What is a piano alternative and what is their purpose? The modern piano we are all familiar with first came into being in the early 1700’s and has since served greats such as Bach and Mozart, but as with most instruments they started progressing forward into the Electronic Age, and in the 1950’s the first electronic keyboard was released by the Wurlitzer Company named the “100”. Like our ancestors from the stone age to the bronze age piano’s advanced from their conventional non electronic origins to the digital age. Piano alternatives fall into two main categories -electronic keyboards and digital pianos, there are of course also other keyboard instruments such as keyboard synthesizers and MIDI controllers but these are not generally considered to be piano alternatives, but rather instruments that use a keyboard layout for other musical purposes. Piano alternatives such as the electronic keyboard – even though having been around since the 1950’s – only started gaining popularity in the 80’s and were immensely popular during the 1990’s.
The piano alternative is exactly what the name implies – an alternative – the digital piano and electronic keyboard are in concept not different instruments to the pianoforte but rather substitutes; unlike in the guitar family of instruments which consists of acoustic and electric guitars, which are different instruments completely unto themselves. In a typical band composition you would find an electric guitar playing alongside a bass guitar, but you are unlikely to find a digital piano playing alongside a conventional piano. Of the piano alternatives the electronic keyboard could be seen as the largest deviation from standard as it has many extra features that the digital piano and pianoforte do not have, these can include: demo songs, metronome, learning modules – with light and sound aids, effects, recording function and autochord function to name but a few, but even though it is sometimes specifically used for its effects and large sound bank of tones, it is mainly regarded as a substitute to the conventional piano.
Many people start off on electronic keyboards or digital pianos when wanting to learn to play the piano, the main reason behind this is the fact that they are less expensive than conventional pianos, but it could also be because of size constraints – conventional pianos are very large and heavy – so depending on where you will need the piano to be placed you might have to make due with a digital piano instead of a conventional piano. The digital piano’s design and build is aimed at persons who are to a relative degree very serious about their future in playing the piano, and so it has certain features to accommodate that need.
- Weighted, full length keys often touch sensitivity is variable
- keys numbering from 81 to 88
- Contains very few if not any rhythms and voices in its sound banks, if offered they consist of the basics: Grand piano, harpsichord and jazz or pipe organ.
The electronic keyboard on the other hand is piano alternative that truly makes use of its intrinsic electronic nature by having far more digitally inclined features.
- Tones can be set to: piano, organ, flute, drum stick etc.
- Effects include: sustain, reverb, echo
- Extra features such as transposition is also common.
Piano alternatives can to this day still not match the absolute sound quality of the traditional piano forte; accomplished pianists often describe the digital piano as sounding fake end “electric” – this has to do with many factors in acoustics, but what is often cited as a major hindrance for the digital piano is its inability to convincingly reproduce the timbre of a conventional piano. The lack of proper polyphony (the piano’s ability to play multiple notes at the same time) is another factor that adds to the digital piano and electronic keyboard’s – to the trained ear – often phony sounding reproductions.
Piano alternative technology has progressed sufficiently enough so as to produce sounds that are pleasant sounding and convincingly real to the ear, the choice only lies in which alternative you prefer – the digital piano or the electronic keyboard.