The piano is a fascinating instrument to learn and when you can play the piano you can turn your skills to other keyboard based instruments. If you’re interested in learning how to play the piano, you may be deterred because you didn’t learn as a child. But, there is no age barrier and it’s never too late to start playing the piano.
Once you’ve decided to learn, the next challenge to overcome is how many keys you need. Many people new to the piano and other keyboard instruments believe that they all have the same number of keys. This is incorrect, there are a number of available options, and the keyboard size you choose can have a major impact on learning and playing the piano. In this article, we will examine this topic in more detail to help you make more informed decisions.
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What is the Keyboard Structure?
One of the first things to understand is how are the keys structured on a keyboard and how does that work in practice? Every beginning player starts out with the basic C scale and no sharp or flat notes are used at this stage. In layman’s terms, this means that you will only be playing the white keys on the keyboard.
As you become more skilled, you will start to add the black keys into your playing styles. More complex music means that you will need to play more combinations of white and black keys together. At this very early stage, this is the only difference between black and white keys that you need to know. Let’s take a look at the names (notes) of the keys on the piano keyboard.
What Are the Names (Notes) on a Piano Keyboard?
Let’s start with the white keys. They are labeled in alphabetical order in a loop that repeats along the entire length of the keyboard. The black keys have a couple of names each, as an example: D-flat which is also known as C-sharp. This may be a hard concept to grasp at first until you understand semitones.
A semitone is also referred to as a “half tone” and it’s the interval that occurs between two full notes that are placed next to each other. So, between the D and D-sharp notes, you will find a semitone.
The whole tone is the distance that occurs between two different semitones. As an example: Both the C and D notes are whole tones.
Most piano keyboard instruments have these elements arranged in a 12-not pattern that repeats. An acoustic piano keyboard can have the pattern repeated 7 times along the entire length of the keyboard. But, the number of repeats could be fewer on a smaller piano which would have fewer keys to play.
What are the Most Popular Piano Keyboard Sizes?
The standard piano keyboard size that you would find on a full-sized instrument would be 88-keys. But, due to budget and size constraints many new and experienced players have to get by with a smaller keyboard size. However, the good news is that you can still learn to play with a smaller keyboard. Some of the most popular piano keyboard sizes in ascending order, include 44-key, 66-key, 76-key, and 88-keys.
What is the Reason for Different Keyboard Sizes?
We briefly touched on this above, but there are three main reasons why you may want to invest in a piano keyboard that has less than 88-keys, they are:
Generally speaking, a keyboard with fewer keys will be less expensive than a larger instrument. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, because you can get larger budget keyboards and smaller keyboards that are higher in quality. But, when it comes to buying a piano on a budget, it’s likely that you’re going to be getting a smaller keyboard. This is also a good idea if you’re very new to playing and you don’t want to invest too much. This is especially true when it comes to fickle children that may not want to keep up with their musical studies.
More casual players may seem to play their piano and not even touch the majority of the keys. The extra keys can help to generate the overtones that add depth to the sound but they serve no other purpose. If you just want an instrument to play simple tunes, radio jingles, or other simple applications you may find that a full sized 88-key piano is overkill. Many people can get by with fewer octaves to play and they don’t feel the need for a larger keyboard.
Many people learning the piano live in college dorms, apartments, lofts, and other smaller locations. In these residential environments, space is at a premium and a full sized piano would simply dominate the available space. For this reason, many people choose a smaller upright piano or a portable keyboard that they can set up when they want to play.
What is the Best Number of Keys for a Beginner?
This will vary depending on the age of the new musician, let’s take a look at the different needs of toddlers, children, and adults when it comes to learning the piano:
A toddler up to the age of 5 will need a keyboard with 25-keys up to a maximum of 44-keys. This will give them something basic to make sounds on and give them a little room up and down the keyboard to experiment with new whole notes and semitones. Many budget keyboard manufacturers make instruments that fill this niche perfectly.
Children from the age of around 6 up to 9 will benefit from a 66-key, 76-key, or even a full 88-key sized keyboard if they have the maturity. As they age, the hands of children develop quickly and grow large enough to handle even regular sized keys and keyboards. As their general motor skills improve, you may be surprised at how adept they can become at playing. Many children can play a full-sized piano keyboard before they even reach the age of 9!
An adult should ideally be learning on an 88-key full-sized keyboard. But, due to the possible constraints discussed earlier in this article this may not be possible. So, it is possible to drop down in size to a 76-key or even a 66-key sized keyboard in a pinch. But, if you are serious about learning to play complex music at a high level you will need a full sized 88-key keyboard to play.