A keyboard and a digital piano look very similar to one another. This can make it confusing when you’re trying to decide which one to buy and you’re not really sure what the differences between them are. Read this blog and you’ll have all the information you need to make the right decision.

What's the difference between a keyboard and a digital piano?

A quick overview

A keyboard usually has lots of different musical instruments on board as well as automatic accompaniments. A digital piano, on the other hand, tries to recreate the sound of a real piano and give you an authentic piano-playing experience too. Here are the most important differences between them:

Keyboard Digital piano
Sounds Lots of different sounds Primarily good piano sounds
Number of keys Usually 61 Almost always 88
Type of keys Light Heavy
Automatic accompaniments Almost always Often not


Keyboards tend to have lots of different sounds on board from common musical instruments like pianos, guitars, bass guitars, string instruments, wind instruments, synthesizers and percussion to exotic instruments like a sitar, for instance. The quality of sounds on a keyboard can vary depending on which make and model you buy. It’s unlikely that the piano sounds on a keyboard will match the quality of those found on digital pianos.

A digital piano is primarily designed to imitate a real piano which is why the quality of the piano sounds tend to be better than those on keyboards. Generally speaking, the more expensive the digital piano, the better the sound quality. Digital pianos sometimes also have a few other sounds on board including different pianos, organs, harpsichords and strings. Piano sounds are the main focus, however.

What's the difference between a keyboard and a digital piano?


The keys on a keyboard are usually similar in size and shape to those on a real piano but most keyboards only have 61 keys compared to 88 on a piano. That’s two fewer octaves to play with and the keys on a keyboard are usually much lighter to press down too.

Like a real piano, a digital piano almost always has 88 keys with a ‘hammer action’. Those that don’t, usually have either ‘weighted’ or ‘semi-weighted’ keys. ‘Weighted’ keys are as heavy as ‘hammer action’ keys but don’t have the hammer effect, while ‘semi-weighted’ keys are lighter than piano keys but heavier than the keys on a keyboard.

Note: some cheaper keyboards don’t have touch-sensitive keys which means the volume is always the same no matter how hard or soft you press them. If you’re just starting out this probably isn’t a problem, but if you’re considering taking lessons, we recommend you get a keyboard with 61 touch-sensitive keys so that you can add expression to your playing.

What's the difference between a keyboard and a digital piano?

Automatic accompaniments

Almost every keyboard has automatic accompaniments in a range of different styles on board, while a digital piano normally doesn’t have any. These allow you to play a melody with your right hand and chords with your left hand with the keyboard providing appropriate sounds like drums, bass and guitar to go along with the song that you’re playing in the style you’ve selected. Normally, there are lots of different accompaniment styles on board with everything from rock to pop to country to latin to jazz and even classical.

Stands and pedals

It’s recommended to place your keyboard on a keyboard stand. Most of them are height adjustable which allows you to find the perfect playing height. If you play piano sounds regularly, you may also wish to invest in a sustain pedal.

Many digital pianos have bases designed to fit them perfectly, giving them a more piano-like appearance. Sometimes a base is included, but often you need to buy one separately. A sustain pedal is invaluable too and one is normally included. As its name suggests, it lets notes ring out for longer after you play them.

So, keyboard or digital piano?

If you want an instrument with plenty of possibilities for experimentation, a keyboard is the best choice. Taking keyboard lessons is a good idea too as this will help you to develop skills faster. Note: MIDI keyboards are also available, but these are very different from ‘normal’ keyboards. They don’t produce any sound on their own or have speakers. They only work with a computer and are normally used by music producers. This may not be what you want.

If your goal is to learn to play the piano, a digital piano (or a piano) is the way to go. It’s best to get one with ‘weighted’ or ‘hammer action’ keys for the most authentic piano-playing experience. Learning on a keyboard with 61 ‘lighter’ keys is not good for developing a real piano-playing technique. Again, taking lessons will help you to develop skills faster.

Also see

> All digital pianos
> All keyboards

2 responses
  1. M. Haribabu says:


  2. Deke says:

    MIDI keyboards aren’t restricted to computers for their sounds. They simply require a separate sound source. In the early years I was able to plug in a ‘piano box’ which had a far more authentic piano sound than any available on-board back then, but also an analogue synthesizer, which saved me a fortune given the cost of analogue synths. The downside was they were a pain to set up when playing live.

    These days though, I doubt they have any real purpose except in the studio, as you say. In fact to me it’s a case of, if you have the money get a Nord 73 (Soft keys) or 88 (Piano weighting). If you can’t afford a Nord… Well then you have problems, there are hundreds of cheaper machines out there and they all do at least one thing better than the opposition. It’s a minefield or a playground, depending upon how sunny your disposition is.

    Here’s a useful little thing that a lot of people don’t think of, but which I’ve now had forced upon me. If you suffer arthritis or some similar finger related disability, soft keys are far less painful!

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