If you are asking this question to yourself it means you probably have a midi keyboard at home and want to start learning how to play the piano but not sure if a midi keyboard is the right instrument for this matter. Or maybe you haven’t purchased one yet and are wondering if it’s the right investment for you as you are thinking about learning how to play piano.
The short answer to the question “Can you learn piano on a midi keyboard?” is yes, but it depends!There are so many different midi keyboards ranging from less than $50 to more than $3000. They are all made for different purposes and could be right for you or completely wrong. But no worries, we will cover here what to pay attention to so you exactly know if you can learn it on a midi keyboard.
Especially beginners are unfamiliar with the feel of keys and the correct positioning of the fingers. It’s very important to use one that mimics the keys of a real piano as good as possible. This means both the material of the keys but also the technique used inside the keyboard to replicate the one in acoustic pianos. Otherwise you might get used to a wrong feeling and struggle later when you get the chance to play on a real acoustic piano.
The more expensive midi controllers/keyboards usually have a better system built in with more advanced technology than cheaper keyboards. Let’s keep in mind that midi controllers are first and foremost made to be connected to a computer. They act as a note input device to trigger and control sounds that are coming either from the midi controller/keyboard itself or from a sample library etc. inside the computer.
To do this, a midi keyboard does not need to have this authentic feel of an acoustic piano. Just being equipped with keys is already enough. It enables you to play the notes with different velocities so the computer knows exactly how you want a sound to sound. But when it comes to playing the piano on a midi keyboard it’s of course a different game. Over the years, the different brands like Yamaha, Roland, Kawai, Korg etc. have all developed their own systems to make playing on a midi controller as natural and authentic as possible.
But let’s start with the absolute minimum requirements a midi keyboard should have for you to be able to start playing piano on it.
The most obvious thing will be the number of keys which should be 88. This will give you the possibility to explore the full range of notes you can play on a regular piano. (The brand Bösendorfer has built a few pianos that have even more than 100 keys.) But the average (grand) piano has only 88 keys.
Can you learn piano on a midi keyboard or not will also depend on ‘weighted keys’. This is something that distinguishes cheap keyboards from the more expensive ones. You might have noticed when you play on a smaller keyboard that you only need to apply very little pressure to be able to press down a key. Those keys are called lightweight. More expensive keyboards will usually have weighted keys built in.
The next most important thing to add more realism to the feel of playing the keys will be ‘hammer action’
These are also weighted keys but use little hammers inside just like a real acoustic piano does. This already adds tremendously to a more natural feel during playing.
Another good function are so-called graded action keys, which means that the keys in the lower register are a little heavier than the keys in the higher register. So from the lowest note to the highest note on your keyboard the keys are gradually becoming lighter to press. It is exactly what you want because that’s how a real acoustic piano works.
There are more functions like triple sensor technology after touch etc., that the high-end midi keyboards are equipped with. As a beginner you might not even notice a difference having these options available or not on your midi keyboard.
If you use a keyboard with the above-mentioned setup you already have the most important things you need. Another important element are certainly the keys themselves. Most keyboards will have plastic keys but the upper-class instruments will have wooden keys (just like a real acoustic piano). Or at least have a wooden top made of ivory.
This helps to absorb moisture so your fingers won’t slip when they sweat. That is something they often do when playing for longer hours. So the question, can you learn piano on a midi keyboard, will also depend on such minor things.
Midi keyboard or digital piano?
So if you already have a midi keyboard make sure it has all the functions mentioned above. If you don’t have one yet, maybe a digital piano could be a better choice for you. Ask yourself “Will I only be using this to play piano or also to produce and compose music?”
If you are considering to also make your own music, like composing piano or maybe even symphonic music, you should definitely look into a midi keyboard as you can use them for both composing and also playing piano. But if your goal is to just play piano then a digital piano would be a better choice. The feel of the keys is usually better than the ones in midi keyboards. But here, too, the price plays a huge role. More expensive ones are usually better. Another advantage of the digital piano would be the built in speakers and also a headphone output.
When it comes to the sound generation, most midi keyboards are not equipped with internal speakers. This means you will have to connect your keyboard to a computer and run a piano sample library. Otherwise you cannot hear the music that you’re playing. If you don’t have speakers connected to your computer you can of course also just use headphones or a headset. To fully enjoy the piano playing experience, a good stereo speaker set or headphone is highly recommended.
Regarding the sound, there are currently dozens, maybe even hundreds of piano sample libraries on the market to choose from. They are not all equally good though. A piano sample library can cost you anywhere between $50 and more than $1000. Be prepared to spend at least a couple hundred dollars for a good sample library. One of the most compact ones with quite an authentic sound of a real 9 foot grand piano is Garritan’s CFX Abbey Road library. It features a Yamaha grand, that was sampled at Abbey Road.
Another aspect to keep in mind is your sheet music. Midi keyboards usually do not have a sheet music stand. This is something that you will high likely need when you start learning the piano. So if you really want to learn on a midi keyboard you will probably have to find a solution regarding the placement of your sheet music. Digital pianos on the other side will all have a note stand for your sheet music built in.
Regarding convenience also don’t forget that you will always have to turn on your computer and load up your software first before you can play/hear a single note. With a digital piano you will have a volume knob or slider right on the surface and can instantly start playing after turning the piano on.
So, can you learn piano on a midi keyboard? to sum it up, YES, you can definitely learn piano on a midi keyboard. But you better make sure it comes with 88 graded hammer action keys, preferably with ivory keys. Also keep in mind that you will need to connect your keyboard to the computer. You will also need to acquire a good sounding piano sample library and headphones or speakers.