What is Your Piano Playing Style?

By Dan Maynard

Have you tried to find a digital piano but you were overwhelmed with the sheer number of keyboards brands, models and features? There are more and more piano brands, models and features to choose from than ever before. Should you get a stage piano? Or synthesizer? Or how about a portable keyboard?

These are just a few of the considerations when buying a keyboard. And depending on whether you are a beginner, intermediate or advanced player, I’ll show you how to think about pianos in a way you’ve never thought  in order to find the keyboard that you’ll be happy with for many years. 

digital piano playing by dan

The Digital Keyboard Dilemma

In addition to what has already been mentioned, consider the size of the piano, for instance, 66, 78 or 88 keys? What about a synthesizer? Do you really need midi interface or recorder, or midi-controller keyboard? Are you into electronic music?

Should you get a starter piano for a beginner or invest in a more expensive piano that you will be able to use as you gain more advanced piano skills. There are also different types including console, digital stage, upright and portable pianos. There are literally hundreds of thousands to choose from. And that’s the issue.

The problem is that it can be frustrating and confusing and maybe a bit scary to pull out your wallet to make a commitment to buy a digital piano only to find out a month later it’s the wrong piano for you.

​The Wrong Way To Choosing A Digital Keyboard

Most people who are in the market for a piano typically look online at keyboards and select a couple of keyboards, make comparisons based on the features they like and then visit review sites or visit a retail store. And what ends up happening is they listen to the salesperson, who shows the visitor the desired models that have the desired features. That’s the problem. The salesperson is incentivized to sell you a keyboard you’re more likely to buy based on the features the visitor likes. Problem is, the features may be wrong for the playing style of the musician.

If you’re wondering if some of the features and keyboard leave some doubt in your mind; if you’re confused which combination of features leaves you confused, then this article is for you.

I’ll demystify how you can choose the right digital piano with this one simple shift in the way you think about pianos. You need to look inwardly to figure out what’s best for you. It’s an investment that you want to make sure will satisfy you for years to come.

But before I tell you all about looking inwardly, let me tell you a story of how I discovered this real solution that wasn’t available online.

yamaha digital piano

The One Email That Changed Piano Choice

I used to sell pianos online from a site that had 50,000 visitors each month. I would receive emails from potential buyers who were confused about selecting the right piano. As I received more and more emails, I discovered a pattern similar questions being asked by searchers of all ages and ranges of piano playing experience.

“How do I buy a digital keyboard with all the different options and models available?” they would ask. But more importantly they would describe their experience as a musician. Some played in rock bands. Some were classically trained musicians while others were composers.

It was a week later when a flash of inspiration came over me when two particular ideas came to mind. I could envision the juxtaposition of these two ideas and how the solution became so apparent.

The ideas — too many models of pianos and features that are adapted to various playing styles. It was an ah ha moment for me. It was soon afterwards that I conducted some research and found that no one had ever charted how to buy a digital piano based on playing style.

Rather than thinking outwardly as to the type of keyboards and features available, I began to think in terms of keyboards that were suited to individuals playing style and goals. That was an important distinction in that it helped to narrow down choices of keyboards that would be the best fit based on playing styles and the goals that musicians wished to achieve. 

How To Buy A Piano Using Your Playing Style

Discovering your playing style will help you find the right keyboard. Which Style do you recognize?

  • Rock pianist You need a rugged piano that can take the bumps and scrapes on the road and yet perform flawlessly.
  • Classically trained keyboardist. If you’re following this stream of musicianship, then you definitely need a piano that features weighted keys that most closely match an acoustic piano.
  • Contemporary pianist. Basically you play more contemporary music, perhaps blues, soft rock, or peaceful quiet music. Or perhaps you’re looking for a well rounded keyboard that has a midi playback/recorder so you can play along with a full onboard band. Or maybe you just want your digital keyboard for playing at home for your own entertainment.
  • Elite performer. You play jazz improv, or play lead piano. You need a keyboard that can be responsive to every nuance and speed of your fingers as they fly across the entire keyboard. Having a keyboard that can keep up with your demands is essential.
  • Composed Composer. You’re the creative type where your energies are funnelled into creating new music. This is the most demanding of keyboards with a rich ensembles of instruments, recording features and signal processing equipment onboard. With the touch of a button, you need to have a keyboard that can turn the flow of creativity into musical creation without any disruptive keyboard constraints.

Contemporary Style Pianist

​You love to play contemporary music that is more mainstream music. Some good examples of that include music from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s including Elton John, Santana, Eric Clapton, Whitney Houston. So what kind of keyboard would be great to practice performing this style of music? Recognizing this style, as I am a contemporary piano player (even though I’ve been classically trained), I love Yamaha weighted stage pianos which have many of the contemporary instruments. The instruments I look for in a keyboard are sampled sound patches that are not artificially created electronic sounds. Sampled instruments like alto saxophone, tenor sax, drums, 12-string steel guitar, rock guitar and basically all of the instruments that can be found in contemporary music. In addition, I’d look for a really good midi-recorder on board so you can midi tracks of the instruments that make up a song.

Contemporary Style Must Haves

  • has all the contemporary instruments for the music you play including, saxophone, rock guitar, acoustic guitar, acoustic piano, several electric pianos (Wurlitzer and Rhodes)
  • a midi-recorder or sequencer to record your instrument tracks
  • USB, standard guitar jack, and XLR inputs if you’re going to occassionally play in a band or clubs.
  • midi in, out and thru ports as you expand your recording equipment to include mixing board and computer

As a keyboardist I would also recommend a variety of studio effects processors on board to enhance and give studio quality playback features. Imagine playing back your midi recording that sounds just like the original music piece that you can play along with!

​Rock Style Piano Player

​If you’re a rock piano player and band playing is your thing, then dragging a keyboard like a stage piano weighs a ton. I bet you’re not in the band to grow huge biceps lugging your keyboard around. Mobility and not so feather-weight digital keyboard is the right thing you want. Yet while these features are great, your keyboard must withstand the bumps and scrapes that are the territory of the travelling musician.

Rock Style Must Haves

  • rugged piano case that can take vibrations, bumps and scrapes while transporting your keyboard to different venues.
  • instruments that are paramount for rock music such as Hammond organ, synth sounds, drum machine
  • at least 8 note polyphony (the number of notes that can be played consequentively)
  • velocity sensitivity as determined by the response to key pressure and speed

​I’ve played in few rock bands myself, and one of the features I would have really liked, but that I didn’t have on my keyboard, was the ability to quickly switch from one instrument to the next or layer instruments quickly on the fly in real time. One instrument that is a must have for any rock band pianist — Hammond B3. If you have that on board, then you’re rockin’.

​Classical Style Pianist

​How important is it to have the right keyboard for classical training? Actually it’s pretty critical. There is less of a focus on features such as the number of instruments, effects, and functionality with external peripherals and more on the keys response to the touch. The agility of the keys to respond to the lightest touch, response time and key pressure/loudness sensitivity plays an important role in enhancing the classical musician’s skill at the piano.

Classical Style Must Haves

  • a highly responsive key action
  • precise key velocity
  • symphonic orchestra instruments like violins, cellos if desired

Composer Style Piano Player

You need a keyboard that responds to your creative juices, that can immediately audition what your hear in your mind. You need to get the right sound quickly so you don’t lose the creative flow. Having a vast library of instruments and the flexibility to alter, shape sounds whether sampled or synthesized is important. A high end recording sequencer that can handle complex arrangements is a must. High multitimbral and polyphonic capabilities and plenty of memory are the workhorse features of the composer’s keyboard.​

Composer Style Must Haves

  • a vast library of instrument sounds that can be accessed quickly for better workflow
  • multitimbral and high polyphony capabilities
  • high capacity midi-sequencer for complex recordings

Jazz Improviser Style Pianist

In some respects, jazz pianists requirements are similar to the classical musician. While weighted keys and responsiveness is required, the keys don’t need to be as heavily weighted as that for a classical musician. Many jazz pianists tend to favor the touch of Yamaha keyboards.​

Jazz Style Must Haves

  • Weight keys with high degree of responsiveness
  • jazz musicians tend to favor Yamaha acoustic pianos or digital keyboards because of the touch and weighted keys that aren’t too heavy.
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