What musical keyboard should I get my 6 year old?
December 12, 2011 9:32 AM   Subscribe

My 6 year old daughter would like a keyboard (musical) for Christmas. What am I looking for in a keyboard? She is learning some basic songs at school already and is generally familiar with the layout. What features are necessary? What are not?

If anyone has any specific brand names please feel free to post.

Personally, I would prefer it have a headphone jack, a stand, and A/C power.
posted by otto42 to Shopping (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I was just pricing out keyboards this weekend. I would personally get something that is touch sensitive (i.e. it's louder if you play harder), but it does add to the cost, and you can get away without it if you're on a budget. I would stay away from Casio just because I think the Yamaha's feel better. So in this realm there is the Yamaha PSR-E333. Now that's $160 at Guitar Center, if you want to pay less you can get the Yamaha PSR-E223, mostly you lose the touch sensitivity, but it still feels nice to play, and it's only $80 on sale right now.

Both have headphone jacks and AC power. You'll have to get a stand separately.
posted by joecacti at 9:54 AM on December 12, 2011

I've both sold keyboards and been a piano teacher. It really depends on what she wants to get out of it. If she's pretty sold on using it to make actual music (sounds like she is!) stay away from the ones that have light up keys that "teach" you songs. I have never seen anyone transition from that method of "learning" to actually being a competent musician or even an independent musician. Invariably, the best that happens is that they memorize the programmed in songs. (Someone out there may have a counter example. I am open to the possibility that it happens. Still, the method is best reserved for people who think of the keyboard they have as a toy and aren't interested in progressing.)

If you have a price range, I can give you some specific recommendations. Here's the general purpose list for sorting out the "toys" that she'll stop using by February from the keyboards that will encourage her musically.

What specifically you want:
  • Full size keys - This is the only thing that I would say is absolutely mandatory. Do not, under any circumstances, get a keyboard that does not have full size keys. It will teach her bad habits and is a sign that it's a toy not an instrument.
  • No fewer than 61 keys, more is better. If you have the space, I always recommend getting a full size (88 key) keyboard. That way, it can grow with her as she becomes a more competent musician. It's not always possible, and that's OK. If you have the room, do it!
  • It should be touch responsive. This means that the harder she hits the key, the louder the note will be.
  • Polyphony: Aim for at least 10 - higher is better. This is the number of keys that can be depressed at the same time and have the piano play them all. If you add a pedal at some point, this determines how many notes can be sustained while you're not actually playing them.
Things that are not critical, but are good to keep in mind:
  • A metronome is nice - it will help her learn to keep time, and it's near standard on any keyboard these days.
  • Any keyboard is going to have a head phone jack. Make sure it's standard size for ease of use, or buy an adapter. It's also nice to have DC IN, and USB in/out.
  • If she is interested in playing piano then you should strongly consider getting a "weighted" keyboard. This means that the keys have approximately the same resistance as the keys on an actual piano. This makes it easier to transition if that's where you're eventually headed. It means you don't have to unlearn a bunch of bad habits. However, plenty of people don't want to transition! If she's not interested in playing classical or jazz or being on a standard acoustic piano, this isn't the thing to break the bank on. Make sure the keys have some resistance (it will say on the box), but other than that don't sweat it.
  • On that note, stay away from keyboards that advertise lots of "features." This is a pretty good way to note what's intended as a toy, and what's intended to be used. The reason to stay away from toys is that they become crutches and impede people from getting really involved in music. They also tend to wear out and break. Features are things like "tutoring" or song learning or the lighted keys or pre-programmed songs. Basically, it's anything not on this list of stuff you should be looking for. (Nearly all keyboards will have some preset songs, but if it's one of the main things the box touts, that's not a great sign.)
  • If you're picking between a casio and a yamaha, go with the yamaha. The "touch" (how it feels when you play it) is generally less plastic feeling on Yamahas.

posted by stoneweaver at 10:07 AM on December 12, 2011 [6 favorites]

Please don't skimp on touch sensitivity! In my experience, it's the one thing that really impacts whether people continue playing. Along with full size keys, it's the only thing not to compromise on.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:11 AM on December 12, 2011

I second stoneweaver. We went with the Yamaha P-85 for our kids and are very happy. Much like playing a real piano.

We got a Z shaped stand instead of an X shaped stand so we could all sit comfortably. We started with a regular chair and finally bought a dedicated, adjustable stool.

My kids love the (very) small selection of voices to make practicing interesting, and I love the volume control and headphone jacks.
posted by mamabear at 11:41 AM on December 12, 2011

Basically what stoneweaver says. If you want to keep it for a while, the most important things are number of keys (seriously, just get the 88), touch responsive/keyboard velocity, high polyphony (I would aim for higher than 10).

Lots of widgets and doodads do not a good keyboard make.

Keyboards without onboard sound are almost always better, but then you have to buy an amp also.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:56 AM on December 12, 2011

Thanks for all the helpful comments. I bought the Yamaha p320.
posted by otto42 at 3:49 AM on December 13, 2011

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