Have you ever wondered how digital piano keys barely feel any different to playing a traditional acoustic piano?
Whether you’ve got a digital piano and are amazed at how piano-like the keys feel when you play, or you’re just curious about how digital piano keys work, we’ve got the answers for you!
There are several points that need addressing here but it makes sense to start at the very beginning.
Do digital pianos have weighted keys? The very simple answer is yes, they do. How they’re weighted and what effect this has on the experience of playing a digital piano will become clear soon enough, and then you’ll hopefully feel better equipped to understand your digital piano (or figure out which kind to buy!).
Acoustic Pianos and Weighted Keys
You may be aware by now that acoustic pianos also utilise weighted keys. Each key on an acoustic piano is attached to a series of other mechanical parts that work together to strike the piano strings, resulting in vibrations that cause sound.
The basic set-up is as follows: the key is attached to a seesaw-like leverage system which bumps into and subsequently pushes a hammer to strike the corresponding string.
The action is as follows: you press a key which initiates the process and when the hammer strikes the string, the resulting vibrations reverberate off another component called the soundboard which diffuses and amplifies them.
How are Digital Piano Keys Weighted?
Digital pianos typically come with weighted keys as standard. But what a lot of people don’t know is that there are actually several types of key weightings:
- Spring-loaded keys aren’t actually weighted at all – they are attached to springs which immediately cause the keys to pop back up as soon as your finger leaves them.
- The sensation when playing is not very similar to playing an acoustic piano, as the action is less fluid and more abrupt.
- These kinds of keys are more commonly found on portable keyboards rather than digital pianos, although cheaper digital pianos may still have this action.
- Semi-weighted keys also utilise springs to bring them back up but are assisted by a small weight which makes the keys pop up slightly more slowly than standard spring-loaded ones.
- These kinds of keys provide an experience which is somewhere between a keyboard and a piano.
- Can be found on many mid-range digital piano models.
- Hammer action keys offer a much more realistic experience that more closely resembles playing an acoustic piano.
- Just like acoustic piano keys, hammer action digital piano keys also use a hammer component that falls back down under its own weight, pushing the key back up.
- No springs involved.
- A more standard key weighting option for digital pianos, and quite difficult to find on a portable keyboard.
Perhaps the holy grail of digital piano weighted keys is something called Progressive Hammer Action.
Progressive Hammer Action (also known as Graded Weighting)
- This kind of key weighting is essentially the same as normal hammer action but with one small adjustment.
- As you move down the keyboard, the key weights get progressively heavier.
- This is to mimic the shorter, thicker strings in the bass section of the keyboard and the longer, thinner strings in the treble section which will give varying resistance as you play them.
- Progressive hammer action keys will give you a playing experience most similar to playing an acoustic grand piano.
What Effect Does This Have on the Sound Played?
Shockingly little. To be honest, having weighted keys only affects the music you play in that you might be able to play more fluidly and naturally than if you were playing the same song on a keyboard, for instance.
Because the weighted keys mimic the weight of acoustic piano keys, playing a digital piano feels very similar to playing a traditional piano. Because keyboards tend to have softer keys without weighting, it can feel clumsier and a little more staccato to play a keyboard when compared with an acoustic or digital piano, albeit unintentionally.
If you’re used to playing acoustic pianos, you’ll feel more at home on a digital piano than on a keyboard, and this will be down to the weighted keys. Because of this, your playing might be better.
Playing a piano or digital piano with weighted keys also gives the player a bit more control over the sounds created, allowing them to experiment with more musical possibilities.
That’s about the extent of how having weighted keys impacts the sound of a digital piano. Because digital pianos are closely modelled on acoustic ones, the sound quality they offer is generally very good.
What is the Significance of Having Weighted Keys?
Where piano playing is involved, it’s probably safe to say that all players want to sound as good as they possibly can, right? In order to do that, a player needs not only to have the skills necessary to play the piano, but also a high-quality instrument that creates high-quality sound.
When comparing an acoustic or digital piano with a portable keyboard, most keyboards won’t even come close to the richness and soul of their acoustic or digital counterparts.
This is down to the fact ´that keyboards do not usually have weighted keys (although you can find keyboards with weighted keys towards the more luxury end of the price spectrum).
The natural conclusion, therefore, is that weighted keys result in higher quality sound as well as giving the player a more authentic playing experience (which again, will improve the quality of music played).
There are some other key differences between digital pianos and keyboards where sound is concerned, which you can read more about here.
Although keyboards might be an ideal starting point for beginners due to their simplicity and typically lower price points, they are not the end all and be all of beginner instruments, and you might be better off starting straight from a digital piano.
Why is this?
Because keyboard keys are not weighted, they do not provide the same resistance to your fingers as a digital or acoustic piano, and therefore are not setting you up to know how to play a piano correctly. When you do move on to a digital or acoustic upgrade, you might find that the soft keys of your keyboard have instilled “bad habits” in your fingertips, making it more difficult to play weighted keys well.
If you’re having second thoughts about buying a keyboard after reading this, then here are some excellent digital piano alternatives.
As a beginner, you may not want to commit to anything too expensive so keyboards are still a good fall-back option, however there are also many budget-friendly digital pianos out there that might work out as good investments!
There are loads of different options out there when it comes to weighted keys that it can be difficult to sift through all the noise (pardon the pun) and make a decision.
Although it may seem like a bit of a daunting task with so many factors to consider, playing the piano as a learner or more advanced player should be fun. There shouldn’t be any pressure to buy the fanciest or most expensive model out there, and when it comes down to it, the perfect piano, digital piano or keyboard is whatever is perfect for you.
At the end of the day, the weighting of your digital piano keys is not going to make or break your ability to play beautiful music; you simply might find that certain grades of key weighting suit your goals, style, and skills better than others.
The most important thing is to be informed. Hopefully, what you’ve read here has given you a bit more insight into your options as well as a better understanding of weighted keys as a concept!