Many people, when planning to start piano lessons, raise the question of buying a musical instrument. For many, buying a good, expensive acoustic real piano is a luxury that not everyone can afford. Even digital pianos can be quite expensive and take up space in your apartment.
Then many people think about buying MIDI keyboards – they are cheap, light, and compact. But is it possible to learn to play the piano on them?
Can You Learn Piano on a Midi Keyboard?
Yes, a midi keyboard can be used like a piano. You can choose a model with weighted keys and pressure sensitivity. But still, there are quite a few limitations.
And I can immediately say that I recommend buying a digital piano, not a MIDI keyboard for beginners who plan to learn how to play the piano. All the same, MIDI keyboards are designed for other purposes.
Let’s talk about how MIDI keyboards differ from pianos and how you can use a MIDI keyboard to learn how to play the piano.
- 1 What Is A MIDI Keyboard?
- 2 MIDI keyboard vs Digital Piano – What is the Difference?
- 3 Using a MIDI keyboard. Can You Learn Piano on a Midi Keyboard?
- 4 How to use a MIDI keyboard as a piano – Conclusion
What Is A MIDI Keyboard?
First, let’s define what a MIDI keyboard is. Don’t confuse the MIDI keyboard and MIDI controller!
MIDI is a short word for «Musical Instrument Digital Interface».
A MIDI controller is an instrument (device) or computer software. Its task is to transmit MIDI data to other MIDI-compatible devices. Already these devices translate MIDI data into the appropriate musical parameters and reproduce sounds. The MIDI controller does not play music by itself and does not have a keyboard.
The MIDI keyboard combines the capabilities of a MIDI controller and has a small keyboard with piano-like keys. It may have speakers, but some models of keyboards require headphones, external speakers, or a connection to a computer to output sound.
In my related article on using a digital piano as a MIDI controller, you will find a comparison table of pianos, MIDI keyboards, and MIDI controllers.
MIDI keyboard vs Digital Piano – What is the Difference?
Now let’s focus on the MIDI keyboard and digital piano. What are their differences and similarities?
The first difference is in the space it takes up. Look around your room for where you want to put your piano. If you have a lot of free space, both an acoustic real piano and a “furniture” style digital piano are perfect for you.
If you’re short on space and want to put your piano on a table, a portable digital piano or MIDI keyboard is the way to go. Among all these options, it is the MIDI keyboard that requires the least space.
The size. A standard piano keyboard has 88 keys. Accordingly, it is quite large. Portable piano keyboards can have 78 or sometimes 61.
MIDI keyboards have 25 to 49 keys. Accordingly, they are much more compact. However, please note that for many piano pieces this range will not be enough.
Weight and Portability
Weight and portability. Acoustic pianos are very heavy! You are unlikely to be able to transport such a piano or even move it from one room to another without the help of movers!
The weight of digital pianos depends on their type. Upright pianos (furniture type) can also be quite heavy. Portable pianos are lighter. For example, Yamaha P 125 weighs less than 12 kg, but Yamaha DGX670B – 21 kg. However, if you want to carry it around, it is still quite heavy.
The weight of midi keyboards can start from 0.5 kg for the smallest models and reach up to 15 kg.
First, it’s the keyboard. It can be from 25 keys and can reach up to 88, like on a real piano. In addition, the MIDI keyboard has many functions for creating your own music and recording music tracks. It contains switches, levers, sliders, etc. It is always possible to connect it to your phone, tablet, and computer and use various software for music recording and editing.
Key weightings. This is a very important parameter for choosing a midi keyboard. There are several types of key weightings:
- Synth-action keys (unweighted keys)
- Semi-Weighted keys
- Hammer Action
- Graded Weighting
Synth Action is a type of keyboard that uses plastic keys and springs rather than weights to return the key to its original position. These keys are very light and not sensitive to pressure.
A semi-weighted mechanism is a keyboard that uses spring-loaded keys with more resistance than an unweighted keyboard. This provides a game feel that is more responsive to your touch.
The hammer action keyboard is a mechanism that imitates that of an acoustic piano. This is achieved by attaching a system of physical levers and hammers to increase the resistance to the keys being pressed.
Graded Weighting. On the piano, all the keys are different, each has its own weight. The strings for each note are slightly thinner and shorter in the upper register and become thicker and longer in the lower register. Therefore, low notes require more force to play than high notes.
Accordingly, in a digital keyboard, the lower keys are heavier than the upper ones – this is called gradual weighting.
Pros and Cons of Using a MIDI Keyboard Instead of a Piano
Is MIDI keyboard good for learning piano?
Yes, for the beginning stage of learning it is quite possible to use a MIDI keyboard. It is advisable to choose a good model with the largest number of keys and a fully weighted keyboard.
Using a MIDI keyboard. Can You Learn Piano on a Midi Keyboard?
Yes, you can start learning to play the piano with a MIDI keyboard!
Even a small midi keyboard is enough to master the basics of musical literacy, learn how to read notes, and play simple pieces.
In addition, the midi keyboard will give you the opportunity to use various applications or programs for learning, which is very important if you want to study on your own.
In the future, if you want to continue your studies at a professional level, you will definitely need to purchase a good digital piano.
If you want to continue your musical journey not as a pianist, but as a composer, you can continue to use a MIDI keyboard or controller to make your music.
How Many Keys Do You Need?
The piano has 88 keys (52 white and 36 black). Midi keyboards can have from 25 to 88 ones. Of course, the more keys, the more expensive the keyboard.
In the first lessons, 25 will be enough for you, but I do not recommend purchasing this option. Very soon you will notice that you need more.
Classic or Jazz requires a full keyboard. But if you plan to play popular tunes, pop, or rock songs, 61 keys may well be enough for you.
Does Your MIDI Keyboard Have Weighted Keys?
Do you know how the keys on a piano work?
Each key is connected through a lever with a hammer. When we press a key, it sets the hammer in motion, which strikes the strings. You need to apply enough pressure to the key to make the hammer move.
Digital or midi keyboards do not have such mechanics. Usually, the keys are very light and not sensitive to pressure. These keyboards are not suitable for piano playing.
I recommend choosing models with Hammer Action or Graduated weighing keys.
This will give you the feeling that comes closest to playing an acoustic piano. In addition, it will help strengthen the fingers and develop technique.
Are the Keys Velocity-Sensitive?
On a real piano, you can play the same note loudly or quietly. The same note on the real piano sounds different. It depends on the pressing force. Many digital instruments also have pressure sensitivity.
Velocity-Sensitivity is a very important parameter that you need to pay attention to when choosing a midi keyboard. This will add realism to the sound of your piano, allow you to master dynamic gradations, and bring the sound closer to acoustics.
Can You Connect a Sustain Pedal to Your Midi Keyboard?
A very important part of any real piano is the pedals. You can learn more about them and their features in this article.
The most important is the damper pedal. On digital pianos, this is the sustain pedal. If you want to play the keyboard like a piano, you definitely need the ability to connect a sustain pedal.
This pedal allows the note to continue playing after you release the key. This adds beauty and variety to the musical sound. MIDI keyboards usually don’t come with a pedal, but often you can purchase one separately and plug it in.
Most piano pieces from the 18th century to the most modern songs require pedals. Pianist and composer Anton Rubinstein said that the pedal is the soul of the piano.
Is it OK to learn piano on a keyboard?
Oh sure! Moreover, I think that a midi keyboard is a great option for a beginner level when you have not yet fully decided on a musical instrument. For professional playing, you already need a good digital or real piano.
How to use a MIDI keyboard as a piano – Conclusion
The MIDI keyboard can be used like a real piano and is a great place to start your learning. If you want to find the option closest to the piano, pay attention to these points:
- 61 to 88 keys
- Weighted keyboard
- Velocity sensitive keys
- Connecting a Sustain Pedal
The midi keyboard cannot completely replace the real piano. But if these rules are followed, it will be a pretty close alternative with realistic sound.
The ideal option is a midi keyboard with an 88-key keyboard – a full-weighted keyboard or hammer action keyboard, good sound quality, the ability to connect a sustain pedal via USB, and the midi controllers if you need them.
If your budget or other constraints don’t allow you to buy a real piano, be sure to find a good quality MIDI keyboard to learn to play piano. Believe me, this is much better than simply denying yourself the pleasure of making music.
MIDI keyboards are great options for beginner composers too. Try to use it not only for practicing piano playing but also for recording music tracks. Perhaps you will discover the real composer’s talent in yourself!
If you have any questions about the midi keyboards, midi controllers, or using a midi keyboard as a piano, I invite you to write them in the comments. I will answer you with pleasure!
I wish you a real inspirational piano playing and good productive practice!
Pianos, midi keyboards, and midi controllers – video
Hello! My name is Lucy.
I am a musician, pianist, and piano teacher with over 10 years of experience. I, along with my professional team, created this website. Here I want to share my experience and knowledge with you. I write articles about learning the piano, its features and history, and reviews of the best digital pianos and accessories.
I hope my site will be useful to you!