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How to pick the right Digital Piano or Keyboard

Ok, so you want to play an instrument, and you’ve chosen to play the keyboard? or you’d like to play a piano? but room is limited, so which one do you buy- and which one is suitable for you.

David Cooper

Feel free to read on, or watch the video version by clicking below!

Well, the digital pianos these days are very good, they have weighted keys, the full amount found on a real piano (if you want it- or have room for it) or they can be a bit shorter too on smaller digital pianos as not everyone really use all the keys- (well not for quite a few years anyway)

So you have the choice of a portable digital piano, or a portable digital keyboard. The portable digital piano will feel very similar to a real piano and allow you to go between that, and a piano teacher’s real acoustic upright or grand piano and you’ll be able to get familiar with the heavy keys and the busier left hand that a pianist has over a keyboard player.

Piano players have different techniques to keyboard players- mostly down to the hammer action effect on the piano meaning that your whole style of playing is relevant to the fact that your instrument is simulating the hammer action and you get the feel of the momentum of the strings being struck by the hammers. The harder you play the louder and brighter the sound will be, the more gently you play, the softer and quieter you will sound.

Left hand Piano parts

So a pianist uses both hands and they play two parts which compliment each other. Usually the melody of the piece is played by the right hand and the accompaniment is played in the left hand. Left hand parts can be single notes, chords ( 3 or 4 notes) or broken chords/ arpeggios or other left hand styles like stride where you play a bass note followed by a chord or a broken chord.

And piano music will typically have 2 rows of notes known as staves to read, the top stave will shop the right hand melody, and the bottom one will show the left hand accompaniment. It sounds hard to believe- but pianists read both staves at the same time and play both hands together reading from the two staves simultaneously. (It’s a bit like driving a car where you have to juggle gear changes, watching for other cars and steering, and adjust the radio and the heater- you just get used to it and cope!)

A keyboard player has the easier option where just a chord is held down and the chosen style will rhythmically play in the correct key for the chord. The rhythm section doesn’t have to be on and you can just have a constant sound playing, but with a style chosen it opens up a whole kaleidoscope of amazing backings that enhance anyone’s performance.

A keyboard player can play the whole chord on their left hand with 3 or 4 notes, or they can play a more simplified version with just one note. (for major chords) and this can be altered by adding a black note below to get minor chords, a white note below to get seventh chords and both a black and a white note below the chord note to make it a major-seventh chord.

Keyboard players’ music usually has just one stave and this is the same as the pianist’s top line which shows the melody. The left hand chords are listed above the melody stave and consist of chord changes, and these vary bar to bar. Most keyboard players memorise the different chords, and then look out for their names above the stave as they play. Sometimes keyboard players use piano music, and keyboards can be used with the automated chord section turned off so that the whole keyboard resembles the piano, it just won’t feel the same and the feeling of the music will be harder to express due to the feel of the keys being different.

So which instrument do you buy?

If you were to buy an acoustic piano- then take into account that it would probably cost you about £150-200 to get it delivered. The older pianos are very big and heavy and mostly don’t cope with the modern central heating of homes so tuning will be a real issue too. Due to the tuned strings inside a conventional piano that resonate, you are restricted where you can put them- not near a radiator, not in sunlight, not in a conservatory- and tuning is usually twice a year at about £45 per time- so compared to a digital piano they do impose quite a few restrictions.

Portable digital pianos offer all the ease of storing away if you need the space, ease of carrying upstairs, no tuning and they do sound really good!

My one piece of advice would be that leaving a piano set up is a really good idea if you can- if you have to set it all up every time you want to have a practise then it will become more of a ture. The easier it is to swing by and have a quick play- the more you’ll play it and the more proficient you will become

Portable Pianos


Yamaha NP12/NP32 (black or white)


This is a great instrument- it’s the top model in Yamaha’s “home portable” digital pianos and it has wooden white keys- compared to all the other models i’ve reviewed giving you plastic keys. The wood somehow makes them feel more realistic and gives more of the weight and balance that a real piano offers you. This model is quite a lot more than the others, but if you want full encouragement and you can afford it, then it’s a lovely instrument to play and the sound is excellent, due to it’s better speakers. It really does pay to spend as much as you can afford as the instrument will be nicer to play and more encouraging to you.


So if you are sticking to the piano route then the Yamaha NP12 or the Yamaha NP32 are the cheapest options. The NP12 is just 5 octaves (61 notes) which is equal to most portable keyboards, and the NP32 has 76 notes (6 ¼ octaves- which is only one octave shorter than a full piano) but you’ll be fine for starting with something like this if you’re on a tight budget. The main limitation on the NP series is that the touch is not as heavy as a real piano so when you press the keys they will be a bit lighter than an acoustic piano. And of course if your week of practise is on the lighter-weighted keys, your lesson might seem quite hard work on the heavier harder-to-press piano keys of a real piano that you won’t be so familiar with.

Yamaha P45 (black only)


This offers you fully weighted keys, for the price point they are excellent value and very popular. If you were to spend about £400 on a real acoustic piano then it would probably be a bit of a wreck! Limitations are that you have to hold down a function button to adjust everything – but hey- it’s the small price to pay to get a starter piano that feels like the real thing

Korg B2 (black or white)


These are great pianos and do a very similar job to the Yamaha P45, in fact slightly cheaper now and they offer a slightly different sound as the Korg technicians will use different samples for their pianos to Yamaha.


Portable Pianos


Yamaha P-121



Yamaha P-125



These two models are almost the same – the only difference is the length of the keyboard and the weight to carry about. The P121 has 73 keys and is just 6 octaves, whereas the P125 is 88 keys which is exactly the same as a real piano – You don’t use the full range of notes until a few years into playing so the P121 is adequate for most pianists.

The two huge benefits I see in going up to one of these models is that you have a selection of buttons which help you select your choice of functions much easier than in the cheaper models. You can also record -which is a great tool when learning or progressing as you can play in one part of your piece, play it back and practise your other hand to sync with it. As you progress it is also very useful to learn to improvise too ( or ad lib) so you can play along with your recording and make up extra parts that work alongside the piece. This is really good fun to try.

Portable Pianos

Pro Models

Yamaha P515 (black or white)


This is a great instrument- it’s the top model in Yamaha’s “home portable” digital pianos and it has wooden white keys- compared to all the other models i’ve reviewed giving you plastic keys. The wood somehow makes them feel more realistic and gives more of the weight and balance that a real piano offers you. This model is quite a lot more than the others, but if you want full encouragement and you can afford it, then it’s a lovely instrument to play and the sound is excellent, due to it’s better speakers. It really does pay to spend as much as you can afford as the instrument will be nicer to play and more encouraging to you.


Portable Keyboards

Student models (PSR series)

These are quite remarkable- as from the cheapest model in the range you get 120 voices and 114 styles and all in a case with built in speakers that weighs only 3.4kgs. You definitely get huge improvements to this when you spend more money- but amazing what you get now.

Yamaha F51 Keyboard


Amazing for the money, but a very basic keyboard and not suitable to learn the piano with. It’s keys aren’t touch sensitive like all the other models so each key will either be on or off. This means you cannot put any expression into your playing – which is really important in music.


Yamaha PSRE373


A great instrument in the student range of keyboard, touch sensitive, 2 track recording facilities and very lightweight and portable. The sounds on this model are very good.


Used Yamaha PSRE463


Top of the student 5 octave models, better speakers than the E373 and 6 track recording.


Yamaha EW410


This is essentially the same specification as the PSRE463, but has 76 and so is a bit longer and just one octave shorter than a real piano – but with all the fun styles and backings. It’s speakers are bigger than the E463 so slightly better sound.


Portable Keyboards

Intermediate models (SX series)

Yamaha SX600


This is Yamaha’s newest model to the SX series and has a great set of features, sounds and styles. It’s a cut above the PSR series in just about every way and all samples are more realistic and all styles are better.
This model doesn’t have the touch screen that the SX700 and SX900 both have.


Yamaha SX700


A great keyboard with the touch screen making it very easy to navigate around. Compared to the SX900 you do lose quite a few qualities but a very powerful keyboard.


Yamaha SX900


This is the model below the flagship Genos, but with built in speakers and 5 octaves (61 notes). Navigated through its large touch screen makes everything easy to find and it’s sounds are of the highest calibre. Its digital effects make all it’s 1337 voices sound very realistic and with a 16 track recording facility makes this a very popular instrument.


Best of both Worlds


The DGX660 is a crossover/hybrid model which gives you all the benefits of the keyboards with loads of sounds, loads of styles and accompaniments alongside facilities like plugging in a microphone and recording your singing whilst playing so that you can take out on a usb stick and use to burn your own CD. It also has a fully weighted piano feel keyboard- perhaps not quite so good as something like the p125, but great to get the both of both worlds at an amazinging good price.

Hybrid – Yamaha DGX660 in Black



Hybrid – Yamaha DGX660 in White



Portable Keyboards

Pro Models

Yamaha Genos

£3899 – £4250

This top flagship model of its range offers optional separate speakers consisting of a subwoofer and two mounted tweeters. No speakers are within the instrument so unless you’re going straight through a PA system then these are a great set up to give you optimum sound.
The Genos has 76 notes so longest than any of the SX series, but of the highest quality and with the most sounds and styles.



So it’s worth spending at the top of your budget as you will enjoy the extra quality, the better sound and more facilities -And this you will encourage you more, and in turn you will probably practise more and improve better.

It’s easy to think about being cautious, but some of these facilities will aid your learning and progress you faster.

At epianos we are keen to help you buy the right model so do get in touch by email, phone or live chat and we can help you get on the road to playing.

David Cooper Owner
David has been involved with music retail for over 30 years and has watched his business grow from strength to strength, once running a hugely successful general music store to now operating one of the UK's leading specialists for digital pianos, keyboards, and used organs.

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