Shopping Advice Beginner Keyboards
by Bernd G. Schleicher - Thursday, 11 May 2006, 05:25 PM
  A common question is: which keyboard is right for a beginner?

keyboardsOn the huge market of electronic keyboards, itīs hard for an outsider not to get lost. For me, the most important point is, the keyboard has regular sized keys. In my eyes, Mini-Keyboards even for smaller children are not acceptable. Such keyboards are category "toys" and do destroy more regarding finger technique as they could ever make fun. 61 regular sized keys is a must. Especially as such regular sized keyboards, as no-name product can be purchased for very little money already.

Now, as we cleared that point, a question of personal taste comes into effect - the sound of a keyboard. Itīs most important. Eventually is what a player hears from his keyboard exactly what is motivating him or her. Does a trumpet not sound like trumpet, or the drums more than tin-can, playing is no fun. However compared with past times, electronic keyboards were undergoing a huge progress regarding sound generation, even at low budget level. There are big differences, anyway. No matter which price category, there is hardly a keyboard what sounds perfect at all. The first one offers strings amazing real. While the otherīs strings sound synthetic. But there the organs sound very powerful. At the other the organs sound thin and weak. At first the buyer of a keyboard should have realized what kind of music he primary wants to play. The folks type should attentive listen to the violins, while the classic friend should be more interested in orchestral and string sounds. A disco freak is setting high values at fat synthesizer-sounds. The swing lover at natural brass sounds. My advice: Donīt let the seller just play the programmed demo songs of the keyboard. This demos usually are arranged so professional, nobody can play this under regular circumstances. Let the seller play hands on. Let him or her play this kind of music you will prefer. Thatīs the only way to get the impression you need for a desicion.

After having choosen a specific sound preference, usually itīs also clear which brand the keyboard is. Normally manufacturer use the same kind sound generator at least within one series. Thus different keyboards of same brand do essentially differ in features only. Many features are very useful. But many are just overdone. And like always in life, everything is a question of what you pay for. But also a question what you are planning to do with the keyboard.

Electronic Keyboards usually have 61 unweighted keys. Unweighted means, the keys are made of plastic and do hardly give resistance at play. The other group is halfweighted keys. Halfweighted keys are also made of plastic, but have attached little weights. This offers more dynamic and a better feeling at play. Halfweighted keys only to be found at higher priced keyboards, however. Heavy fullweighted keys do simulate real piano feeling. They are wooden and offer piano hammer action. Fullweighted keys can only be found with workstations, masterkeyboards and e-pianos but are not topic here. Only a few entertainer keyboards do provide 76 keys. This can be very useful when the keyboards also offers a function called split-function. With split-function you can split the keys into different sections. Then you can assign different sounds to each section. So itīs possible to use this different sounds without the need to switch sounds each time at panel. For this, or if you plan to play lots of piano music, more than 61 keys absolutely make sense.

For a modern keyboard itīs almost standard to provide MIDI. MIDI stands for "Musical Instrument Digital Interface" and is name for a standard that enables electronic instruments and also computers to communicate. Thatīs great stuff! Using a 5-pin standard cable the keyboard can be connected with the computer for example. Or you connect your keyboard to an external sound expander. All this can enrich your playing extraordinary. You should definitely choose a keyboard with MIDI.

Also not bad was when your keyboard had at least a few banks of free storage for custom sounds. Itīs real fun to create own sounds. But itīs no fun not to have space to store them. Helpful too is, when you have a few banks to store your registration. What means your own parameters of sounds, styles, volumn etc. to be stored. Nowadays, the use of a keyboard is very complex. Rarely itīs possible to switch parameters fast while playing. Imagine to press three program keys and turn a multi-function-wheel just to switch from clarinet to trumpet. Storage is the only thing can help here.

All in all a keyboard must not be expensive. When you have a computer and your keyboard offers USB or MIDI, you can just ignore lots of expensive stuff at your keyboard. The result may even be better. All those who could afford a real expensive keyboard be advised not to believe an expensive keyboard would make a better player. The opposite is! Like a limousine can not make a better driver, a high end keyboard can not make a better player. Having lots of technique onboard asks lots of handling. Handling what turns attention away from playing. Finally not player governs his keyboard, but the keyboard governs the player. It just doesnīt make sense to spend thousands in a keyboard, finally using it as a modern record player.

My tip: when you can afford start at the upper low-end class (here in Germany it is at 200 to 300 Euros). In my opinion, for a branded keyboard it is the class were you get most for your money. Extras are expensive and should be considered carefully. Below this price category, too much compromise has to be made. But you can only spend what you have. Buying a second hand keyboard, I see very critical. At least here in Germany the prices are inadequately high. But thatīs a decision everybody needs to find by himself. Even after having left beginner status , and when itīs about to extend equipment, I would never advise buying a single keyboard. not even a big one. I would buy a second keyboard, which completes the first one regarding sounds, styles and features. Two keyboards put on a dual tiers stand offer a higher variety, a single keyboard ever can. And all in all for less money than buying a high end keyboard.

A final word about prices. The manufacturerīs recommended prices are usually much higher than the prices really paid. Before buying a keyboard do inform yourself with big retailers what they ask for your favorite keyboard. Then you can go to the retailer you trust for dealing. Here in Germany the street prices for keyboards very often are more than 30% less than the manufacturerīs recommended prices.
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