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I want to buy an electronic keyboard for someone that plays piano. I am afraid practicing on an electronic piano may be harmful for her technique. There is not enough space for a mechanical piano or those hybrid pianos.

Is it harmful for the playing technique to practice on an electronic keyboard? In what ways?

Are there ways to go around these problems?

Do you have suggestions about what electronic keyboard may be better so that there is no too much problem practicing on it?

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To help the excellent answers so far,can you please quantify 'not enough space'? The fact that 88 full size keys are going to be necessary means if you can't get an acoustic piano in, you won't get a keyboard in either, width wise. Depth, there won't be a huge difference, so the only factor may be height. If so, a ship's piano could be the answer. –  Tim Jun 11 '13 at 11:43
    
I think the size of the full keyboard is fine, plus perhaps the stand. I was thinking in saving on the space and weight of the strings (are they called strings?). I thought a vertical piano would have the depth of the keyboard plus the case in which the strings and the mechanism are. Today I saw the Yamaha DGX-640. I think that size might be fine. –  ABC Jun 11 '13 at 12:30
    
You can play a wide repertoire of keyboard classical music without ever approaching the 88 key limit. A synthesizer with 70-something keys is fine. –  Kaz Jun 12 '13 at 22:46
    
If this person is a grownup who plays piano, don't. Musicians do not need people buying instruments for them; but equivalent donations in the form of cash are welcome. –  Kaz Jun 13 '13 at 23:05

3 Answers 3

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I am not recommending this instrument over the many similar instruments available from other manufacturers, but the Korg SP-200:

  • measures 1328 x 285 x 122 mm
  • weighs 18.5 kg
  • has the full 88 keys
  • strives to imitate the sound and feel of a real piano accurately

Instruments like this are designed to be a professional performance and practice instrument for real pianists, and there are no compromises here that would be harmful to a player using it as their regular practise instrument.

It's up to you whether the price, weight and size are acceptable to you.

To go smaller, lighter or cheaper, there will be compromises:

  • Instruments with fewer keys mean that some pieces can't be played.
  • Instruments with smaller keys should not be considered -- they will completely throw out the player's technique.
  • Doing without weighted, hammer action keys, means that the response of the keyboard will be different. This is the factor most likely to make a difference to the player's technique. Other mechanisms try to simulate weight with springs - some people find that sufficient.

The effect of this is that a player would practise getting the exact expression they want out of a piece, then perform it on a real piano and find that the sound they're producing doesn't match their expectations. This is likely to be quite a subtle effect, noticeable only by connoisseurs - but it may unsettle the player.

On the practice instrument, the action of the keys might mean that certain phrases are easier - or more difficult - than on a real piano. As an exaggerated example, imagine practising a complex Bach phrase of 16 quavers, on an electric organ with very light action and no velocity sensitivity. After half an hour's practice, you think you've nailed it. It sounds OK. Now move to a piano, and find that gentle movements that were enough to sound a note on the organ, now barely move the piano key. Or find that although you get all the notes out, they vary wildly in volume.

Do note, however, that even real pianos vary in feel, sound and response. My school's upright, my parents' upright and my piano teacher's baby grand all felt and sounded different.

It makes sense to occasionally play a different piano, just to get used to the fact that they vary. After all, concert pianists don't usually bring their own piano with them to venues.

It all depends on the player's aspirations. If they are already an experienced player, they probably know their own needs. If they intend to play on the stage, on real pianos, to fussy audiences, then absolute accuracy might be important to them. If they only ever intend to play at home, then as long as their home instrument makes a pleasant sound, that is surely enough?

Having said all this, I don't feel that even the cheapest plastic organ sold at the market toy stall actively harms a player. I suppose it might if you burned thousands of hours of playing on it into your muscle memory -- but in reality, nobody would do that.

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Good point about trying other pianos. At exam. times, my pupils have a play on each of my three pianos, all quite different (yes, my wife is very understanding !), as the one in the exam. room will inevitably be different in feel, response and sound from the one they normally play. –  Tim Jun 11 '13 at 11:49
    
OK, I just bought a Korg SP-250. Let's see what she says about it when it arrives. She said she had tried a Casio CDP120CS and was 'ok'. The Korg seems to be nicer, smaller, and lighter than the Casio, so I guess it should be fine. Thanks. –  ABC Jun 12 '13 at 1:10

If the person is traditionally trained, which means, he/she started playing on an actual Piano, either a Grand or Upright Piano, it may affect the person's performance.

Here are some points that should be checked when buying an electric piano for a traditionally trained pianist:

  • As much as can afford, go for the most number of keys. 88 keys is the standard.
  • Weighted Keyboard or Hammer Action Keyboard. It simulates the realistic keys like those in piano.
  • Velocity Sensitivity - the harder you press, the louder it sounds.

All of these at least are very important for someone who starts playing on a real piano and will be playing on an electric keyboard. Without these can affect their performance, in terms of speed, hand and finger exercises etc.

If the person is not traditionally trained, which means started playing on electric piano that do not have the features mentioned above, it will not affect him/her, but still it is necessary for pianists to be trained traditionally.

Note: "Controller Keyboard" is a good compromise since they are very cheap, but only if the person that will be using it knows how to operate and use it. It is not a kind of "Plug and Play" keyboard.

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So it comes down, really to "how much do you want to spend?" Those weighted keyboards cost more than cheapos. There are even electronic pianos with a full "real" keyboard and hammer mechanics installed, so aside from the fact that the hammers hit a board instead of strings, the action is identical to an acoustic instrument. But not cheap. –  Carl Witthoft Jun 11 '13 at 11:41
    
@Witthoft. I took a look at Yamaha's hybrid pianos NU1 that seem to be what you are saying, the hammer mechanism on an electronic piano, but they are too big for her appartment. I think. Maybe it is better to get a bigger apartment and then get the NU1 directly instead of a smaller and perhaps lower quality piano. I wanted to know if smaller electronic pianos exist with the feel of a mechanical piano. –  ABC Jun 11 '13 at 12:03

I'm afraid, that any instrument with decently similar feeling (I think, this means weighted hammer mechanics) does nearly occupy the same space as a piano, even if it is lower (keyboard level + lid + score holder) and can be carried by two not too weak persons (mine has a weight of ca. 70 kg). To care about the touch for me indicates a sort of seriousness difficult to satisfy with less than 88 keys.

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I had the idea that maybe with an electronic keyboard I can save in space and weight a little for not having the strings and the hammer mechanism. I was comparing Yamahas b3 (an upright piano), and the DGX-340 (an electronic one with weighted keys). A little bit is saved. –  ABC Jun 11 '13 at 12:37
    
You can save in weight, but the floor space is about the same. Electronic pianos save in height, but you can't put the used height to anything. Unless you can put a cabinet right over the keyboard. But that will be in your face when you're playing. –  Kaz Jun 12 '13 at 23:31

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