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This is not a question about what type toy keyboard a beginning piano student should learn on if a real piano is not an option. I am talking about professional quality keyboards in the above (to well above) $1000.00 U.S. range.

I have seen many professional keyboard players who prefer the non-weighted type keyboards over the weighted hammer acoustic piano type feel - even on their digital pianos.

I am wondering if there are practical advantages for the non weighted or semi-weighted velocity sensitive type keyboard (organ type feel) vs. the full weighted hammer style (real piano type feel).

I own both types, but seem to gravitate towards the weighted hammer action, perhaps because there was always an acoustic piano in my home growing up and I got used to playing that. But my Yamaha digital piano (with 88 weighted keys) does not have all the synth sounds that my other keyboard has.

But is it just a matter of personal preference - or are there some things that are easier to do on a non-weighted hammer keyboard?

I am considering the purchase of a keyboard that I can use for recording (in-home studio for my personal work) as well as on stage for live performance. In other words, both a work-station keyboard and a stage keyboard. More likely a synthesizer that can play piano sounds - but also all the other sounds I could use. It seems that most synthesizer's have the non-weighted style keyboard feel. There must be a reason.

If there are decided advantages for the non-weighted vs hammer action keys, I could certainly learn to like that type better.

I am NOT asking for specific recommendations for which keyboard to get. I am only trying to decide if I might be better served with a non weighted type keyboard (even though I would have to learn to like it).

  • 1
    I think I would find it very uncomfortable to use after-touch on a keyboard with weighted keys for any prolonged period. You need to be delicate if you are using it to say apply a vibrato effect and would not want a constant force of a weighted key trying to rebound during this. – Dave Engineer Feb 24 '15 at 16:03
  • @DaveEngineer I am not really familiar with "after touch". Is this something I am likely to use live or more suited when using a keyboard as a midi controller to input into recording software? Most of my keyboarding to date has been piano type stuff - but I have set up a home recording studio and would like to start using keyboard for that as well. – Rockin Cowboy Feb 24 '15 at 17:02
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    Once the key is fully depressed aftertouch is a secondary function where you can apply pressure to control the midi (do not confuse with velocity its something different). On a good keyboard this can assigned/routed to anything. LFO, volume, cutoff frequency, and other crazy stuff, etc. You need to see a video really – Dave Engineer Feb 24 '15 at 21:10
  • On a clavinet applying pressure can do a pitch bend. A synth can emulate that, of course. – Some Dude On The Interwebs Mar 24 '15 at 9:49
  • Weighted action doesn't really affect aftertouch. Weighted or not, the key still wants to come back up. – Laurence Payne Jan 28 '17 at 13:03
17

What I've found is that the acoustic piano is the most expressive when played softly. We all like loud, but anything can be loud and the ear will tune loud OUT after a while. But it pays attention when things get quiet. And that's where weighted keys really help - on a digital too. If you don't have that weight, you'll get a more frequent oops-BANG during the quiet times.

But light/springy keys do have advantages. More rapid attacks, glissandos are a lot easier. And cheap/light are nice advantages if you can deal with the "hard(er) to play soft" part.

So if most of your music is loud, in a bar playin rock, light keys might be great. If you're going deep into the expressive, you probably want weighted keys so your hands can relaaax and play sooo softly.

11
  • If you are playing an organ sound, you might want a keyboard that can feel and respond like an organ, rather than a piano
  • It's possible to make a very shallow non-weighted action, which is helpful for some techniques (I like it better for triggering percussive sounds, for example)
  • It's cheaper to make, so instruments are cheaper.
  • The instrument is lighter to carry around.

Added note : Most synthesizers have a whole bunch of ways to affect the sound expressively beyond being velocity-sensitive - for many synth players, having a good set of controllers to route to expression / CC is more valuable than velocity sensitivity

  • What is CC the abbreviation for? – Rockin Cowboy Feb 22 '15 at 19:29
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    (MIDI) continuous controllers - MIDI messages you can send to a synth to change the sound while a it's playing. – topo Reinstate Monica Feb 22 '15 at 19:32
5

Hammer action is noisier. Of course it is dwarfed by the sounds you hear, but when you have excellent reason for playing through headphones, that reason might also make light action desirable.

Also if your main instrument is not a grand piano but a harmonium or accordion or organ, there is no point in an percussive attack, and it may detract from the fine points of articulation on those instruments.

5

I've played both types. The non-weighted GOOD keyboards are significantly easier for a non-pianist to play. The hammer-weighted actions are better if you want a touch-response (velocity) that emulates a real piano. Some people say the non-weighted or non-hammer-action are toys; they aren't. Some of them are very good (thinking of the Kawai K5000 keyboard here, which is semi-weighted, non-hammer, and super-fast and has aftertouch and velocity).

So the question: can you play some types of music better on a non-weighted keyboard? I would say definitely YES. Fast passages will be easier to play, trills will be quicker, and the keys will be more responsive.

Try out both. See which one suits you.

5

I think advantage of non-weighted keys is that for organ sounds you can do smears/rakes

3

Weighted action is easier to play as a piano. Unweighted is a great deal lighter to carry to a gig! (I think weighted is worth it!)

1

Pianos are constructed to performed highly nuanced music where everything depends on the proficiency of a performer that can apply a whole range of touche.

Synthesisers are made to preform music that doesn't need nuances or any proficiency from the player – everything can be controlled by the envelopes of each synth or external controllers.

The advantages of a weighted keyboard is the ability to apply nuance to playing in the case where these nuances are 'readable' by the synth. Unless you need nuance you don't need a weighted keyboard.

Personally I'd choose a weighted keyboard any day – playing unweighted keyboards feels like playing a toy piano.

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    Can one be a church organist without having any proficiency, too? – topo Reinstate Monica Mar 23 '15 at 13:58
  • Any proficiency in that specific skill – yes, you can not control dynamics or apply nuance on an organ through the keys. You can do that through external controllers, like on a synthesiser. – whatagainst Mar 24 '15 at 21:13
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I have studied piano for years, I can honestly say that digital pianos with weighted keys destroy my fingers and have caused me to be on prescription iprophen for 3 months the heal them which in turn, destroys the stomach. I own a 6 foot grand piano as well as a light weight key digital. Both cause me zero problems in my fingers. At the time I was taking lessons from a professional at a college, he was not able to detect any reason in my playing that would cause this trauma to my fingers. So I sold the weighted digital haven't had a problem since (over four years) until last week I played a digital weighted key piano, and in nearly 20 minutes of playing, I felt the EXACT SAME PAIN. Be careful and let your body tell you which you like.

  • This doesn't really make sense. The keys are completely passive, so if you're experience pain it's something to do with your technique. Piano teachers are not necessarily well-versed in kinesiology. – Matthew Read Jan 28 '17 at 4:53
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    Your last sentence has value, but I would be careful when making broad statements like this. I use a digital piano with weighted keys, and experience no such problems. As usual, with ergonomic issues, don't "push through the pain." Because that's just dumb. Trying to diagnose the problem is the right thing to do, but, to agree with Matthew, I can't think of a possible reason that weighted keys would cause pain like that. – General Nuisance Jan 28 '17 at 7:11
  • It is indeed a strange one. I play both, most days, and luckily have never experienced what Tony has. – Tim Jan 28 '17 at 8:03
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    One possibility is that the particular weighted key digital pianos you played were somehow different in other ways than your 6 foot grand. Perhaps they were tilted on the stand at a different angle or perhaps the keyboard stand placed the keys at a different height causing you to alter your angle of attack. Just speculation on my part. – Rockin Cowboy Jan 29 '17 at 17:58

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