2020 has seen thousands of people taking up a new instrument as they find themselves with more time on their hands. For those drawn to keys, there is a wealth of online piano lessons available for aspiring pianists and keyboardists to get stuck into. But before you get to this stage, you're going to need something to play. In terms of finding the best keyboards for beginners and kids, where do you start?
If you or your children are considering learning to play, there is huge choice when it comes to picking a suitable keyboard – so much so that picking the right instrument can easily get confusing. So with that in mind, we’ve selected a few of the best keyboards for beginners and kids to help you choose something that will kickstart your musical journey and will hopefully lead to a lifetime of enjoyment.
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Best keyboards for beginners and kids: buying advice
How many keys do you need?
Keyboards come in many sizes – a full piano keyboard sports 88 keys, while common alternative sizes for keyboards are 76, 61, 49 and 25 keys. When starting out, it’s best to go for something that can accommodate two-handed playing straight away, and for this you’ll need at least 49 keys, or four octaves. For this reason, all of the keyboards listed here have a minimum of 49 keys, except for one – the Yamaha PSS-A50, with 37 mini keys suitable for small children. Above 49 keys, more is always better, so go for as many keys as you have room for or can afford – a larger keyboard will be able to grow with you as your keyboard-playing adventures progress.
The action describes how easy or hard the keys are to actually press down to produce a note. Real pianos have weighted keys and therefore quite a heavy action, so for beginners a more lightly-sprung ‘synth action’ keyboard is more likely to fit the bill to start with. A light action is often better for small hands in particular, but don’t be too tempted by mini-size keys – little hands can quite easily handle full-size keys as long as the action isn’t too heavy, and learning on full-size keys will remove the need for switching from mini to full-size at a later point, which can be difficult once you’ve got used to small keys.
Number of sounds
The number of sounds that your keyboard should have comes down to what you want to use it for – you don’t necessarily need hundreds of sounds if your main interest is simply learning piano. That said, if you’re buying a keyboard for kids to learn to play their favourite songs on, a wide variety of tones is arguably more likely to keep them interested in the long term, plus make the keyboard more entertaining for when they’re playing it outside of lesson time.
Keyboard vs digital piano
So what is the difference between a keyboard and a digital piano? Dedicated digital pianos are aimed more at people who want an alternative to an acoustic piano, whereas keyboards generally have more sounds and features and are lighter and more portable. Some sort of acoustic piano sound is nearly always top of the list of sounds that a keyboard comes with, but the quality of this sound will be an important consideration – generally, the cheaper the keyboard, the less realistic the piano sound is likely to be. Keyboards will usually have some sort of rhythmical accompaniment section with preset drum rhythms built in, and many even feature onboard tuition features such as illuminated keys and built-in songs to play along with.
Velocity-sensitive keyboards respond to how hard you hit the keys while playing, emulating the response of an acoustic piano - the harder you hit a key, the louder the note that comes out. It’s important to learn how hard to press the keys from the off if you’re seriously considering making any kind of progress as a player, so velocity sensitivity is an important item on your wishlist. It will also give you more accurate feedback for monitoring the development of finger strength and independence when practising.
When you’re starting out, your first keyboard probably isn’t going to sound as good as the ones the professionals use – after all, you wouldn’t shell out hundreds on a top-end keyboard if you’re not 100 percent sure that you or your budding pianist are going to persevere beyond Frere Jacques. Because of this, keyboards for beginners and kids can often skimp on sound quality, promising hundreds of tones that are all really just endless variations of one or two basic sounds. Our advice would be to go for keyboards with fewer, better quality tones. This will help you to achieve a better sound right from the start, inspiring the confidence to help you progress with your lessons. When you’re trying to learn piano, if it actually sounds like you’re playing a piano while you’re learning, you’re much more likely to stick with it!
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The best keyboards for beginners and kids today
With its 37 mini keys for little hands to get to grips with, Yamaha’s highly-portable PSS-A50 is great for the younger aspiring pianist. Although it’s often easy to dismiss keyboards of this size merely as toys, the A50 manages to appeal to the younger student while also offering sounds of sufficient quality to actually be of some use to older, more advanced players, so it will continue to be useful as your learning progresses.
The velocity-sensitive keyboard is derived from Yamaha’s Reface series of reimagined classic synths, feels great and is easy to play. The 42 sounds definitely favour quality over quantity, and there’s a USB MIDI port, headphone socket, motion effects, a phrase recorder and a built-in arpeggiator with 138 patterns to keep you interested. Alternatively, if you’re looking for something even more kid-friendly, you could also check out the A50’s sister keyboard models, the PSS-E30 and PSS-F30.
This compact, 61-key digital keyboard from Roland features Bluetooth connectivity so it can communicate wirelessly with online piano tuition apps and stream audio through its built-in speakers so you can play along. It can also be battery-powered if you’re on the move, contains a huge variety of over 500 piano, electric piano and organ sounds and comes with a music stand for supporting a tablet on the top.
Throw in a digital metronome, an onboard Loop Mix function and a recording facility to capture your practice sessions and you’ve got almost the perfect partner for your online lesson plan.
Available in two sizes – the NP12 has 61 keys while the NP32 has 76 – Yamaha’s Piaggero series of keyboards are no-frills, lightweight piano-style keyboards that sound fantastic and really look the part. These excellent beginner pianos are compact and supremely portable, feature built-in speakers, a velocity-sensitive keyboard and sounds sampled from a Yamaha concert grand piano.
Easy to play, they’re limited to just ten different sounds, but these are all very high quality and just the job if your primary focus is learning piano without distractions such as one-finger chord accompaniment and animal sound effects. There’s a simple onboard recorder that can be used to record and playback your performances to evaluate your progress.
All new Yamaha keyboards now include a free, three-month Flowkey Premium membership, and this particular 61-key model is also available bundled with a 12-month Playground Sessions subscription, headphones, sustain pedal and USB cable from the playgroundsessions.com online store.
Casio has a solid pedigree when it comes to portable keyboards, and their current lineup doesn’t dissapoint. We’ve chosen the CT-S300 for the way it balances features and price. With a full-size, velocity-sensitive 61-note keyboard, convenient built-in carrying handle and three colour options (black, white or red), plus a library of over 400 sounds, 77 rhythms, built-in reverb, dance music mode, aux input and compatibility with Casio’s Chordana teaching app, there’s more than enough here to keep newcomers busy – you even get a 60-song songbook thrown in!
If you don’t need a velocity-sensitive keyboard, you can go for the slightly cheaper CT-S200 model instead, or you can plump for the top-of-the range LK-S250 version which has the illuminated key teaching function.
Yamaha’s PSR-E363 delivers everything you need to start your musical journey, offering 574 instrument sounds and 165 backing accompaniment styles. The grand piano voice is as good as you’d expect from a mid-range Yamaha instrument, but it’s the breadth of onboard tuition features that make it easy to see why this keyboard is a top choice for education centres everywhere.
The Yamaha Education Suite makes it easy to learn the built-in songs, while the ‘Keys to Success’ feature provides short and easy step by step lessons. The Touch Tutor function helps learn expressive playing and there’s a downloadable songbook available to complement the lessons. On top of all this, a duo mode splits the keyboard in two halves so that students can copy what the teacher is playing. Overall, the PSR E363 offers a great balance of quality and quantity in terms of sounds and features, ideal for any beginner.
If you’re taking out a Playground Sessions membership, why not consider a keyboard specifically designed to be used with the service? This 61-key, five octave keyboard has semi-weighted keys, built-in speakers for practicing and an audio input so you can connect your computer or tablet’s headphone output and hear the app’s sound through the speakers as you progress through the lessons.
With a slot for a tablet built into the top panel, a USB connector, sustain pedal input and five of its own onboard sounds, it comes bundled with membership to Playground Sessions starting at $160 for a month’s subscription, rising to $400 for a lifetime membership. Since it’s been designed with online lessons in mind, it’ll not only work brilliantly with Playground Sessions, but with any other online lesson provider too.