MusicRadar basics: key features of a digital piano

Everything you need to know to get started with digital pianos

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As well as providing an authentic reproduction of an acoustic piano, a digital piano will also offer many other features that will enhance your playing. If you're only familiar with acoustic pianos, reading the features list of a typical digital piano can be a bit baffling. To help make things clearer, let us guide you through some of the more common features:

Additional sounds

In addition to piano sounds, many digital pianos offer additional instrument sounds or voices that enable you to play in a wide variety of styles. These include electric pianos perfect for jazz or strings for orchestral, or even synths for pop music.

Key split

Very simply, this allows the player to assign one sound to the lower half of the keyboard, and another to the upper. This is a great tool for teaching.

Dual mode/layer

Whereas a key split divides the keyboard into two sounds, dual mode, or layer, will put one sound over the top of another - piano over the top of strings, for example.

Accompaniment styles

Some digital pianos feature auto accompaniment features. These generate a drum pattern and a backing track according to the chords played.

Sequencer

A sequencer is simply a recorder that enables you to record and play back your performance for self-evaluation. You can usually store your performances in the piano's on board memory or on a separate USB key. Some digital pianos have multi-track sequencers which can record tracks on top of each other so you could, for example, record your piano performance, and while it is playing back, record a string part on another track. You can gradually build up the piece to a multi instrument performance.

Audio playback

Some digital pianos allow you to connect an MP3 player to the input jacks for play along fun. Not only can you play the song through the piano's speakers, you can also transpose it. Useful if the song is in a hard key and you want to play along in an easier key. On some pianos, you can even minimise the melody using a centre cancel feature, enabling you to play your own melody over the top.

USB/MIDI

While many digital pianos have built-in tools for learning and making music, you can expand your possibilities even further through your PC. A digital piano can be easily connected to your PC or Mac using MIDI. MIDI opens up a universe of music education, composition and recording software to explore.