Purchasing a keyboard

I’m often asked for advice in purchasing keyboards for young students.  There are bazillions of options out there, but in general I recommend even the youngest beginners start with a keyboard that includes the following features:

  • 88 keys, the same number of keys as a regular acoustic piano
  • realistic piano action (this may be described as “weighted keys,” “hammer action,” or any number of other phrases—see this article for a dizzying array of options; for the first several years of piano study, any of these options will be fine)
  • “on-board” speakers, so the keyboard can make its own sound without being connected to external speakers, and a headphone jack for practicing with privacy.  Note that if something is sold as a “MIDI controller,” it probably does not have on-board speakers.
  • MIDI connectivity (either via USB or via dedicated MIDI in/out ports—more on those options here) can be very useful for students who want to take advantage of computer software that assists with learning, creating, and collaborating on music.  In general I find more students wish they had MIDI capability than regret spending the extra money on a keyboard that supports it.

Then you’ll also need the following accessories—if they’re not already included with your keyboard you’ll want to purchase them separately:

  • sustain pedal (Note that the little square pedals some keyboards ship with can creep away underfoot and be difficult to work with.  If that’s what your keyboard includes, you may find it easier to work with something like a Yamaha FC3A—though for some reason pedals are ridiculously brand-sensitive, so talk to your salesperson to be sure you buy a pedal that will actually work with your keyboard!)
  • music rack or separate music stand (the Manhasset Symphony Stand is the industry standard)
  • keyboard stand (my favorite all-purpose traveling stand is the On-Stage Double-X)
  • bench (there are lots of options, but the On-Stage KB8904B is a nice all-purpose bench)
  • headphones for practicing with more privacy (Sony MDR-7502‘s are one nice option)

Some keyboards will include all of those items in the same package, but generally you’ll need to check product listings carefully to be sure you’re not missing anything.  My best advice is to take the list above to a reputable vendor (Sweetwater is my preferred online source) and ask a salesperson about new releases and specials they may have available to you.  (As I’m writing this, Sweetwater has a great price on a Yamaha P-125, for instance, and if you give Stuart Niven a call at 800-222-4700 ext. 1337 and tell him I sent you, he’ll put together a nice bundle that includes everything you need!)