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What is a Digital Piano?

A Kaminsky
A Kaminsky

Time marches on in every arena, and this extends to musical instruments. The Hammond B-3 drawbar electric organ and the Moog synthesizer were considered revolutionary in their time, and technology has now touched the piano in the form of the digital piano.

Until the digital piano came on the scene, musicians either played the traditional acoustic piano, or used the piano "voice" on an electronic keyboard. The digital piano revolutionized these options. It enabled musicians to produce sounds and effects unknown before.

A synthesizer might be considered a digital piano.
A synthesizer might be considered a digital piano.

A digital piano is an electronic instrument that looks like a spinet acoustic piano. The digital piano has each piano note digitally sampled into its memory. It includes a built-in amplifier, weighted keys and a digitized sound bank with other voices. The weighted keys approximate the feel of an acoustic piano keyboard, as the hammers hit the strings.

Digital pianos typically have a full set of keys.
Digital pianos typically have a full set of keys.

There are some advantages in buying a digital piano. The variety of effects may be useful for a pianist who has not had extensive training — they can use automatic polyphony features to help them fill in a harmony line. A digital piano also never needs tuning. The sounds are digitally sampled, and therefore, they never change.

Another advantage of a digital piano is their lower cost. Most music stores will discount a digital piano substantially for a church or community musical group, and online merchants will also offer deep discounts. A good acoustic piano will cost roughly twice the price of a digital piano.

The digital piano is also much more portable than an acoustic piano, and can be disassembled for easy movement, without having to be re-tuned. An acoustic piano should ideally be re-tuned each time it is moved for any great distance.

However, the digital piano is not the answer to every musical need. It does have its limitations, and among these are lack of color and expression in playing and limited sound dynamics. An advanced pianist will find she has trouble using a half-pedal technique, nor can she achieve the levels of sound variety as with an acoustic model.

Even if a digital piano never needs tuning, it may need repairs, and these can also be expensive. Technology is bound to leave the present digital pianos behind, rendering many of their recording and interface features useless. If an acoustic piano is maintained and cared for, it will sound as wonderful when it is 75 years old as it did when brand new.

A digital piano is a good option for those on a tight budget, or who need all the bells and whistles available on the instrument. They are good choices for churches with small budgets, or for musicians who use a digital piano as a portable recording studio. They are good for homes since the player can plug in headphones and play without disturbing anyone else. The digital piano will never replace the acoustic piano, but it may be a good choice in specific situations.

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    • A synthesizer might be considered a digital piano.
      By: nikkytok
      A synthesizer might be considered a digital piano.
    • Digital pianos typically have a full set of keys.
      By: Andy Dean
      Digital pianos typically have a full set of keys.