If you have an itching to tickle some faux ivory keys, an electric keyboard may be just what you’re looking for. But before you can play like Beethoven, you’re going to need to know how to choose the electric keyboard that’s best for you. From Beethoven to Billy Joel, we’ve got you covered. Pronto’s Electric Keyboard Buying Guide will show you what to look for, no matter your musical taste.
Electric keyboards come with three different sizes of keys: mini, organ style or full size. The number of keys also varies from 49, 61, 76 to 88, with 61 being the most common. Touch-sensitive keys adjust the volume based on keyboard pressure, similar to a piano, while synth-action keys play at a constant level. Beginners should choose an electric keyboard with at least 61 full-size keys.
Choose an electric keyboard that offers a foot pedal for sustain, a modulation wheel for vibrato and a pitch wheel that lets you bend the sound of the notes you play.
Look for auto-harmony and arpeggio effects that let you play an entire chord by pressing a single key. Basic electronic keyboards should include piano and organ sounds along with a few instrument voices and a few built-in drum rhythms. High-end electric keyboards offer thousands of possible sound combinations and some include built-in drum pads as well as electronic rhythms.
Most keyboards can be connected directly to a computer, which makes it easy to record what you play. Keyboards with MIDI compatibility can import songs in MIDI format downloaded from your computer and connect to other MIDI-enabled electric instruments.
It’s better to spend more for a high-end sampling keyboard, as these do a better job recording sounds and altering their pitch and speed during playback. For larger electronic keyboards, get a stand that adjusts to at least four heights and that offers a durable locking mechanism and legs.
An electric keyboard effect that allows the user to play a pre-determined chord with the push of a button.
Musical Instrument Digital Interface, a standard for data connections that allows electric instruments to connect to computers and to each other.
This feature lets you combine the voices on an electric keyboard into new sounds, either by simply grouping them or by adjusting the mix and pitch of individual voices in a group.
The ability of a note to resonate on an electric keyboard after you lift your finger from the key.
An electronic keyboard with keys that do not react to finger pressure. The volume of notes on these keyboards is set by a master volume control and does not vary with harder or lighter pressure on the keys.
An electronic keyboard’s ability to react to the amount pressure exerted on a key. The harder the key is pressed down, the louder the note.
A musical effect produced by a regular, pulsating change of pitch. It is used to add expression and vocal-like qualities to instrumental music.
A name given to an individual sound produced by an electric keyboard, such as piano or clarinet.
The first thing you’ll want to consider when buying an electric keyboard is the keys. Most keyboards have 61 keys that come in three different sizes: mini, organ style and full size. However, some electric keyboards may have 49, 76 or a full 88 keys. A beginner should choose an electric keyboard with at least 61 full-size keys. Younger players or players with smaller hands should start on a keyboard with fewer keys or the smaller, mini-sized keys. It is also important to keep in mind that choosing an electric keyboard, as with any musical instrument, is all about what is most comfortable for you.
Keys also come weighted and non-weighted. Weighted keys are built to play more like an acoustic piano. If you are looking to eventually play the piano, then getting an electric keyboard with 88 full-sized keys is the way to go, as this will give you the best feel. However, there is nothing wrong with non-weighted keys, sometimes called synth-action keys, if the electric keyboard is the only instrument you plan on playing. In either case, you’ll want to look for keyboards that are touch sensitive. This means that the keys react like a piano; the harder you press them, the louder the sound. This gives you more freedom of musical expression.
Most electric keyboards come with a variety of different parts and controls all aimed at altering the sound your keyboard will produce. Some of the most commonly found parts are the foot pedal, modulation wheel and pitch bend.
The foot pedal or switch is used to prolong the sustain of the notes played. Sustain refers to the length of time a note or notes can be held. By pressing down on the foot pedal, notes will still resonate even after you’ve lifted your fingers off the keys. The foot pedal is a separate component that plugs in to the back of the electric keyboard, allowing you to place it in a position that’s easy to reach.
The modulation wheel modifies the vibrato effect of the notes your electric keyboard produces. Pitch bend is another wheel, usually located on the left side of the electric keyboard. This is used to alter the pitch of a note up or down, similar to bending a string on a guitar. These are all standard options, and you should choose an electric keyboard that has all of these features.
The great thing about electric keyboards is that they come programmed with a variety of different sound effects and rhythms. The number and quality of the effects and rhythms usually depends on the price—the higher the price, the more cool effects an electronic keyboard has. Thanks to advances in technology in the past 20 years, even keyboards on the lower end of the price spectrum offer an array of sounds.
Most electric keyboards come with a few standard rhythms that can be activated with the push of a button. This allows you to select a rhythm that loops while you play over it.
Auto harmony is another electric keyboard feature to look for. This automatically adds secondary tones to a note based upon the chords you choose in the accompaniment system. In short, this feature makes it easy for you to make complex chords without complex hand movements. Also look for an arpeggio, which plays all the notes of a chord in succession when a single key is pressed.
There are also many other sound effects and features that come with most keyboards. Less-expensive keyboards should include piano and organ sounds, also known as voices, and a few other instrument sounds, such as clarinet, flute and trumpet. High-end keyboards give you a full selection of instrument voices that sound like the real thing, along with the ability to patch them together to create almost any sound imaginable. Ultimately it is up to you to decide what and how many different effects and rhythms you want to come with your keyboard.
One of the most interesting facets of the electric keyboard is that it can hook up to your computer. Some high-end keyboards come with floppy disk drives so you can record your music, or USB ports and flash drives so you transfer your music digitally to your computer.
Most electric keyboards can connect directly to your computer, which makes recording straight to your hard drive easy if you have recording software. Choose a keyboard that is MIDI compatible. This lets you download songs on your computer in MIDI format and transfer them to your electric keyboard, and it also gives you the ability to plug in other MIDI-enabled electric instruments.
If you want to explore an endless range of sounds, choose an electric keyboard with high-quality sampling. These electric keyboards let you plug in a microphone, musical instrument, DVD player or computer and record sound straight to the keyboard’s memory so that you can play it. You’ll need to spend more if you’re serious about sampling, as high-end sampling keyboards do a better job recording and adjusting the pitch and speed of samples as you play them back.
An electric keyboard stand may be a needed accessory, depending on the size of the keyboard you choose. Small electric keyboards will sit happily on the edge of a desk or in your lap, but full-size electric keyboards should be used with a keyboard stand. Look for stands that adjust to at least four heights with durable locking mechanisms and solid support for those crashing Beethoven and rock chords.