How many keys does my piano keyboard need?
January 10, 2004 1:15 PM   Subscribe

Considering a Piano Keyboard or MIDI controller, planning to use it with GarageBand. I'm a just-learning beginner for keyboards. How many keys should I get on my first board. Looked at this one which Apple is reselling, and this one which is more keys and more functions.

Would I be better off with a MIDI controller, or a stand alone keyboard and MIDI interface? Any recommendations regarding brands and/or models?
posted by benjh to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
All I can tell you is get full size keys and I'd also get as close to a full set as I could. Make them weighted while you are at it.
posted by konolia at 1:28 PM on January 10, 2004

Yes, weighted is so much better. I have a Yamaha PSR 530, which isn't weighted, and I've kicked myself for the last six years for buying it.

Make sure you test out a keyboard before you purchase - even if you're going to buy online, you can probably find the same model or its brother at a brick and mortar place to take for a test run.

Don't worry too much about features, a full keyboard is much more important than number of doodads. Also, when you play the keyboard, check to see how the black keys function. My Yamaha has this irritating balance on the black keys that means I can only play them if I'm on the very tips. If I ride my fingers to the inside, the action won't work. Which sounds trivial, but it's been rather agonizing.

Between the two keyboards you linked to, go with the latter. The extra money is worth it, just for the extra keys if not for the features.
posted by Happydaz at 2:09 PM on January 10, 2004

Weighted is necessary if you want piano-like action. If not, then you don't worry about it. Once you get weighted keys, you get more expensive -- the KX-88's, Yamaha's flagship controller, lists usually $500-$1500 on Harmony Central, versus the $100-$200 price point of the recent crop of USB controllers.

The M-Audio model is probably as good as any. Although their Pro Models may be more worthy of consideration -- you'll get some audio inputs and lots of assignable knobs and sliders.
posted by namespan at 2:16 PM on January 10, 2004

Continuing on from this subject, what's the best way to learn how to play a piano on a mac or PC? (I have both) Any good software and hardware recommendations? I'd love to learn some basics for say, $250 or less before buying a real piano to go into my house.
posted by mathowie at 4:33 PM on January 10, 2004

For performance you're going to want a bare minimum of 5 octaves (61-key), and that's not really even going to cut it (although the Radium is pretty schweet for goofing around at home).

As for getting a synth kbd with its own sounds vs. just a controller, that depends one what you have to do synth/sampling with. If you just get the controller, you'll need either hardware synths/samplers, or decent software equivalents and a reasonably beefy computer.

I agree with previous posters on having 88 weighted keys, but man oh man does that jack up the price. It depends on your priorities. I put my $$$ into making as many bizarre and interesting noises as I can with software, because, let's face it, I'm a shitty piano player anyway. ;-)
posted by dragstroke at 4:52 PM on January 10, 2004

Response by poster: dragstroke- my hope would be to use GarageBand, so the software is there.

Starting out, Matt nailed my price point as well, which is $250.
posted by benjh at 5:04 PM on January 10, 2004

Response by poster: GarageBand, rather.
posted by benjh at 5:05 PM on January 10, 2004

Ah, I actually read that as "with a garage band". I'm all better now.

One thing that bit me on the ass when I was getting this stuff together: If you're going to use some kind of piano instruction software, make sure it either comes with its own sounds, or be ready to go through a fair amount of hassle to use the other software. See the Midi Yoke at - it's the best way I've found to get MIDI In's & Out's hooked up within the computer. If you don't want to mess with it, the hardware synth is useful for using said instructional software.

I have no recommendations to make on that software by the way; I'm using "Teach Me Piano", which is probably no worse than any other. I find that I get a LOT more mileage out of training my ear and trying out stuff I read in books on music theory. Then again I already read music, which is half of what any instruction program will do, so I just use it for the technique, which is the boring part (for me).
posted by dragstroke at 5:29 PM on January 10, 2004

Argh, again with the clueless. Sorry. You're on a Mac. Never mind Midi Yoke...
posted by dragstroke at 5:37 PM on January 10, 2004

FWIW, I played with the $99 midiman keyboard at an Apple Store last night for about half an hour. The touch is a little light for my taste, but it seems like a really great deal for $99. I'd say go ahead with it, then sell it on ebay if you outgrow it.
posted by JollyWanker at 10:45 AM on January 11, 2004 [1 favorite]

benjh: I have the "USB Keystation 49", which is an older model from the line you're looking at. Its keys are full-sized and reasonably springy, though a bit on the light side. It's not a great musical experience; I only use it for MIDI recording, and switch to my piano when I want to practice or just play. I'd probably want a more substantial keyboard if it were going to be my only instrument.

Still, the "bang for the buck" can't be beat. I wouldn't hesitate to replace this one if I lost it for some reason. They're more durable than they look.

As far as number of keys: I've never needed more than the 49 keys, since it has an "octave shift" function, but I usually only record one part at a time. If this is going to be your main instrument, and you're going to be learning to play it using a piano curriculum, then I would definitely suggest getting the extra octave.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:57 AM on January 11, 2004

On a related note, has anyone ever come across a MIDI controller with hammer-action and fewer than 69 keys? I have a keyboard with semi-weighted keys (Roland A-33), but the feeling while playing isn't suitable for piano-type stuff, and the space I have in my apartment doesn't really accomodate a huge keyboard.
posted by mfbridges at 12:14 PM on January 12, 2004

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