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I'd like to invest in a MIDI keyboard (I know it'll most likely play through my computer and all) with which to learn at least the basics of piano and also for toying with music production. So I have a few questions for guiding my search:

1) How many keys are ideal? I would think 61-88, but how many could I forego? as 88 might just be too lengthy for my small dwelling (then again I could also consolidate).

2) Semi-weighted or weighted? To an experienced player, how major is the difference? How much would that difference would affect one's learning? I'm guessing not too much, but I don't know, so please do tell.

3) What are the most credible brands? I'm thinking Yamaha, Casio, Akai... any more recommendations or thoughts?

This is only for my enjoyment but I enjoy doing things properly, and I would like to play piano in full, but it is more practical for me at this time to learn on something more portable. But I'd like to carry over to piano.

Thank you kindly in advance for your input.

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With a "MIDI keyboard", you are not going to learn the basics of piano but rather of keyboard play. Basically all keyboards that have action seriously suitable for actual piano play also have their own sound generators and more often than not built-in amplifiers. While they may also sport MIDI output, using that is optional and, short of rather high quality MIDI expanders, unlikely to lead to better results.

Number of keys depends on what you want to be playing: for classical piano pieces, anything but 88 is going to lead to chagrin eventually even though the outer keys will see less than 0.1% of the action the middle C does.

For rock piano, you'll usually arrange to make do with what you have. In that case, genuine piano action is less important as well, as are faithful tone production. You still want some mechanical action, and some manufacturers already call "feels totally unweighted but has velocity detection" semi-weighted. Which tends to end up dissatisfactorily mushy even for rock piano.

For "toying with music production", piano capabilities are likely to take a second seat to good sound generation. You don't want to depend on your laptop for that: competitive software MIDI expanders tend to be expensive. If you take what your operating system offers for free, you can expect a good 30 year old vintage keyboard with its own sound generators and MIDI input/output to produce better sound quality.

A two decade old Ketron/Solton MS-40 expander (or its greater cousins including a keyboard and hard disk, MS-80 (accordion button keyboard) and MS-100 (piano keyboard)) has embarrassingly better (and more complete) sounds than what you get with typical free sound fonts. Some "instruments" may be on the synthetic/cheesy side, but they are assembled into a consistent and playable and responsive set, something which seems harder to do for the distributed piecemeal work going into free or semi-free offerings.

I think at the current rates a good vintage expander sets you back about 1/2 to 1/3 of a comparably quality modern offering, being much more bulky and less versatile. And their signal paths are analog, so for wholesale production work they would not be really called for. They are still a lot more fun to play with than modern cheap stuff.

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Question 1) I use an 88 key Roland stage piano with midi out when I need it. Stage because it saves space and fairly portable (still 25kg) and have sometimes packed it away in flight case when not being used. Still requires a dedicated space in any room.

Question 2) I got fully weighted because its main purpose was to learn how to play classical piano, but as user15664 says in his post there are different purposes. Also see this previous post: How to gain velocity feel

Question 3) A good brand piano will feel and sound good. You can listen to demo's yourself on-line but you will probably have to rely on reviews of the hammer action for the feel (since you are new to it)

In your original statement, you said you wanted to toy with music production. Majority of cases for which it will be better to use good software pianos. The whole skillet is different and not as necessary to have fully weighted keys (i.e. arranging and tweaking velocities and notes as oppose to flawless playing in a recorded take)

And finally, I would reccomend second hand as Digital Pianos depreciate in value like cars.

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