At first glance, the keyboard and the synthesizer look a lot alike. But, are they the same in terms of functionality, sounds and operation? Bax Music takes you through the differences!

What's the difference between a keyboard and a synthesizer?

The difference in a nutshell

  • Keyboards are designed for people who want to play with a large number of sounds and samples and automated accompaniments in every style imaginable.
  • Synthesizers are more suitable for musicians who want to create their own sounds or adjust existing samples in great detail.

Of course, there are some keyboards that have similar features as synthesizers and vice versa, but this is more often the exception rather than the rule.

What can keyboards do?

What can keyboards do?

When it comes to popularity, the keyboard wins hands down. Very simply put, this instrument is built to play songs as soon as you take it out of the box. All you have to do is plug it into the mains and you’re good to go! Most keyboards have built-in speakers, so you don’t even need to buy anything else to enjoy it right away.

The keyboard comes complete with a huge assortment of sounds like piano, organ, wind instruments, guitars, strings, choir voices and synthetic sounds. Also, just about every keyboard on the market today includes automatic accompaniments known as rhythms or styles. Select the genre you want with the push of a button and play along. Usually, you’d use your left hand to play chords and your right hand to play the melody while the automated accompaniment follows the chords you play.

When it comes to operation, keyboards are designed to be easy to use. Some more expensive models may offer more functionality but the method of operation is more or less the same regardless of the price. If you’ve never played a keyboard before, you can expect it will take some time to get used to. Some higher-end keyboards also feature a touch screen for even easier and more intuitive use.

Do professionals use keyboards? Yes, but these are usually only solo entertainers or singer-songwriters who use a keyboard to sing and accompany themselves. Professionals are less likely to use a keyboard because it limits their ability to adjust sounds in detail, and they have no need for automated accompaniments. Furthermore, built-in speakers are completely unnecessary on stage or in the studio, as the sound is sent directly to the mixing console.

Handy to know:

  • Usually, the right side of the keyboard is reserved for selecting and playing the instruments and the left side is used for selecting and operating the automated accompaniments.
  • At live performances, you’ll often see the stage piano in action. This instrument (without speakers) is engineered specifically for live pianists who ant high-quality piano and organ sounds and weighted keys.

What can synthesizers do?

What can synthesizers do?

Synthesizers are professional devices designed for use in the studio and on stage. Essentially, a synthesizer is a collection of sounds that are either made by the user or by the manufacturer. The beauty of a synth is that you can adjust and tweak these sounds with great precision any way you like. Furthermore, synth sounds are generally higher quality  than keyboard sounds, which is why they are predominantly used in professional pop and media productions.

Synthesizers can be divided into two general groups: creative synths and imitator synths. The former is for true synth enthusiasts and producers who like to alter existing sounds or create their own. Synthesizers like this often possess a multitude of buttons, rotary knobs, sliders and faders so you can change the sound quickly and easily without having to navigate through menu structures. Imitator synthesizers are almost identical to creative synths, only they look different. The controls are more concealed and the menu structure is visible via an LCD display, for instance.

Automated accompaniments are not present on a synthesizer. Neither are built-in speakers , as the sound would usually go directly to a mixing console or a set of headphones.

Handy to know:

  • Synthesizers are available in all shapes and sizes. There are synthesizers for creating one very specific type of sound and there are models that offer an enormous variety of sound options. Some synths produce typical synthetic sounds while others are able to emulate instruments such as the piano extremely realistically.

Synth or keyboard?

  • “I want to take keyboard lessons.”
  • “I want to make music and not have to worry about complex settings and adjustments.”
  • “I want to produce my own music.”
  • “I play in a live band.”
  • “I want to play piano at home but I don’t need automated accompaniments.”
    • If this applies to you, then a digital piano is an ideal option.
  • “I conduct a choir and do not need built-in speakers or automated accompaniment.”
    • In this case, a stage pianomight be just what you need. It offers high-quality piano and organ sounds and you won’t have to pay for all the functionality you won’t be using anyway.

Have any other questions? Ask them in the comments below or get in touch with us directly!

6 responses
  1. Dovik N says:

    Thanks for the very clear explanation.

    can you please explain what Workstation is in this sense ?

    Is it more like digital piano ?

  2. Maarten | Bax Music says:


    Amplitude is all about loudness. So using e.g. an amplitude envelope means you can let sounds swell up ‘n down, eb ‘n flow, or ascend ‘n descend. Pick any term you like. 😉

  3. Sara Kinney says:

    What does Changing the amplitude do to the sound

  4. Markus says:

    I have just started taking lessons, so I need a keyboard at home, but can a synthesizer be used as a normal piano, meaning, make normal piano sounds aswell?

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