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I would like to learn playing piano. I am self-learning music theory, which I understand, but I don't practice at all. Pianos being too expensive, can I get the same experience with a MIDI keyboard? I mean as if I were practicing on a true piano.

  • Related: music.stackexchange.com/questions/6874/… – ninemileskid Aug 14 '14 at 1:26
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    You can - up to a certain point. However, an electronic keyboard can be distracting with all of its bells and whistles (come on, you want to jump to Program 64 and play the Smoke On The Water riff); a MIDI controller plus a PC can be even worse. It can also be lacking the sound and sense of physicality and presence in the room of the piano, which can be rewarding but also important - in a way, it's like a drummer practicing to a practice pad all the time, which can't be too good. – Some Dude On The Interwebs Mar 10 '15 at 21:59

14 Answers 14

7

If you truly mean "as if I were practicing on a true piano" (as in an acoustic one)...

A decent weighted digital piano (which is actually a true synthesizer) will usually run $400-ish. I'd recommend a Yamaha DGX/YPG or Casio Privia if you don't mind some "clacking keys". Or a slightly better Yamaha Digital Piano to silence the "clack" of keys hitting the keybed.

You'll also want to have a teacher if you plan on making any progress.

Here are some tips on my website: http://pianocheetah.com/piano

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    I have the Yamaha P-105 and highly recommend it. The less expensive Yamaha P-35 is also excellent. – Bradd Szonye Aug 14 '14 at 0:34
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Imagine learning to drive in a simulator and never getting in a car. (Would you call yourself a "driver"?)

There are many physical aspects of piano playing that are impossible to reproduce without actually using your finger to accelerate a wood and fabric assembly. In contrast to the other answers so far, weighted digital keys feel very different to me. For example, when playing very quietly (just barely touching the keys), I expect a very particular response that comes from years experience playing on real pianos, and I find it extremely difficult to reproduce the same delicate sound with even the best digital pianos. (Of course, you may not care about getting to this level of subtlety with your playing for quite a while.)

From a music theory standpoint (which sounds like it might be the critical element in your decision), the precise blend of overtones produced by a real piano is occasionally critical to deciding if a certain harmony or counterpoint works. (I've never heard the classic V42 -> I6 chord change with the rising fourth in the soprano, ^5 to ^1, sound quite as good as on a nice Steinway - and if he'd used a digital piano, my college professor's half-hour lecture on just how nice that change sounds could never have been as convincing.)

Used upright pianos are sold on the usual online lists; if you're lucky, sometimes you can find one for a rock-bottom price ($100-ish) that requires only very simple repairs.

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    "the precise blend of overtones produced by a real piano is occasionally critical" Theory that only applied to "nice Steinways" and not to the gazillion other instruments people play would be terrible theory. – Bruce Fields May 5 '17 at 18:28
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I am a pianist and have both a baby grand Koehler and Campbell and a Casio Privia for traveling/notating music on a computer. I don't mind practicing on the keyboard but I notice there are two major differences:

  1. Note Reaction: While the weighted keys do feel the same going down, they are nowhere near the same coming back up. The action in a piano is designed to return the note to its original position as fast as possible so that a performer can strike the key lightly and still produce sound, as in a trill or tremolo or other ornament. The action in a weighted keyboard seems more to add weight to the keys so that you can produce more realistic dynamics.
  2. Harmonics. The sound is just not the same. If you never intend to formally perform, this is alright, because these kind of things only really matter in the performance setting in a recital hall. The sympathetic vibrations just don't exist, and things like using the damper pedal don't produce the same resonance as they do on a real piano.

I think if you want to perform, go for the real deal. Otherwise, you should be just fine.

  • Are the keys on the Casio Privia weighted or semi-weighted or not weighted at all? – Albert Aug 15 '14 at 20:48
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    They're weighted – Ely Beau Eastman Aug 15 '14 at 20:53
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You can use a regular midi keyboard but a lot of them are only 61 keys rather than 88 and as Kevin said, you'll never get the feel for the piano if you don't have weighted keys. I taught myself to play keyboards and decided to get some formal piano lessons and it's totally different, you need more muscle strength to be able to strike they keys.

So bottom line is, yes, it can be done to a limited extent but you'll never get the full benefit without the full keyboard and weighted keys.

  • It's not so much that you need more muscle strength for a true keyboard. More that your hand can't rest stress-free on the lite keys - you have to physically hold them up. And stress-free is a big deal playing piano. You also have more delicate control over weighted keys. – Stephen Hazel Aug 13 '14 at 19:19
  • For the first couple of years, the top and bottom octave won't really come into play, so 61 will suffice.The muscle activity is a more important factor. – Tim Aug 14 '14 at 6:57
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The problem with using a midi keyboard is that it lacks the touch and tone of a real piano. I understand the costs of buying a real piano, but if you are to pursue piano seriously, you should save up. :) If you have a midi keyboard, you can learn basic things like notes and rhythms. Also, if you do compose, midi keyboards are great. However, having no weighted keys will not develop your technique. Maybe you could learn to play quickly on a midi keyboard, but once you experience playing a real piano, it will be a lot more difficult.

Also, you may develop bad habits using a midi keyboard, because of the difference in touch. Once the bad habits solidify, it will cause difficult problems in the future.

However, I understand your situation. Maybe start by buying a used piano. Renting isn't good if you are going to play the piano for a really long time. Or maybe you can rent-to-own (but that's only offered at certain music stores).

Overall, I wish you good luck with your studies. :D

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To answer your question, yes. You can learn how to play piano by practicing on a midi keyboard. If possible I would suggest that you procure an 88 key midi keyboard that has hammer weighted keys.

Make no mistake, even with hammer weighted keys the difference between a midi keyboard and a grand piano or even upright piano is pretty substantial. I learned how to play piano on an 88 key keyboard and I have played numerous real pianos well.

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It depends on what kind of MIDI keyboard we're talking about. There are always caveats, but more so with some than with others.

If you're talking about something like the Alesis QS-7, with semi-weighted keys, then I'd say yeah, absolutely you can learn.

But if you're talking about something like the Korg NanoKey, I'd say, no, that's not really for playing piano music.

In between those two extremes, you have keyboards like the Casio CTK-330. But I think that anything less than the Alesis QS-7 (which can run you as much as $500), you might as well just get a toy piano.

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With music, as a lot of things, the theory is just that - theory. The only way to understand it properly is to play an instrument. How many books on brain surgery does one need to read in order to perform their first operation?

Any keyboard will help you understand how music works - although there's lots of it that doesn't adhere to the rules - which are made to fit reality as much as the other way round.

Playing a keyboard as opposed to playing a piano. There's been many answers to this, and all the previous say the same thing. The black and white bits may be the same, but how they work is very different.The notes for a tune and the blend of sounds from several notes will be the same, but the way in which they are produced is quite different. A MIDI or other keyboard, even an organ, has, effectively, switches that the keys operate. Yes, there may be touch/velocity sensitivity, and even aftertouch (a plus over a piano, maybe), but the weighted feel and mechanism of a real piano is only just being replicated.Certainly learn on a keyboard, but be prepared for a big difference when facing a piano.

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The biggest problem may be the significant delay that is often observed when using MIDI keyboard and simple, default approaches to produce the sound (standard sound ports, standard MIDI player that comes with Windows, etc).

This latency can easily be 100 ms or about making such setup unsuitable for learning or playing. You do not hear the notes you are playing, you hear sound from the past instead. This forces to play staccato with short pauses, awaiting the current notes. There may be ways to get rid of this feedback but they may or may not work for you.

As a result, if you want to spend time learning piano rather than hacking the sound system of your computer at all levels, may make more sense to use a sound-capable MIDI keyboard. They probably exist for a reason.

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There's a lot of different answers to your question. However, the short one is yes, although not to the fullest extent. Most midi controllers do not have weighted keys. This can throw you off if you were to switch from non-weight to weighted keys, say in a performance. There's a little more technique involved with weighted keys. A lot of people say that midi controllers don't have the subtleties of an actual piano, however this is no longer true. Every piano sounds different simply because of acoustic dimensions various other factors. However, even midi controllers can be touch-sensitive and since there is no counter-weight, you can even argue that it takes even more technique and skill to be accurate with the attack. You will come across problems with extended playing on weighted keys, especially when reaching for larger intervals. I would just recommend getting a digital piano. You can usually get one pretty cheap, some are around $400-$500, and specifically look for weighted keys. Practicing on something as close to a piano as possible with be the most beneficial for learning how to play a piano.

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Note that even real pianos have noticeably different keyboards responses, not to mention there are different types of pianos depending on the lever system and hammer action. And not to mention, as I am, that there are different acoustic keyboard instruments as well. So take that into account before you get dragged into "my gear's better than yours" ego-trips.

Upright pianos in any condition (at least that all notes are sounding) should be in the price range of excellent artificial keyboards. I'd prefer the piano.

Not to endorse anything, but the last decent artificial keyboard I had a chance to play was a Kawai MP6, borrowed from a friend. Even though artifical, my hands were struggling due to lack of practice, which is a good sign. After some time, I felt some improvement in my playing technique. Depends on what you play of course.

The conclusion - don't feel like you're disadvantaged by making use of what you have around. You can mess up your hands by practicing wrong on a real piano. You just need to know how to adapt. Every instrument is, well, an instrument. Cheap or not. Terms like, weighted, semi-weighted, and hammer-action are marketing thing, but even the most expensive don't come close to a real piano.

So use what you have, and use it well.

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If your goal is to learn to play a piano, the key is to get a hammer action keyboard. I would speculate that most non-professionals these days practice on a digital piano, due to convenience. A weighted keyboard is still a different instrument from a piano, but with a hammer action keyboard you have a decent approximation. It won't be quite the same, but the piano won't feel like a different instrument.

There are midi controllers with hammer action, so my answer to your question would be yes.

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Well I started learning piano and I don't mind playing MIDI keyboard. Just get one with as many keys as possible. Of course it feels different but you get used to it.

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Never mind about the perceived limitations suggested by the other responses. You can learn very easily on a midi keyboard. The experience will be different than using a piano, but that's neither good or bad.

I'd suggest a keyboard with full size, preferably weighted, keys, no less than 61 keys ... more is obviously better.

The world is changing and there is no shame in embracing technology in music. The purists will tell you otherwise. Feel free to ignore them.

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