KEYBOARD, PIANO, SYNTHS - WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES?
Are you confused with the terms “Piano” and “Keyboard”? Or Pop Piano and ‘Normal’ Classical Piano?Or the difference between a Digital Piano and a Portable Keyboard? Firstly, let’s not be confused with the physical instrument and the style of playing. When we say the different physical musical instruments, it refers to .e.g. Acoustic Piano, Digital Piano, Keyboard, Synthesizer, Etc… When we say the different styles of playing, it means the different genres in music Classical Piano, Popular Piano which includes: Pop Piano, Rock Piano, R&B Piano, Jazz Piano, New Age Piano, Blues/Funk Piano, Pop Keyboard Etc… We can play a song in any style of playing, on any physical musical instrument.
TYPES OF PIANO AND KEYBOARD INSTRUMENTS
Today in the market, there are many new terms like Digital Piano, Digital Keyboard, Clavinova, Portable Keyboard, Electric Piano, etc.. All of these terms usually ‘overlaps’ each other. Firstly, a real Piano, (or a traditional Piano) is called an Acoustic Piano. The sound in an Acoustic piano is produced acoustically, (when the hammer in the piano strikes a string). It is the same way how an Acoustic guitar produces sound. It doesn’t require electricity to work (except for the heater that heats up the piano). There are generally two types of acoustic piano, the Upright Piano & the Grand Piano. Thus, anything else that is NOT an Acoustic Piano that looks like black and white piano keys is generally called a keyboard.
Digital Pianos, Digital Keyboards, Portable Pianos, Synthesizers, PortaSounds, Clavinovas, Electronic Pianos, Etc… are all called Keyboards! And any keyboard today that requires electricity to run is already considered Electronic or Digital. Thus you can call it Digital Keyboard, or Electronic Keyboard, it doesn’t make any difference. (Except for the older electronic keyboards below late 80s and other non-mainstream modern keyboards which use analog technology (opposite of Digital) to produce sounds, like the famous Analog Minimoog) There are three general types of Digital / Electronic keyboards: 1) the typical keyboard or portable keyboards that you can find at Carrefour. 2) Piano simulated keyboard, aka digital portable piano 3) synthesizers
1) TYPICAL KEYBOARD OR PORTABLE KEYBOARD
(Yamaha calls it PortaSound) By “default”, when we describe a music keyboard, it usually refers to a typical keyboard that has tons of different sounds, drum rhythms and many functions. It is usually designed for amateurs or hobbyists(professionals) playing as a one-band man. The term portable keyboard usually goes with it too since it’s usually portable. It has everything ready, with built in speakers, battery & AC operated and a variety of sounds. A typical keyboard usually has the Auto Chord Accompaniment features and Auto Drum Rhythm presets which are important tools for one-man band keyboardist. There are also very expensive portable keyboards like the KORG PA series and Yamaha Tyros series.
2) PIANO SIMULATED KEYBOARD
(More commonly used name: Digital Piano, Portable Piano, Electronic Piano, Yamaha calls it Clavinova) It is usually designed for Pianists who only need the realistic touch and sounds of an acoustic piano. Thus, it usually does not have other sounds and features in a typical keyboard. However, it is designed to have the best Piano sounds, and heavy-weighted keys that simulate a real Acoustic Piano. Thus, if you compare a $1k Digital Piano vs $1k Portable Keyboard, the $1k Digital Piano will definitely has better piano sounds and piano touch.
3) SYNTHESIZER KEYBOARD
It is usually designed for professionals playing in a group. It offers intensive editing features that allows more realistic and expressive sounds. A synthesizer usually doesn’t have built in speakers and other features like the Auto Chord Accompaniment and Drum Rhythm presets in a typical keyboard. And it is usually not very user friendly. Professionals use synthesizers for performing and recording purposes. However still, if you compare a $1k Digital Piano vs $1k Synthesizer, the $1k Digital Piano will still definitely has better piano sounds and piano touch. Each of these 3 general types of keyboards offers different features to suit different needs. Today, keyboards have features that overlap each other. For instance, some keyboards possess features of a synthesizer and a Digital Piano (like the Yamaha Montage 88keys which is technically a synthesizer and a sampler with great grand piano sounds). Some high end keyboards even have features of everything (like the Yamaha CVP Clavinova 709, it has the some of the best grand piano sounds with synthesizer and Auto Drum Rhythm/Chord Accompaniment features.
TYPES OF PLAYING STYLES
Now that you understand the terminology used to describe the different keyboard variants, let’s talk about the styles of playing. As mentioned earlier, when we talk about styles of playing, (for example Pop Piano or Classical Piano), we don’t normally refer to the physical instrument. For instance, you can play the 2nd movement of Sonata (Classical piano style) on a Keyboard, Acoustic Piano, or Digital Piano. Likewise, you can play the latest Jay Chou song on a Keyboard, Acoustic Piano or Digital Piano/Keyboard, or whatever.. Of course, certain styles will work out better with certain instruments, for instance, Classical Piano style sounds best on a Acoustic Piano, and Funk Piano style sounds best on a Electronic Piano. However there are two minor exceptions: 1st exception – sometimes when we say Classical Piano, we may also refer to it as a Acoustic Piano (instrument), due to the fact that Classical music has come a long way. Nevertheless, the ‘proper’ term to call a Acoustic Piano is still a Acoustic Piano. 2nd exception – There is one style of playing – Pop Keyboard , that requires the typical portable keyboard as the instrument. The style involves using different sounds like brass, strings, and drums, etc.. ‘Keyboarding’ can mean either playing as a one-man band or in a group. When you play the keyboard as a one-man band, you usually use those that have built-in drum rhythm and Auto Chord accompaniment.
In a one-man band situation, the drum rhythm will be triggered automatically. Your left hand will control the accompaniment by holding the chord notes on the left side of the keyboard. Your right hand will playing the melody using the desired sound (instrument) on the right side of the keyboard. The drum rhythm can also be varied by using the fill-in buttons to add different fill-in patterns, intros and even endings.
When you play in a group, like in a rock band or concert band, you do not use the Auto Accompaniment Chord function and the Auto drum rhythm. The reason is because your band will probably consists of instrumentalist like a drummer, guitarist or bassist to ‘cover’ the accompaniment section. Thus, a ‘synthesizer’ is usually more ideal in a band situation, as it offers no Auto Accompaniment Chord function and the Auto drum rhythm but generally better editing features, and realistic sounds. When you say you play the keyboards, it can mean either both, 1) playing as a one-man band or 2) playing in a group. And someone who plays the keyboards is called a keyboardist. Whereas someone who plays the piano only is strictly called a pianist.