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I recently purchased an 88-key, semi-weighted keyboard without doing my research and only recently found out that the weight of the keys has a big impact. I was under the assumption that they are fairly similar and being able to play one means you can play on all.

Will it still be possible for me to learn and play famous classical pieces, or should I buy a weighted one first?

Is it true that playing on a semi-weighted keyboard means that you won't do well on a classical piano?

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  • Note you probably don't want spend all that time learning and then need to to learn twice. Or learn the wrong thing.
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Jan 5, 2023 at 15:12
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    It's the usual tradeoff between cost and quality. Commented Jan 5, 2023 at 15:48
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    If you are good enough, yes.
    – mkrieger1
    Commented Jan 5, 2023 at 17:52
  • This question shouldn't really be confined to classical music playing - playing just about any style of music on piano will be served better using fully weighted keys.
    – Tim
    Commented Jan 6, 2023 at 8:38
  • It also depends on what "classical" music you're playing. Harpsichords, Clavichords, and organs have much lighter touch than grand pianos. Commented Jan 6, 2023 at 17:11

7 Answers 7

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The problem with learning on unweighted or semi-weighted keys is that the keys will necessarily behave differently from normal style keys. This means you will train your touch on a different behaviour than what regular pianos have. This means you will need to accommodate yourself to a different behaviour when you change. Thus you should not train for too long (exclusively) on a semi-weighted keyboard.

Still you can learn quite a bit of technique on a semi-weighted keyboard: Finding notes and chords, finger muscles and independence, such things. You might have problems developing touch.

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A semi-weighted keyboard is okay for a beginner, and one can still make progress as an intermediate player. The main disadvantage to semi-weighted is the level of control. To develop subtlety and range of expression, a fully weighted action is much superior.

If you're just beginning and on a limited budget, semi-weighted will take you a long way. But if you're certain of your commitment and can invest in a fully weighted instrument, that's the way to go.

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    To assist, whenever I switch from keyboard or hammond organ, with different keybeds, to our upright piano, it takes a little moment to adjust. // Personally I benefit from being able to work with a wider range of mechano-acoustic key actions.
    – MS-SPO
    Commented Jan 5, 2023 at 9:32
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    @MS-SPO That's kind of true of any type of even just regular acoustic pianos. There's a reason so many top-level performers insist on having the same brand of piano (usually Steinway) wherever they perform. The difference in feel between one piano and the next, especially going between upright vs. grand, means there's some amount of adjustment needed every time. Commented Jan 5, 2023 at 15:52
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I learned on an acoustic piano, but played for many years on a semi-weighted digital piano before moving back to a fully-weighted keyboard.

I didn't find it particularly difficult to adjust. It depends to a very large degree on how 'semi' the semi-weighted keyboard is. But it's also true that acoustic pianos vary widely in the 'weightiness' of their keyboards. My teacher's baby grand had a very light touch, and my upright at home felt very heavy in comparison.

A semi-weighted keyboard usually has some kind of spring mechanism that you are pushing against when you press a key, and there will also be some kind of weight in each key to make it feel more 'solid'. You feel the spring mechanism more when you are playing softly, and the weight when you are playing loudly. If there is no weight then it requires no more force to play loudly than quietly, which is most unlike an acoustic piano.

It's the balance between these two that determines how 'weighty' the keyboard feels. On an acoustic piano there is no spring and the weight of the hammer action is always enough to return the key to its up position.

It's easier to get fine gradations of expression on a heavier keyboard, up to a point, but it can be tiring to play at higher volume. Playing on a light touch keyboard requires greater finesse of control.

There are further subtleties - better weighted keyboards include mechanisms of various complexity to simulate the feel of the actual hammer mechanism in an acoustic piano, more than just a simple weight.

In summary, I wouldn't recommend a completely unweighted keyboard for learning piano, but a semi-weighted keyboard with sufficient weight to it should not cause you any great problems.

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The differences are more than subtle. But you'll get used to semi-weighted, and at some point will wonder why you didn't go straight in for weighted. Then, you'll have to learn to adapt all over again. Yes, of course you can play to a certain level, but using the nuances that a fully weighted 'board affords will help even from the beginning. Even moving from upright (studio) to grand piano takes some doing, so if at all possible, go or the best you can manage, and don't look back.

Of course, the black and white bits will all be in the same places, but the action/re-action of the keys is the more important factor, although to get a really good action could cost lots more.

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The issue is a bit more complex than just weighted vs. semi-weighted.

Is a Semi - Weighted keyboard good enough to play classical music?

Yes, it's perfectly possible to play classical music on a semi-weighted keyboard. Assuming it is velocity-sensitive, then you can express the dynamics of the piece you are playing. If you plan to perform on the same keyboard as you are learning on, then I don't see any issue.

Is it true that playing on a semi-weighted keyboard doesn't mean that you will do well on a classical piano?

You will have a hard time controlling the dynamics if you are not used to the piano you are playing on. If you want to perform on a classical piano, ideally you would practice on the same piano or something with a similar keybed.

I see that many answers make it seem like there are only a few types of keys: semi-weighted and fully-weighted. That's an oversimplification. There is at least one more type to consider, and that is the hammer-action keybed. You can find these on some synthesizers and electric pianos (especially the more expensive ones) as well.

A big difference between keybeds with and without hammer action is that the ones without hammer action measure the velocity of the key before it is fully depressed; they don't measure the force with which you pressed the key. With a accoustic piano or one with proper hammer action, it is the force (or perhaps more accurate, the total energy accumulated in the hammer when it strikes) that matters. This means that you have to play quite differently to get the same resulting dynamics.

But even that is a simplification, because there is a huge variation in the design of keybeds. I've once had the pleasure to play on a accoustic grand piano that had lighter keys than some semi-weighted synthesizer keys I played. If you had practiced on a grand piano with much heavier keys, then performing on the one with the much lighter keys would also have gone wrong.

Personally I think it's valuable to practice on a variety of keybeds, as this will make it easier for you to adapt when playing on a piano you are unfamiliar with.

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Sure, play on what you have. Is the skills you develop going to translate to an acoustic piano? A lot of it will.

Scales are the same, chords are the same. A great deal of the things you need to know are the same.

Is the touch the same, no. Does that mean digital vs acoustic is an either / or thing, maybe?

Is that going to make you enjoy the music less or make your music any less good? Certainly not.

Acoustic piano require space. They are expensive to buy and maintain. They need to be tuned. That piece of skilled labour does not come cheap. Digital pianos just have none of those problems.

Are you going to be able to become a concert pianist on a digital keyboard, probably not? is that the only type of musician, no?

Just like not every person who takes up jogging wants an olympic gold medal. Not every person who takes up an instrument want to achieve the absolute highest standard possible.

That does not mean that singing a song or playing some music to whatever humble standard your time and budget allows can not be an enjoyable and rewarding hobby.

Too much competition in music has had the effect of aggresively hoovering all the fun out it.

So in the end, play what you can afford. What your living space allows and don't let anything keep you from enjoying music.

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Not a big problem at all - unless you'd have to train on semi-weighted and play on full weight keys. And, you can also train to be a professional, but in this case, you should be prepared to move on to a full weighted keyboard (or an acoustic piano) as soon as possible.

That being said, there's a lot of pro keyboard players today in rock/metal and pop who cannot properly play in an acoustic piano. This can be a problem based on repertoire.

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