Quick answer is Yes!!
Any songs you learned to play at a keyboard can be directly transferred to a piano, since the size and layout of the keys are exactly the same between both instruments.
The small differences of sound and touch will not affect you playing “Happy Birthday” or “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. Though you might need some time to get used to these small differences.
In general, if you are an adult, have never taken piano lessons before, starting with a keyboard is a good alternative if you don’t have access to a piano.
Does Keyboard and Piano Sound The Same?
They both sound like “piano”.
The real piano is an acoustic instrument and it produces sound in real-time. Pianists control the sound color and the volume with their hands and feet(on pedals) while playing.
On the contrary, keyboards are electronic instruments. The “piano” sound is already pre-recorded and engineered to the instrument; pianists can not change the sound quality or color while playing a keyboard. The keyboard sound is produced and delivered through a speaker or to a headphone. The volume can be adjusted through a volume switch. If the keyboard has a pedal and weighted-key function, players can play with different dynamics – relatively loud or soft sound while pressing down a key with different pressure levels. Besides the piano sound, most keyboards have a variety of sound effects to choose from, such as organ, strings, choir, synthesizers, etc.
Are Keyboard Keys Easier to Play Than a Piano?
True. Many beginner pianists feel that the keyboard keys are lighter and piano keys are heavier. They need to press down piano keys with extra weight.
This is because piano keys are triggered by mechanics: each key controls little hammers inside the piano to strike the strings and produce sounds. As an acoustic instrument, piano sounds are produced and amplified by the pianists physically through touch and pedaling. This pressure-resist system, or “heavy” touch, is designed to provide subtle and versatile multi-layer sound through playing.
Keyboard mechanics are based on electronics and made of plastics, the keys are just easier to be pressed down.
Weighted Action Keyboards
To imitate this pressure-resist function of a piano touch, advanced model keyboards usually have this function called “weighted key” or “weighted action”. The goal is to make players feel like playing the actual piano keys. The keys have a resist downward motion when being pressed down. This motion allows a player to play different dynamics – loudly or softly based on how heavy you strike the keys.
Without the weighted key function, the keyboard is unable to produce loud or soft when pressing down a key. These keys kind of feel like keys from a computer keyboard, with only one tier output – type a key, one letter comes out. Usually these kinds of keyboards are in the low budget range, and cheaply made.
If students, especially adult beginners, started to learn piano on a keyboard without weighted key function, they most likely will have a really difficult time playing on an actual piano – the keys will feel very heavy and hard to press down. In addition, students will not establish the sense of producing dynamics through their fingers – playing loudly or softly, which is the most basic form of musical expression.
Which Keyboard Model to Get
To summarize previous points, I recommend getting a full-size 88 keys weighted-action of any recognizable brand, usually within a budget of $500-700 (if buy new).
As explained earlier, weighted-keys are a must-have function for beginners to start with, otherwise it will be difficult to play on a real piano.
As for 88 keys, which is defined as a full-size keyboard, just because the real piano has 88 keys. Some people may argue that beginners do not need the full range of the keyboard, they may get a 61 keys or 76 keys keyboard instead.
However, if the learning goal is to easily transfer knowledge playing a keyboard to a real piano, then the beginner should have a 88 keys keyboard.
For beginners, playing and listening to a full-sized keyboard will be beneficial to establish a good sense of low or high pitch and a full range of register. Some keyboards that have less than 88 keys do not cover the full piano keyboard range.
Other Benefits of Keyboard
Compared to an acoustic piano, a keyboard is usually much lighter in weight, one strong person can move it. Some models without a keyboard stand (or after disassembling the stand) can easily fit in a four-seat car.
Moving a real piano is much more complicated than moving a keyboard. An upright piano on average weighs 200 to 1000 pounds, and hiring a professional piano mover is highly recommended. Unlike moving furniture, the piano is delicate. Without professional awareness of its structure and move with care, the piano could be permanently damaged during moving.
Quieter or completely muted
An acoustic piano delivers full frequency of sounds with vibration, the sound level ranges from 60 to 80 decibels. As a reference, a regular vacuum cleaner is around 55 decibels. The piano is indeed very loud! Many upright pianos have a mute pedal, which is the middle one between its three pedals (some pianos only have two pedals which means there is no mute pedal installed). When holding down the mute pedal, the sound level is much softer however not completely muted.
In contrast, a keyboard has the option to mute completely – you just need to plug in a headphone. Without headphones, a keyboard is still much quieter than a piano, it produces much less sound and vibration through its speaker, and you can use the volume switch to control the volume level.
Tuning & maintenance.
An acoustic piano is made of wood and steel. It needs professional tuning at least once or twice a year because the humidity and temperature slightly changes the inner balance of a piano. Without tuning, it will gradually sound out of tune over time.
Keyboards, mostly made of plastic, do not need tuning. If there are some keys broken, which happens very rarely, you might need to take it to a local service location to fix it. There is no other routine maintenance you need to do to a keyboard, except for keeping it clean.
Sounds Like Keyboards Are So Perfect, Why People Still Buy Piano
Different people have different needs, which is defined by their knowledge and skill levels.
To beginners, a full size 88 keys keyboard with weighted-key is sufficient to start with learning piano. Because for the first few years of taking piano lessons, beginners will stay at the basic skill level: studying reading notes, playing basic hand positions and fingerings, counting simple rhythm, playing simple arrangements of songs, etc, all of which can be done on a piano or keyboard and the beginner will not feel much of a difference.
However, a professional classical concert pianist, who plays highly complicated piano music and practices extensively on a daily basis, may find keyboards too “plastic”, the keys too “light”, and there is not much room for subtle change of sound color through playing. It is not possible to maintain her craft on a keyboard due to a higher level of demand for the instrument. She needs a good grand piano, a keyboard is not good enough.
Back to the original question, keyboard vs piano, which one to choose? Once again, for beginners, it is totally ok to play a keyboard.
Jane Hua is a Piano Instructor with 15+ years of experience with a Master of Music in Piano Performance from Kansas State University, a Master of Music in Collaborative Piano from University of Massachusetts Amherst, and a Graduate Certificate in Collaborative Piano, and Visual and Performing Arts from New England Conservatory of Music.