The Essential Guide to Digital Pianos for the classic pianist

Digital Pianos for the Classic Pianist

After our post about Pianos we wanted to take a deep dive into Digital Pianos.

Digital pianos are electronic keyboards which have been developed to mimic acoustic pianos. Technological advances mean digital pianos now sound and feel (almost) like classical acoustic pianos, but with the convenience of being portable and not requiring fine tuning. Digital Pianos can also easily be amplified for concerts or connected to headphones for playing at home. Digital pianos are usually cheaper than regular acoustic pianos, but their advantages often outweigh the fact that they may not feel or look exactly like an acoustic piano, and they are rapidly becoming the instrument of choice for the modern day classical pianist.

Key considerations for the classical pianist when choosing a Digital Piano.

1: Weighted Keys

Piano keys have a characteristic feel due to the hammer action inside the piano when pressing the keys of the piano, as they strike the strings. This feeling is replicated more or less across different digital pianos using a variety of ways.

1.1 Weighted and semi-weighted actions have a response to make it feel as close as possible to a traditional piano.

1.2 “Hammer action” adds actual mechanical hammers into digital pianos for a realistic feeling. Literally a small hammer imbedded inside to give it the same thud feeling.  

1.3 Fully weighted keys are the best as they work relative to the octave of the keys. The lower the octave the heavier the hammer. Known as “graded hammer action”. These types of digital pianos tend to be more expensive.

2: Built-in Sound & Sound Quality

The sound produced by a digital piano and its quality are as good as its components. Speakers are not the only important factor to consider. If a digital pianos speakers are not good, the piano can easily plug into an external speaker system. More important is the way the the sound has been stored digitally.

Listen for the whole tone as well as the tapering off of the sound as you play. It is crucial to consider the polyphony of a digital piano. This is the ability of an electronic keyboard or synthesiser to play a number of notes at the same time. 32-note polyphony is good, but if you want to go to town, ideally make sure you are getting 64-note polyphony or higher which enables you to play more complex pieces.

The current highest polyphony count available is 264. Many digital pianos allow you to play the piano with various timbres – from a grand concert piano to a honky tonk piano.

Most often the sounds that are simulated by the digital piano are created with “sampling”, meaning that each sound played is a recorded sound from an acoustic piano. This method leaves something of the acoustic realness behind, in that each sound is very precise, and sampling does not give much room to the visceral sounds produced by an acoustic piano, or the accumulated reverberations of the strings. However, some top digital piano brands have been developing techniques to compensate for this. Look for pianos with DSP (digital sound processing) which adds even more to the simulated experience of the digital piano with acoustical effects.

3: Weight VS Size VS Presentation

Digital pianos are versatile. Since the sound they produce is all housed within the keyboard body, they can be easy to handle and far smaller than regular acoustic pianos as they do not require the large cases for the strings and hammers. Because of this, a digital piano can easily be placed on a table or stand to be played.

They can fit in a bag and be transported by one person. They can be stored in a cupboard or even under a bed, when not in use. This flexibility means that playing the piano is now far more accessible.

However many digital pianos are available in cases to create the look of an acoustic or grand piano. These offer stability and protection for the piano, however increase its size and also contribute to making it more difficult to transport, once put together.

The exterior look of the piano is greatly dependent on the person playing the piano, or perhaps the situation in which the piano is being played. Certainly, the larger, hard cases that make the digital piano appear as an upright acoustic or concert grand piano have more presence and give a more romantic or classical atmosphere. They may be preferred for use in a professional concert or wedding.

4: Connectivity

Being able to connect to your devices opens up a whole new world for classical pianists. Digital pianos often have MIDI or USB port connections allowing the digital piano to interface with computers and other recording equipment. Some models accept flash memory cards. Being able to record and download ones musical pieces is a huge advantage for many musicians, where otherwise they would need to visit a recording studio which can be time consuming and expensive.

5: Recording Capability

Some pianos allow you to record yourself playing which can be a benefit if you are learning a long difficult piece.

6: Teaching and Learning:

Digital pianos often have built-in exercises, music note displays, lessons, and metronomes which can come in handy for students and teachers. Digital pianos sometimes have two headphone jacks so both a teacher and student work together quietly which can be ideal for lessons given at home or in environments where practising a piano could disturb others.

7: Top Brand and Differences

Today there are myriad companies producing digital pianos, so effectively choosing the right piano for you means knowing a little about each brand and their focus:

Yamaha offer a wide range of quality digital pianos from pianos for beginners to professional digital grand pianos. They are a well known and well respected brand, with good reason. They have been effectively pioneering in instrument technology for years, and are known for their dependable digital pianos.

Kawai are known for focusing on the acoustic sound of their pianos, producing beautifully crafted digital pianos with a focus on digital pianos that carefully mimic the real thing.

Korg focuses on the technological advancement of digital pianos. Working closely with their synthesizers and other digital instruments, they are an innovative brand and their digital pianos attest to this. if you are a DJ or interested more in the recording and musical production side of playing the piano, Korg may have what you are looking for.

Casio digital pianos are without doubt one of the better price for performance products. With a diverse range, you can often find economic pianos with the same or similar details featured on the more expensive brands.

Roland make some of the most technologically advanced stage pianos, their digital pianos are well respected by professional pianists, and their award winning instruments have notable recording and output features.

Our Top 3 Digital Pianos:

Yamaha P-45

YAMAHA P45 Digital Piano

The Yamaha P-45 Digital Piano is an incredibly portable piano featuring weighted keys, 10 different sounds, and 64 notes of polyphony. It is a dependable and economic piano with 88 keys, all with touch sensitivity and a graded hammer action. It is a piano well loved by beginners for its simplicity and ease of use.

Made for portability, the lightweight piano is perfect for traveling musicians, as it can be carried by one person, and easily fits into smaller spaces, all the while not detracting from its professional sound. The P-45 is a great entry level piano, with two inbuilt speakers. It may not be suitable for musicians who need a variety of instrument sounds and sound effects to create music, but for the classical piano player, it is a good solid option.

The piano features 2 6W speakers which are perfect for a small room and for practice. When performing in a larger room or space, the piano would need to connect to an external speaker system, however it plays well and its sound does not distort at high volumes. The Yamaha P-45 comes with a number of modes and settings from Dual mode to split mode with a Duet feature which is very helpful in a teacher- student scenario.

The piano includes both transpose and fine tuning which allows you to adjust pitch. An inbuilt metronome helps you to keep pace in your practice playing. The piano does not feature a MIDI function which would allow you to record your pieces, however it can interface with your computer or other devices and the Yamaha P-45 does include a USB port which can be very useful for the musician.

Casio PX160 BK Privia Digital Piano

The Casio PX-160 Digital Piano is a well made full size, 88 key piano. Created specifically for the beginner pianist, it is a quality digital piano with a solid feel and sound. It is well laid out and its simplified form means that it is easy to use, without unnecessary menus or buttons. The keyboard includes a full 128-voice polyphony.

Casio PX160 BK Privia Digital Piano

The Casio Px160 is a piano that gives beginners a competent instrument to learn on, maintaining its quality features despite being an economy piano. The piano includes impressive speakers, with even and loud bass, and is true to the Casio brand, giving users a better sound for less money. The keyboard includes sensors in the keys, allowing for better translation of the key motion, resulting in more accurate responses to keys being played. This digital piano also features hammer response, damper noise, and damper resonance, giving the keys an even more realistic and authentic feel and sound.

The keys of the keyboard are created with a synthetic ivory, which mimic acoustic pianos in how they feel under your fingertips, as well as allowing for sweat absorption which makes playing the piano very comfortable. The piano is also fully graded from left to right, which results in a piano playing experience that is more expressive. The piano includes a pair of audio outputs for use with an external speaker system, two stereo mini jacks for headphones, and a MIDI USB for interfacing with a computer, tablet, or other device. 18 different sound options are available with this piano. As well as a slew of other piano sounds from Grand Piano to Organ.

A split and layer function is an added feature, which means you can both split the keyboard into different sounds, as well as layer two together to create a more varied and textural sound. There’s also a built in variable metronome, a duet mode and a key transpose feature that’s very clever and useful for playing along with a singer or other instrumentalist. The Px160 digital piano also has a small range of effects. All in all, a superb quality and popular digital piano for the beginner.

Roland FP30 BK Digital Piano

Roland FP30 BK Digital Piano

The Roland FP30 is a stage piano. Created to fulfil the needs of the on-the-go performer or musician. The pianos are built to be robust and sturdy, everything a pianist would require for a live performance and the rigours of set up and installation in different venues. The Roland FP30 Digital piano aims to give a very realistic piano sound but also to be able to play well with other instruments. It’s the perfect band piano. They have powerful internal speakers. Special attention has been given to the weight and feel of the keys which are responsive with a light touch and spring, making the piano playing really fun and in keeping with the pianos role in a live experience.

The Roland FP30 Digital Piano can be a little heavy to carry, but this is due to all its elements being perfectly contained within a strong  and durable case, and the extra weight can really be justified in the sound it is able to produce. Roland use their own technology called SuperNATURAL sound which includes dynamic sampling giving their pianos a more authentic sound full of the character of a real piano. As with the Yamaha pianos, The FP30 Digital Piano also carries synthetic ivory keys which feel pleasant to play. Piano, Electric Piano and “Other” sound variations are provided via 3 “tone” buttons and a “Split” button that gives you the ability to perform two different instrumental sounds with the keyboard split down the middle. USB and Bluetooth connections are available.

Final Thoughts Digital Pianos:

With all the important ingredients for producing that unique piano sound cleverly confined within the keyboard, a digital piano can offer a far more flexible musical experience for the pianist. Despite the lack of a huge case, digital pianos don’t scrimp on sound or feel, and if looks are what you are after, many digital pianos can come built into faux cases to mimic the look of both upright acoustic pianos and grand pianos. With the numerous brands available, all with their particular advancements and attention to detail, the classical pianist may find the digital piano fulfils all their needs in this modern age. We can only imagine that as the technology advances, so will the digital piano. For the beginner student or musician who needs to practice on the go, a digital piano can be a vital tool for their musical journey.