If you are considering purchasing a digital instrument, be it piano or keyboard, it can all get very confusing. You’re, therefore, probably asking yourself, “What’s the difference between a Digital Piano and a Keyboard?”
The words are often used interchangeably to describe the instruments. And there are some similarities which I will look at; they are both keyboards, after all. But they are vastly different, and while there can be some overlap, they are built for different things.
Understanding the Differences
Recognizing and appreciating the differences is important. If nothing else, it will stop you from buying an instrument you don’t want or need. As I have already said and will explain more about, the digital piano and digital keyboard are built to give you different things. So, let’s take a look at both and see how digital pianos and digital keyboards are different.
The Digital Piano
The name implies exactly what they have been designed for. And that is not only in the way they sound. But more often than not, they look a little like them as well. They are a digital replication of a full-size traditional acoustic piano. And everything about them had been designed to give you the feeling that is what you are playing.
Who are they for?
The piano has always been a difficult instrument to come to grips with. And for many, it was out of reach. Either the sheer cost of buying one, or simply the size. In fact, there is nothing that you could call convenient or inexpensive about a traditional piano.
Digital Pianos have been made to give people the experience, and are compact and lightweight compared with their acoustic cousins and a lot cheaper. They are therefore ideal for people who want to learn but who are a bit short on space and can’t accommodate a full-size version.
There are various shapes and sizes, and I shall go through the three main types of digital pianos you can buy soon. They are often made of wood, though some are plastic and some are a combination of both.
They will almost always have a standard 88-keys, the same as you find on an acoustic piano. And those keys are often weighted. This means there is some resistance when you go to strike a key, the same as you would find on an acoustic piano.
A digital piano tends to be rather larger than a digital keyboard. The keyboard is built for portability. Digital pianos, in most cases, stay in one place. Having said that, several digital pianos are portable if that is what you need.
This simulates the feel of playing the real thing. It is important if you buy a digital piano to get weighted or at least semi-weighted keys. And some more advanced digital pianos have ‘graded’ weightings.
With this design, the action of the keys is heavier in the lower bass regions. And the action becomes lighter as you move towards the treble end of the keyboard. This simulates, to some extent, the experience of playing a real piano. Digital keyboards or synthesizers were normally not weighted, but now, quite a few are.
Usually full-size, which is another important issue to consider. Having full-size keys makes the transition from digital to acoustic piano easy if you ever want to make it. As I have already mentioned, there will usually also be 88-keys. They will be made of wood or a synthetic simulation of ivory and ebony.
You can guess again from the name that digital pianos produce great piano sounds. And some of them do. If a piano sound is top of your wish list, then digital pianos sound more like a real piano than a digital keyboard. Having said that, the piano sound on some keyboards is more than adequate for most things.
A good digital piano will use layers of samples for the piano sound. Layered sounds are taken from different ranges and with varying grades of played intensity. They are blended to give you a near-real-sounding acoustic piano experience.
Technical wizardry can go further. Some use what the manufacturers call VRM or Virtual Resonance Modelling. This creates the very distinctive and natural reverberation that comes from the body of a large concert grand.
A Variety of Pianos
Most digital pianos will offer a range of piano sounds. This may extend from a Harpsichord through a standard upright and a few variations up to a Full Concert Grand.
Different Types of Digital Piano
As mentioned earlier, there were three different types of Digital Piano. So, let’s take a look to fully answer the question, “What’s the Difference Between a Digital Piano and a Keyboard?”
These can be termed the basic instrument. They are often used for practice at home but are also good enough to be used in the home studio environment. They are usually a little smaller and do not have some of the features that other pianos do. But they still represent great quality and value for money.
Upright Digital Pianos
They are a much larger piano and have some similar features to their larger acoustic cousins. They often come with very good hammer action keys, and some are fitted with some quality tone engines. Although, they can take up a bit of space.
These are designed and used in live performances and not for the home. They are a valued asset as they are more portable than a concert grand, but they still have a very tough build.
The digital piano was built to be portable, inexpensive, and easy to maintain. If a piano is what you want, then this is it. Here are some options for you to consider.
- YAMAHA P71 88-Key Weighted Action Digital Piano
- Yamaha YDP164 Arius Series Piano
- Donner DEP-20 Beginner Digital Piano 88 Key Full Size Weighted
The Digital Keyboard
Digital keyboards are a different animal altogether. Yes, you will get some good piano sounds as part of the options. But you are going to get so much more. For someone looking for more than just a piano, this can be very interesting.
They are usually made of high-quality plastic, including the keys, but don’t let that put you off. They are sturdy, well-made, and safe to carry around with you.
Most have a standard 88-key keyboard, but you can get them with less. This allows them to be more compact and easier to carry around. But it doesn’t prevent the player from making great sounds. And it certainly still feels like a quality instrument. Some keyboards will have 76 or 61 keys.
As we mentioned, most digital keyboards do not have weighted keys. Therefore, they are not going to play like a piano. However, these days some do include that option.
Some do have touch-sensitive actions which allow you to generate some dynamics with a harder strike of the key. The keys themselves are sometimes smaller than full-size piano keys.
They are not all the same
You can get small, almost “toy” versions, right up to full-size keyboards with all the bells and whistles. And the “bells” are what they are known for.
You can get machines with over a hundred different instruments, special effects like reverb and sustain, drums, and just about everything. You can become a one-man band if you want to. Some have set rhythms built-in and MIDI facilities, and a number of digital keyboards can connect to a computer for recording.
Additionally, digital keyboards are often called Synthesizers or Controllers. And become quite sophisticated in what they can produce. Here are some of the best digital keyboards on the market.
- Casio SA-46 -Portable Keyboard (32 mini keys)
- Yamaha EZ220MM EZ Series 61-Key Portable Keyboard
- Roland JUNO-DS 88-Key Lightweight Weighted-Action Keyboard
Looking for a Great Digital Piano or Keyboard?
We can help you with that. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Kawai Digital Piano, the Best Portable Keyboard Pianos, the Best Digital Grand Piano, the Best Cheap Keyboard Piano, the Best Digital Pianos for Under $500, and the Best Digital Pianos For Under $1000 you can buy in 2023.
You may also like our comprehensive reviews of the Best Digital Piano With Weighted Keys, the Best Yamaha Digital Pianos, the Best Digital Pianos, the Best 88-Key Keyboards, and the Best Digital Pianos For Beginners currently on the market.
What’s the Difference Between a Digital Piano and a Keyboard – Final Thoughts
A digital piano will produce great piano sounds, while a digital keyboard will give you an orchestra or a brass section. It will give you guitars, bass, drums, and just about everything else in between. As mentioned, they are a different animal to the Digital Piano.
Which Should You Choose? Well, what do you want from your instrument? That is a simple question to answer. If you want a piano, then that is one choice, but if you want more than that, then go the other way. These days both are fantastic instruments that sound great. Whatever you choose, there is music waiting to be made, so enjoy it.
Until next time, let the music play.