We look at the importance of weighted keys, why it matters and 5 of the best weighted keyboards that you’ll love playing
When choosing a piano or keyboard, something that you might be curious about is weighted keys and why weighted keyboards are so sought after.
Certain digital pianos, especially those made by Korg, Roland and Yamaha have been built with a keybed that effectively emulates the feel of an acoustic piano and the ‘weight’ of the keys.
But how does that make the sound?
As acoustic pianos are made with hammers and strings, the hammer strikes the strings, whether that’s one, two or three strings (depending on pitch) which then causes the string to vibrate. This vibration is what makes the noise and what we eventually hear as a note.
The hammer that strikes these strings is connected to the key by a lever type system. This lever has a natural weight or resistance which we can feel when we play an acoustic piano. This weight automatically feels more ‘natural’ when we play a piano and helps us gauge how hard to press or hit the key to get the sound we want. Press softly and the note will resonant softer, press harder and the extra pressure plus the weight of the lever will cause the hammer to hit the strings harder, thus causing a louder sound.
With digital pianos and keyboards, we don’t actually need the weighted keys to get this form of expression, as the computer inside automatically detects how hard and how fast we press the keys, providing the correct sound, and some digital pianos are made with weights built in to the keys to emulate the feel of an acoustic piano. You get all those sound of an acoustic piano without any of the tuning issues and extra weight as well as a whole host of different sounds to choose from.
This is what makes digital pianos with weighted keys so sought after.
Benefits of weighted keys?
Whether we’re talking about weighted keys, semi weighted or even graded hammer weighting, all of these types of weighted keys have their benefits. We’ll get to the different types of keys further down in this blog, but the main benefits of weighted keys all come down to playability and realistic resistance, which encourages more of a dynamic akin to when we play an acoustic piano. If we’re used to playing acoustic pianos, we’ll make an easier transition to a digital piano with weighted keys.
Weighted keys also help in building finger strength which therefore enhances your playing technique overall, encouraging good playing habits.
Not all of us will want weighted keys on our keyboard of course, say for example if you have a small MIDI keyboard that you need to throw in your backpack, the extra weight from weighted keys might not be a good idea, but if you’re a performing musician travelling in a van or your car, it’s definitely worth upgrading to a weighted key option if you like a more realistic feel when playing piano or keyboard.
Essentially weighted keys provide players with the response, feel and dynamics of an acoustic piano.
What are the different types of weighted keyboards
If you’re new to piano or keyboard, its important to understand the different types of weighted keys and weighted keyboards available as this will help you make the right choice when purchasing your keyboard.
There are a few main types of keyboard keys, and the different stages of weighted keys being these 4 levels:
1. Not weighted
Most MIDI keyboards and budget friendly keyboards do not have a weighted action keyboard, however, this can sometimes extend to professional level studio and stage keyboards such as the Roland GO:Keys. When keyboards are not weighted, they do not use weights within the keybed, but will still usually have a touch and velocity sensitive keyboard so you can still enjoy responsive sounds.
2. Semi weighted
Most keyboards just above the ‘beginner’ bracket will have a semi weighted action. This involves a sprung-action key with more resistance than an unweighted keyboard. This provides a playing experience which is far more responsive to your touch. If you can stretch to semi-weighted keyboards within your budget, you’ll feel the difference.
3. Hammer action keyboards
When a digital piano or stage piano states that it has a hammer action keyboard, this means the keys have a mechanism which replicates the same hammer action as an acoustic piano. This is usually achieved by the attachment of a lever system near the key to add more resistance to the keys you’re playing.
4. Graded weighting
Graded weighting is a standard feature on acoustic pianos and some higher-end digital and stage pianos. On acoustic pianos you’ll find that there is more resistance when you play keys in the lower range and less as you make your way up to the upper ranges.
Digital keyboards and digital pianos will require a heavier touch on the low-end notes and a lighter touch as you get higher. These keys are usually individually weighted for added playability and a feel that emulates an acoustic piano. In many cases digital pianos with graded weighting will have keys made from wood rather than plastic. However, some options feature keys that emulate the feel and weight of ivory.
Should I buy a weighted keyboard?
Before you pull the trigger and purchase a weighted keyboard, you need to decide whether you need to stretch your budget to accommodate the extra cost.
You also need to consider your goals and needs as a musician. If you just want something to record with or play live with, and you don’t need the response and feel of an acoustic piano, then you likely don’t need weighted keys.
If you are travelling with your piano frequently, it’s probably a better idea to get a keyboard with either non-weighted keys or semi weighted as these are a lot lighter to carry.
If you are learning to play piano and you are committed to it, you need a piano for around the home or you are going to study music, we’d definitely recommend using a weighted keyboard. As weighted keyboards encourage finger strength, this works in the same as training in the gym. The more you lift the heavier weight, the easier it is lift lighter weights. With that said, if you only play non-weighted keys, your finger dexterity and strength will only be relevant to non-weighted keys and you might find it jarring to play a weighted keyboard. Something worth thinking about when it comes to purchasing your keyboard as unweighted keys won’t help you build the strength to play a concert grand piano.
5 best weighted keyboards and digital pianos
1. Roland FP-90 Digital Piano
When it comes to weighted digital pianos, the Roland FP-90 is one of the best choices available today. This is loaded with the authentic grand piano touch from the PHA-50 (Progressive Hammer Action with Escapement) keyboard offering the graded weighting akin to the likes of a grand piano. The keys are also made from a combination of wood and moulded materials, offering superb feel and longer lasting durability.
The sounds from the Roland FP-90 Digital Piano are simply stunning, utilising the latest SuperNATURAL Piano Modelling technology which effectively reproduces the sound of an acoustic piano right down to the exact response and dynamics of your playing.
The four built-in speakers provide a powerful and rich sound making this an ideal option for intimate performances, teaching and playing at home.
If you’re learning how to play piano, or honing your skills, you’ll love the fact that the Roland FP-90 can connect to your smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth. This means you can use your device with the free Piano Partner 2 App from Roland which has been specifically designed to encourage a positive learning experience and help you with everything from beginner scales to playing full compositions.
2. Casio CDP-130 Fully Weighted 88 Note Keyboard
The Casio CDP-130 is a fully weighted keyboard that still remains in the very budget friendly price point. This features a hammer action keyboard to emulate the feel of a real acoustic piano, offering superb playability for the price. This means that the weight of the keys gradually gets heavier the closer you get to the lower registers and lighter as you go higher.
There are 10 different tones packed within the Casio CDP-130 so you’ll have a more than enough sounds to play within a variety of genres.
Once you register your purchase of the CDP-130 you also gain access to the Casio Music Academy and a series of useful piano lessons worth nearly £50. This means you can get started learning the piano straight away in the comfort of your own home.
It’s lightweight too, at just over 10kg, meaning you can easily take it to gigs and shows without too much fuss. The addition of reverb, delay and chorus effects also makes it a great performance tool.
3. Roland FP-30 Digital Piano
The Roland FP-30 Digital Piano features 88 weighted keys, each with an ivory feel providing players with the feel and dynamics of an acoustic piano without breaking the bank.
Whether you’re a beginner pianist or a long time, experienced player you’ll benefit from the combination of the feel and beautiful response of the weighted keyboard as well as the SuperNATURAL Piano engine. These two aspects really provide a solid foundation to learn and to perform with.
A key aspect of the Roland FP-30 that both beginner musicians and professional musicians will also appreciate is the highly portable design. Weighing in at just 15kg, the FP-30 won’t break your back should you want to take it top practice or a gig!
The powerful amplifier and stereo speakers provide a huge sound for performances, but the headphones output and quiet keyboard action can also make silent practice a breeze, without ever having to disturb someone!
Bluetooth connectivity ensures the FP-30 works with MIDI music apps on your smartphone and tablets and the connection with the free Piano Partner 2 App makes lessons and honing your skills an enjoyable experience.
4. Yamaha P-115 Portable Digital Piano in Black
The Yamaha P-115 Portable Digital Piano, pictured here in black has been crafted to provide everyone from beginners to professional piano players with a lush authentic Grand Piano sound and feel on a budget. This sleek keyboard features a Graded Hammer Standard (GHS) keyboard providing an almost exact representation of a Grand Piano – without any of the tuning issues! This realism and touch response makes it a great option for those on a budget.
A built in stereo speaker system gives you an incredibly detailed sound which really comes to life thanks to the Pure CF sound engine. This sound engine was professionally recorded from the world renowned CFIIIS Concert Grand Piano, something that really sets this weighted keyboard apart from the pack.
You also have a variety of sounds to choose from including Grand Piano x 3, Electric Piano x 3, Organ x 3, Bass x 2, String x 3 – more than enough for musicians looking to either learn piano, record at home or write compositions.
You can also control many of the instruments features via the Yamaha Digital Piano Controller app for iPad providing easier adjustments.
5. Casio Privia PX-160 Digital Piano
Last but by no means least we have the Casio Privia PX-160, not only one of the cheapest weighted keyboards available, but also one of the best sounding in its price range.
This weighted keyboard uses Casio’s famous Tri-Sensor Scaled Hammer Action II keyboard which provides not only an incredibly lifelike feel due to simulated ebony and ivory textured keys, but extremely responsive sound via the use of a proprietary Hammer Response system. This Hammer Response system simulates the different speeds at which acoustic hammers would move inside a grand piano and even takes into account the velocity of key strokes to provide an incredibly detailed and realistic key-to-sound experience – you’ll feel like you’re playing a Grand Piano at home!
The 8w x 8w speaker system provides incredible live sound quality and when the Casio Privia PX-160 is actually placed against a wall, the open front and ported back provide a noticeably louder and projected sound towards your audience or classroom.
Shop a full range of digital pianos and keyboards over at PMT Online today or call in to your local PMT store to see a full range of keyboards and pianos including weighted keyboards and semi weighted keyboards for stage, home and studio use.