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I am looking for my very first piano to learn to play. I have only played a very little bit when I was a kid, and it was with a cheap acoustic upright piano at home. I'm not going to play professionally, but I love piano and good quality music, and wouldn't enjoy creating some obviously low quality sound. I'd like to buy a digital piano, due to all its advantages.

Having read Why digital piano has more polyphony voices than there are keys on the keyboard? and understood why a high number polyphony may be required, I have however a practical question: How much polyphony is needed for classical piano music, without any special electronic effects (even without metronome)?

I can imagine that the maximum polyphony "consumption" will probably come from some fast Liszt-like piece played in four hands? But still there will be just one sustain pedal used.

Is there any number, at which one can say that more is only marginally better (again, without additional effects, which are countless)?

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There are some tricks to polyphony - the same number on 2 different synthesizers/digital pianos might be different

1) a stereo note sometimes requires 2 voices

2) your favorite sound may be "layered" (more than one sound played at the same time). So that piano plus strings sound could eat 2 or more voices

3) there may be background tracks like drums, strings, bass, guitar, synth, etc, etc. that'll eat polyphony like crazy

But, in general, if you will never want background tracks, and will only play solo piano, 64 is plenty fine. I mean, let's say you're playing every note of the scale, all down the piano (via hold pedal or whatever). That's a polyphony of 52 (and would sound terrible). A 4 note chord in all octaves is about 30.

You can also always swap out your piano's synthesizer for a pc based software synth via midi - those softsynths have tons of polyphony.

The main thing you want to worry about is how it feels. How the weight feels to you. How clacky it is when the keys hit the bed and stop on return. You can't ever change the feel.

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    Could you please explain how you've got to 52? The keyboard has 88 keys. So theoretically, by playing all of them, I would eat up 176 note polyphony (88 x 2 for stereo). But that's a non-realistic situation of course. In reality I won't be playing 88 keys at once. I will however definitely be playing something with the right hand while holding something with the left, plus the sustain pedal (a very primitive understanding of a complete novice). That's what I'm trying to understand: how many simulteneous sounds a real classical piece may take. – texnic May 24 '15 at 10:06
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    well, as I say in 1) and 2), some manufacturers count one note = one voice. some sneak by with stereo being 2, etc. I was assuming 1 note = 1 voice and dividing the 88 by 12 (12 notes per octave including accidental) then multiplying by 7 (7 notes in your average major scale). 88/12*7 is somewhere around 52. 2 adjacent notes will sound really dissonant. You'll find some of that, but not tons. – Stephen Hazel May 24 '15 at 16:10
  • I've owned a Korg C5000 piano for about 20 years now. It is 16 voice polyphonic and I've never ever found that to be a limitation. – Brian THOMAS Mar 23 '16 at 12:58
  • What if you do want to play a Liszt piece, like some of those chords in Hungarian Rhapsody 2 where hitting eight notes at once is the rule rather than the exception. – Mihai Danila Sep 2 '16 at 1:39
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It would be easy enough to concoct a test that showed the difference between 64 and 128-note polyphony. Maybe harder to tell in practical use. I'd opine that anything over 128 is a gimmick. But be sure you're absolutely clear what the manufacturer (or his advertising copywriter) meams by a "voice". Will hitting a key ever use more than one of them?

  • So if it's 2 "notes" of polyphony per 1 real note, would 128 be still enough? – texnic May 24 '15 at 10:09
  • As I said, you could probably design a test demonstrating 64-polyphony running out of voices. What digital pianos are you considering? – Laurence Payne May 28 '15 at 8:09
  • A second-hand Kawai CN33, with 96 note polyphony, and a Casio PX860 with 256 notes. – texnic May 28 '15 at 17:00
  • Buy whichever has the sound, touch and response you prefer. – Laurence Payne May 29 '15 at 13:07
  • That's actually what constitutes my problem. Since I am buying the piano to start learning, I don't know yet what it should feel like (touch and response-wise). I cannot play at all. As for the sound, I am used to Steinways in the concert halls and in the recordings, so I guess more or less any home instrument will sound "wrong" to me in the first 5 minutes. That's why I am trying to find possibly objective parameters that may exclude one of the instruments from the consideration. – texnic May 29 '15 at 22:22
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One thing that is important to realize is that a note played last alot long than when it is initially struck. If the sustain pedal is hit, a note will last many seconds unless the same key is struck again. That means if you play a quick run of notes with say changing bass chords, it is truly possible to reach the polyphonic limit. One may not reach this limit as a beginner but it as achievable as one progresses. Under no circumstances would I consider less than 128 note polyphony. 192 or 256 is better

  • The part of this that confuses me is the "Unless the same key is struck again" - surely that means a typical full size piano needs no more than 88 notes of polyphony, as each string can only be making one sound at a time even if the instrument is clever enough to play sympathetic resonances in other strings etc and you literally played every note in a complex run? – Jon Story Oct 23 '16 at 2:40
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Well! Well! Well! I think it is related to the best practice and precision you have on your finger!

I had this very same question.

I have this Casio CDP 130 which has 48 polyphony only and I can play anything on it.

Take a look at this videos and ask yourself if you need anything more than 48 for classical music:

CASIO CDP 130 - Chopin Etude op.25 no.11 "Winter Wind"

CASIO CDP 130 - Frédéric Chopin - Fantasie Impromptu - Op.66

CASIO CDP 130 - Shostakovich Prelude op.34 no.2

protected by Community Mar 22 '18 at 13:36

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