Saturday, December 05, 2009

How to Buy a Keyboard

Musician's Friend

The keyboard category at Musician's Friend includes a broad range of products, from simple MIDI controllers and basic digital pianos to multi-thousand dollar workstations. Before diving in, it's important to know exactly what you're looking for. This guide will help you figure out what kind of keyboard and features to look for to best suit your needs.
Types of keyboards

Understanding what each type of keyboard is intended for and capable of can be confusing. Given the number of products in each of the four keyboard categories at Musician's Friend, it's imperative that you know exactly what you're shopping for before you start. We'll be looking at synthesizers, workstations, arrangers, portables, digital pianos, organs, and MIDI controllers.
Common features

There are many attributes that span all or most categories of keyboards. These are basics that you should familiarize yourself with before getting into the specific features of each keyboard category.

Number of keys » Keyboards are available with various numbers of keys, ranging from 25 on small MIDI controllers up to 88, just like on a traditional acoustic piano. Things to consider when deciding how many keys are right for you are space restrictions and the types of passages you'll be playing.

Action » You will come across various terms relating to the response of the keybed. Weighted, semi-weighted, synth, and hammer action each offer a different feel. Weighted and semi-weighted actions have a response similar to a traditional piano. Hammer action adds actual mechanical hammers to enhance this response even more. Synth action is more like an organ; there is no resistance and the keys can be played very quickly. If you're accustomed to the feel of a piano, you'll want a keybed that's weighted or semi-weighted, and perhaps with hammer action if you really want a true piano feel. If you're the type of player who plays a lot of fast lead passages, a synth-action keybed will probably suit your needs better.

Touch or velocity sensitivity » The ability of a keyboard to sense the force or speed with which a key is pressed and create a sound or send a MIDI message accordingly.

Polyphony » The number of sounds a keyboard can generate at one time.

Multitimbrality » The ability of a keyboard to play different sounds at once (i.e., flute, drums, strings, piano) Multitimbrality should not be confused with polyphony.

MIDI compatibility » MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a communication protocol established in the 1980s for electronic instruments and computers. MIDI messages contain no musical information, but rather serve as a blueprint that tells a hardware or software instrument what notes to play and with what velocity. For example, a MIDI passage could be sent to a keyboard that in turn could play the same passage with any of the sounds available in the instrument. MIDI compatibility enables a keyboard to send and receive MIDI messages.