available by phone.

Looking for used keyboards online can yield lots of options, but you really need to be able to see and play a keyboard before you buy.

Some of the pros and cons of springing for a keyboard include:

Pros Cons
Cost: Unless you’re talking about the very high-end models, most digital keyboards are affordable and much less expensive than acoustic keyboards. Complexity: Some digital keyboards, such as workstations, come with a baffling number of sampled sounds, sequencing tools, and effects. Figuring out how to utilize these features requires a steep learning curve. Additionally, knobs and levers can break, circuitry can go haywire, and any number of other things can go wrong over the years. Because of the sophisticated gadgetry in most digital keyboards, they tend to run amok more often than your average acoustic keyboard.
Size: No matter where you live, I bet you can find a spot for your digital keyboard. Plus, you can move it yourself should the need arise, such as if the acoustics are better in one room than another or if you want to take it on the road for family singalongs. Power: You must have electricity, or at least a whole bunch of D-size batteries, in order to play your digital keyboard.
Versatility: Most digital keyboards come loaded with different sounds, so you can be a one-person band or play a pipe organ without buying the enormous acoustic version. Sound quality: Some digital sounds are out-of-this-world fantastic, but others are very unconvincing when you’re trying to mimic an acoustic instrument.
Maintenance: Digital keyboards require no tuning and no tweaking — you just plug and play. You need to dust your keyboard monthly, but that doesn’t cost you anything but a little time. Keyboard action: Many digital keyboards aren’t touch-sensitive, meaning that whether you play the key hard or soft, you hear the same volume. Only the volume knob can control the volume on some models. The models that have “weighted action” try to give you the feel of an acoustic piano; some succeed where others fail.
Headphones: If you have grouchy neighbors, young children, or other housemates who demand quiet, the option of headphones is an important one. You can turn off the sound to the outside world and still hear yourself practicing on your digital keyboard long into naptimes or the wee night hours. Obsolescence: Like most electronic devices and computers, today’s keyboards probably won’t be tomorrow’s desire. Eventually you’ll want to upgrade to the latest and greatest model, and very few digital keyboards retain their value.
Addiction: If you buy one, pretty soon you’ll want another, and another, and another. Or you’ll want more sound samples, a better amp, a better speaker, a new stand, or a new case. The common mantra among keyboard players in the digital world is, “I need more gear!”

A hybrid combines the best of both worlds! Hybrids offer unmatched versatility! They cost a million dollars! Well, not that much, but hybrid acoustic/digital keyboards are expensive.

If the idea of a hybrid interests you, there are two ways to go: Buy an acoustic/digital hybrid piano, or have your acoustic piano retrofitted with a digital player system. Among the growing list of things these hybrid pianos and player piano systems can do are

  • Record, playback, and mute (muting stops the hammers from hitting the strings — but you can hear yourself by plugging in headphones).

  • Connect with other MIDI instruments and MIDI files.

  • Access sound libraries and karaoke libraries, play along with pre-recorded tracks, and play along with MIDI feeds available over the Internet through a USB or wireless connection. These options open the door to a wide range of instructional and entertainment possibilities.

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