My digital piano has a loud key

Buy an electric piano: With 10 tips for the digital piano

10 tips for buying a digital piano
by Wolfgang Wierzyk,

Do you want to buy an electric piano? So that you can keep track of things when buying from a specialist store, you should be informed about certain details. The KEYBOARDS digital piano guide will help you find the right electric piano that suits you and your music.


With the 10 KEYBOARDS tips for buying an electric piano, we provide you with a quality checklist that is also to be understood as a suggestion to take a closer look at some of the functions ...


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Find the right piano sound

The essential thing is the acoustic piano sound, which should be available in different versions: grand piano (grand piano), soft and muted (mellow), hard and brilliant (e.g. rock); Piano (upright).

Special piano samples are becoming more and more popular today, after manufacturers limited themselves to grand piano samples in the past. Is the choice of your dream instrument right, or do you find it rather restrictive for the music you want to play most often?




How do you recognize a good piano sound?

The quality of the sampled sounds is convincing with current instruments even in the lower to middle price range and sometimes even surprisingly good and comes close to that of a real piano. If you look at the price when buying, you should therefore take a closer look or listen, because the differences are often evident in the dynamics and the balance between the range and the decay phase of the sounds.

Sustain (i.e. a sustained tone) - do the tones sound balanced and lively or can a loop (repetition of the sound) be heard quickly?

Follow the end of a note and you can hear if it has been artificially lengthened (swaying sample loops) or breaks off too quickly. The end should be as long as possible and not too static.

The more detailed the piano sample (the sound data) the better!

Was each key of the original instrument sampled individually or is the same sample - transposed - used for several key ranges? This has an influence on the liveliness of the sound; in the worst case, individual tones sound artificial and “digital”.

More dynamic sound is also more fun when playing the piano

Have the grand piano tones been sampled in sufficient dynamic gradations? Then the different volume levels of the grand piano can also be reproduced well. If the following happens to you, the multisample leaves a lot to be desired: When you play, everything sounds pleasantly like an acoustic piano, but it's not really quiet; and when you reach in really hard you constantly think that nothing works in the upper dynamic range ... Even the basic sound, which is good in itself, is of little use here. Music lives to a large extent from dynamics!



String resonances, hammers, dampers

Realistic sound components on the piano contribute to the liveliness: Today, the string resonances are also simulated when the holding pedal is depressed (the resonance of the unstruck strings on the real instrument). This makes the overall sound more colorful and spatial. Incidentally, better control over the string resonances is achieved if the holding pedal offers half-step detection; then you can even dose the resonance effects to the same extent as the entire pedal effect.

Other "noises" are the hammers bouncing back and the dampers falling back, even on good digital pianos - so listen carefully! Another very effective simulation: You can open a real grand piano or upright piano lid in several positions - this changes the sound significantly from muted to brilliant. Some digital pianos (also called “lid” parameters) imitate this sound detail.

On instruments from the middle price range, you should ideally be able to regulate the intensity of such sound components or at least be able to switch them on and off.




Electric pianos and other keyboard sounds

As the second most important sound group, the electric pianos are actually a must: Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer, also sampled sounds from Yamaha's CP80 and DX7. The dynamics are also important here, especially with the Rhodes (often simply referred to as "E-Piano 1"), a lot happens with increasing velocity. The Hohner Clavinet should also be mentioned as a funky instrument; as a counterpart to the authentic harpsichord sound for friends of classical music.

All other sounds that are often enough hidden in an "Others" soundbank are more likely to be seen as encores - with two exceptions: A nice string or soft synth sound (pad sound) is ideally suited to your piano sound to complement a floating spatial component or to give it an orchestral touch.





Reverb, chorus, delay, phaser, flanger ...

Depending on the level of hearing, the actually good sound is sometimes too sharp, sometimes too muffled. An equalizer (a component for fine grading and processing of the frequencies within the tone) for sound adjustment can help quickly. Commonly used are 3-band equalizers (also known as “EQ”) for bass, middle and treble. The reverb effect for spatial adjustment is ideally adjustable. The chorus effect to broaden the sound is required for electric piano and string sounds.

A rotary effect (which simulates a rotating loudspeaker) is important for electric organs. A delay (quasi “echo”) on board, in conjunction with the reverb, can also transform a piano sound into a spherical “ambient piano”.

E-pianos can be greatly changed in their character using the phaser, flanger, wah-wah effects derived from the chorus, as well as amplifier simulations. You will only find such more special and then mostly programmable effect types in digital pianos in the middle, if not the upper price range.




Play the piano even better with Layer, Split & Co

To mix two sounds you need the “dual” or “layer” function with separate volume control for the two superimposed sounds. A sufficient polyphony of at least 128 voices should be provided so that such layer sounds are not cut off when using the sustain pedal, for example.

With the split function you can split the keyboard (if possible with a variable split point), so that you can e.g. B. can play a bass sound on the left and the piano sound on the right. Attention: The cheapest entry-level pianos usually do without this function.

With registration memories you can save settings for dual and split sounds, effects and more - otherwise they would be lost when the piano is switched off. Many entry-level and middle-class home pianos do not offer such a memory - because the editing functions are limited here. Effects can usually be switched on and off using the “Reverb” and “Chorus” buttons, and system settings can be buffered centrally. For portable pianos and stage pianos - instruments that you can take with you to rehearsals or performances - registration memories are indispensable.




88 keys with hammer action - an important feature

Whether "Responsive Hammer II", "Graded Hammer" or "PHA-4 Concert": The manufacturers are creative when it comes to finding names for keyboards - but the beautiful formulations don't really help you. At Yamaha alone, we counted six different hammer keyboards. The only thing that helps is to try it out: Do you feel comfortable on the keys? Can you dynamically control the D-piano well with it?

The dynamic way of playing depends on the weighting of the keyboard: the more complex and balanced it is, the more nuanced you can dose the keystroke. A good keyboard is weighted in a graduated manner (the bass notes are a little harder to play than the treble notes). A premium feature is the individual weighting of each individual key. However: You should leave the church in the village, because certain high-end features are only noticeable if all components such as loudspeakers or sound generation play in the same league.

A hammer mechanism (here the model of the Kawai AWA Grand Pro II with real wooden keys) ensures an authentic feel and precise control of the touch dynamics.

The simulation of the pressure point on digital pianos is becoming more and more popular today: This is the name given to the point on the real grand piano at which the mechanism releases the hammer that is to be snapped onto the strings. However, this simulation is a very difficult feature on which you should not make a purchase decision dependent.

The manufacturers' advertising with so-called “tri-sensor” technology is also modern: three instead of only two at least two measurement points on the keyboard ensure that tones that are struck again quickly sound in good time. Whether “Tri Sensor” or not: simply test a piano with a few volleys of repeating tones - then you will quickly find out whether it reacts quickly enough. This is also the best way to unmask a certain physical inertia of the keyboard.

How strongly the keyboard influences the dynamics can be determined with the so-called "Velocity Response" curves: Whether you strike lightly or like very powerful - the choice of this dynamic curve is important for how the whole piano reacts: With the appropriate setting, it is enough a relatively light attack to play forte, with a different setting you need significantly more force for the forte. But be careful: The mode of action of the velocity curves should not be confused with the mechanically induced ease and sluggishness of a keyboard; therefore this parameter cannot iron everything that has been mechanically inadequately solved.

A key feel-good factor is the surface of the keys - it was not without reason that ivory was used as a covering in the past, because it is smooth on the one hand, but again so slightly porous that it always provides support for sweaty fingers. Fortunately, the plastic imitations are getting better and better. Even with beginner pianos you will often find the words "Ivory Feel" or "Ivory Touch". When I think about the fuss and cult the guitarists are doing with their fingerboard woods, we digital pianists should also be demanding here.

Last note: Good, well-balanced keyboards weigh more than smooth-running keyboards - which means that a good digital piano must also have its weight.




The speakers make the sound!

The greatest grand piano sound is of little use as long as it only sounds great through your headphones. That's why you should always value the soundcheck of the built-in speakers in specialist shops - especially with a home piano.

Make sure that the sound is as linear as possible with clear bass, middle and treble. Too much emphasis on the low frequencies quickly makes the overall sound dull and opaque. Too few mids - this is often the case with two-channel playback systems - create a real "sound hole", the sound lacks something fundamental. With the highs, there is, on the other hand, the problem of overdrawing: aren't they too pointed or even shrill for you when you grip the keys harder? If there are on-board resources such as a brilliance control or even an equalizer, small sound inconsistencies should be able to be corrected with them - otherwise you are not sitting in front of "your" piano.

The amplifier power of the playback system should also match the output of the loudspeakers. Even when fully turned up, the sound system shouldn't rustle too much or even acknowledge the continuation game with dragging tones and rattling background noises.

A thing that is difficult to simulate, on the other hand, is the distribution of the sound in the room, as it does a real piano or a real grand piano. Realistically speaking, the manufacturers succeed in doing this particularly convincingly with the instruments of the upper class - because only here are working with a correspondingly large number of loudspeaker pairs and several amplifier units as well as soundboard effects. Inexpensive digital pianos simply cannot match this richness of sound, presence and loudness. It is all the more important that a cheap instrument delivers what you think is at least a pleasant “living room sound”.





How many buttons, faders and switches does a digital piano need?

In inexpensive electric piano models, the buttons that allow direct access to sounds and functions are often rationalized away. Then there is only one way left: You hold down one of the few buttons and you have to change the value and switch the sound with one of the 88 keys on the keyboard - the manufacturers simply use some of the piano keys as additional function switches. Switches that even have hammer action ... but do you ever memorize which key is assigned to which parameter value or sound? At most, the notes printed on the housing would be helpful - but do you really want that?

A meaningful display, on the other hand, sharpens the view and facilitates orientation in the multitude of parameters and functions. In the luxury case and appropriately dimensioned, it even enables the display of music or lyrics.

Unfortunately you will mainly find LED displays with 3 by 7 segments in the entry-level home piano area; sometimes even savings are made. If you fluctuate between a cheaper and a more expensive model, an LC display on the larger piano that shows complete sound and parameter names could definitely be one of the purchasing criteria. Because the more functions your piano offers you, the more cryptic operation can spoil the fun of using these functions on a regular basis.

On the other hand: Not every instrument without an LCD is complicated to use: These can be D-pianos that offer only a few functions anyway; or stage pianos, on which other control elements such as buttons and controls are increasingly used.




Learn to play the piano

To keep voracious band colleagues away from the fridge, a playback option on the D-piano has proven itself. But not only band training, but also the control of your own game is a worthwhile application of a built-in recorder.

Almost all D-pianos today have song recorders with one or two tracks in their basic configuration. But only the 2-track recorder offers you the advantage of playing and recording the left and right hands separately from each other.

There are often three memories available for storing songs. If the memory is full, all that remains is to copy the songs that have already been recorded. That will be different if a USB-to-device connection is available - or at least a USB-to-host to send the game data to the PC. Burgmüller, Czerny and Hanon are the names of the three composers whose etudes can occasionally be supplied as songs and played on the recorder - you can use these MIDI templates for your own practice: rehearse hand for hand in tempo and possibly also the key of your choice.

Play the piano and practice with MP3 songs

It's really fun when USB sticks are involved: Then you can save your own songs on the stick and load previous and third-party recordings from the stick. Some pianos even offer the option of playing back extensive MIDI files with band or orchestral arrangements as playbacks from the stick; provided that your digital piano supports the General MIDI standard and offers the corresponding sounds. Due to their flexibility, MIDI files are a worthwhile thing: Muting tracks, changing tempo and transposition or looping song parts are often technically possible with on-board means of compatible D-pianos.

Record and play back MP3 songs with the digital piano

These functions are not always found in entry-level pianos. The WAV format is common, and some instruments also support MP3s. Because of the original sound, this is of course fascinating and can be carried out quickly; However, only very few D-pianos have the option of playing or transposing an audio file slower and faster (although the latter is not so important because you can still transpose the sound of the D-piano yourself if necessary). The ability to mute playback instruments is also omitted for audio files. However, there are already many useful jam playalongs in which the piano has already been muted.

Playing the piano with rhythm

In addition to the song player, other band-game-oriented practice aids are popular: A small selection of drum patterns from different musical styles, ideally including intros, fill-ins and endings, brings a lot more jam fun and is more inspiring than if you only play to the metronome beat would. Some D pianos even have an automatic accompaniment, mostly with tracks for drums, bass and a backing track.Caution: The automatic accompaniment does not always “understand” everything that the player is playing in harmony. It can therefore be useful to briefly create a playback yourself and play in the chord progression for the automatic accompaniment beforehand.

If there is no audio player, the piano of your choice may have an aux or mini jack input to which you can connect an MP3 player. Its signal is then also output via the playback system or the headphone socket of the D-Piano.

And another little extra:

Music schools like to use the “four hand” mode (also known as “duo mode” or “twin piano” function), in which the keyboard is divided in the middle: both halves now sound in the same octave range and can join if necessary separate holding pedals can be used. If two headphone connections are also available, the happiness of the “silent educator” is complete. Attention: The "Four Hand" mode is not a normal split function, but is intended to provide the same grand piano sound to both players on their keyboard zones in the same position.

If you want to buy a keyboard, we of course also have a number of tips for you!


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