The amount of different types of keyboards on the market today is truly mind-boggling, so much so that the word “keyboard” has become an umbrella term covering everything from digital pianos to synthesizers, sequencers, and beyond. Knowing where to begin the search for something that suits your particular needs can be daunting. Narrowing down the options is often a good place to start when it comes to choosing the proper keyboard.
First, consider what style of music you want play. Will you be playing and interpreting the classics or writing original music? Different types of keyboards cater to different needs. One of the many choices you’ll be confronted with is key, or note, configuration. A full-size keyboard has 88 keys, but 76- and 61-note keyboards are popular. They have the same notes as an 88-key keyboard, just a shorter range (five octaves instead of seven with 88 keys. A smaller keyboard can often satisfy the needs of both recreational and discerning professional players, while offering complete portability.
The 61-note keyboard does have some limitations, however. If your band doesn’t have a bassist, and you intend to play a lot of left hand bass, a 61-note keyboard might not suffice. Also, some classical music pieces use of the entire range of the 88 keys. You may be able to transpose up or down an octave, but that could be awkward.
For writing your own music, the 61-key model could be the perfect companion. Many of today’s manufacturers are producing models that have a host of features geared toward composing and arranging that truly enable the creative process. Another simple fact is that a 61-keys will most certainly take up less space on stage, in a studio, or at home—and it’ll still provide most of the same features as its larger counterpart.
Among the features to consider are key width and feel. Look for a keyboard that has keys with the same width and feel (weighted keys) as a piano. The keys should be touch-sensitive so that the harder you hit a key, the louder it sounds. Polyphony refers to how many notes can sound at once. Most keyboards today also have some synthesizers features. For example, they can sound like a drum machine, saxophone, and flute.
To the right are a couple 61-note beginner and two more advanced arranger-style workstation keyboards that should help get the creative juices flowing.
This sampling keyboard includes beginner features like a Step-Up Lesson system with 110 built-in songs for learning that is guided through an LCD display. Advanced features include 400 built-in tones, 150 built-in rhythms, and USB capabilities. It has both long sampling and short sampling modes and a built-in microphone.
PSR-E353 offers robust features in a beginner priced keyboard with full-size touch-sensitive keys. The built-in Yamaha Education Suite with its 100 pre-set songs, lets students teach themselves and it has a duo mode for duet play. It offers recording features and USB connectivity. Its Arpeggiator generates rhythmic and melodic elements
With 128-voice polyphony and more than 1,100 sounds, the Roland BK-5 Arranger Workstation gives you a huge sonic palette to work with. Other features include velocity-sensitive keys, onboard effects, and USB connectivity that allows for direct recording. It has an auto-accompaniment engine and built-in sound system with a wide selection of sounds and onboard effects.
This keyboard incorporates high-end features like color touch screen display, onboard production tools, and velocity sensitive Natural Touch Semi-Weighted keybed. It is preloaded with 640 programs and more than 600 drum track groves. It integrates computer-based DAW with included plug-in Editor software, plus the advanced onboard 16-track sequencer allows touch-based piano roll editing.