Updated: Jun 15, 2022
I am often asked with this question, "What are weighted keys on a piano?"
Weighted keys simply mean that the keys have a degree of resistance when pressing it down with your fingers.
An acoustic (upright or grand) piano is built with hammer and strings connected to each key to produce a tone. This weight on a pianists fingers feels more ‘natural’ and helps us gauge how hard to strike a key to get the sound we want. A master pianist will be able to execute 20 different ways to produce a sound with this mechanism.
A digital piano or an electric keyboard does not have the same build since it is powered by electricity, hence the vast difference in the touch and feel, as well as its price.
Acoustic pianos are quite standard across all piano manufacturers in the world. When it comes to digital pianos there can be a huge range in terms of quality and its make. Digital pianos on the market can have overwhelming terms, especially for the first-time buyer.
Brands such as Korg, Roland and Yamaha Clavinovas are deemed the higher-end pianos in the market. Casio Privias have mid-range digital pianos that are suitable for the beginner.
When you shop for a digital piano, there are two crucial things to know:
Number of keys (a full size piano has 88 keys, the full tonal range)
Feel of the keys (weighted, semi-weighted or graded hammer action)
These days there are options for 61, 63, 72 keys digital piano. However, it is important to understand that for one to progress in piano music education, it is highly recommended to upgrade to the full size 88 key piano.
Pianos are one of the solo instruments that can be a whole range of a band music. Without the full tonal range accessible to the fingers, one will be faced with challenges to execute the multiple "voices", especially at advanced playing levels.
When should the upgrade take place depends on your long-term goals and budget, and it is doesn't hurt to discuss this with your teacher. In my studio, I usually recommend to my families to have 88 keys piano after one year of lessons. After 2-3 years of consistent lessons, an acoustic, weighted, or graded-hammer action piano is highly recommended for students who will be sitting for examinations. All examinations and music festivals/competitions utilize acoustic pianos to showcase student's finger dexterity and strength in performing a piece of music.
Here are the four types of digital pianos categorized based on the weight/feel of the keys:
1. Not weighted
MIDI keyboards are not weighted and budget friendly. They still have a touch, but do not require very much strength to press and you can still enjoy responsive sounds. Some of these keyboards are used at professional stage performances in a band
Just above the 'beginner' bracket are pianos that have semi-weighted action. This involves a sprung-action key with more resistance than an unweighted keyboard, and the feel of the resistance is the same throughout the whole keyboard.
3. Hammer Action
This means the digital piano has a mechanism which replicates the same hammer action as an acoustic piano. This is usually achieved by the attachment of a lever system near the key to add more resistance to the keys you’re playing. This hammer action feel is the same throughout the whole keyboard.
4. Graded-Hammer Action
Graded Hammer Action digital pianos are the closest mimic to an acoustic piano feel, and are considered the higher-end digital pianos. This also means, just like an acoustic piano, there is more resistance in the lower range of keys (left of the keyboard) and less resistance at the upper range (right of the keyboard. In many cases, digital pianos with graded weighting will have keys made from wood rather than plastic. Some even feature keys that emulate the feel and weight of ivory.
Is it necessary to buy a weighted-key piano?
As a teacher, my answer would be yes. Just as you would upgrade your hockey stick and skates or professional paint brushes, it goes the same for a piano.
I tell all my students and parents that our little fingers are the athletes when it comes to piano playing. Therefore a good quality music instrument is crucial to one's foundational learning.
As always, if you're not sure what to do when you are looking to invest in a new piano, have a chat with your teacher and I'm sure they will be more than glad to assist.