If you’re learning to play piano, a MIDI keyboard can be an affordable alternative to a full-fledged digital piano. While you will have to make some compromises, the low cost makes it possible for anyone to pick up a MIDI keyboard and start learning. This article looks at the best MIDI keyboard for learning piano you can buy right now.
I’ll be honest: this is a confusing topic to write about.
Nominally, “MIDI keyboard” usually means a controller (such as the Akai MPK Mini) without any built-in sounds that you use to control a DAW. Originally, these keyboards used to have MIDI-only ports (hence the name), but virtually every modern MIDI keyboard has USB as well.
Which basically means that they are not just “MIDI keyboards”, but also “USB keyboards”.
But most digital pianos, workstations, and synthesizers also have USB and MIDI, and they have built-in sounds. You can very well connect your Yamaha digital piano to your computer and use it to control your DAW.
So when I was shortlisting keyboards for this roundup, I had to wonder: should I focus only on MIDI keyboards, or should I include synths, digital pianos, and workstations as well? What really is the difference between them at all since technically they can all be used as MIDI keyboards?
Which is why this review includes every kind of keyboard on the market – MIDI-only keyboards, digital pianos, and even workstations.
The one thing they have in common is that they’re great for learning piano.
So with that disclaimer, let’s look at the best MIDI keyboard for learning piano you can buy right now.[toc]
This portable keyboard is one of the best MIDI keyboards for learning the Piano. I love the intuitive design that makes it clear right off the bat that beginners will find it easy and pleasurable to use. Coming in at a mere 4 Kg, this keyboard is quite portable and gets around fairly often. You can carry it wherever you go without any problems. It has port and I/O that widens the range of stuff you can do with it.
Aside from that, it comes with Bluetooth options. Create your music on this MIDI keyboard and play it to selected entertainment systems that have Bluetooth capabilities. As a mark of the portability, this keyboard not only runs on electricity but can use AA batteries too.
The features of this keyboard ensure that all and sundry can use it with ease. As it comes with 500 pre-installed sounds, there is virtually no limit to the music you can mix and produce. The sounds are from Juno DS’s experienced synthesizers. While in use, I observed the clarity and realistic nature of these sounds.
A feature that I am quite sure new users and beginners will find appealing is the Loop Mix. With this feature, you can add sounds that will be played on a loop and make it easy for them to make music.
What we don’t like
Well, as a “proper” player, I found the keyboard too simple for my tastes.
Best Digital Piano: Yamaha P45
- Plastic build
- Adjustable touch-sensitivity
- 88 weighted keys
The Yamaha P45 is a digital piano from Yamaha that sports a great build and that comes with 88 weighted keys.
As it is an entry-level keyboard, I didn’t expect much in terms of design and performance from the P45. Nevertheless, while it doesn’t exactly take the breath away, it is still a remarkable budget option. The Yamaha looks solid. It does not come with any bells and whistles; rather, it sports a simple yet professional look. You have no doubts with the Yamaha P45; it is a piano that simply encourages you to play.
It is encased in plastic. The matte finish makes it look sturdy, and indeed, as I carried it, I could feel the strength of construction. It is a keyboard that with proper care will last for a long time. Unlike other pianos on this list, the Yamaha comes in just 2 color variations: black and white.
The solid build does not imply that it is clunky or has to be lugged around. The Yamaha is meant to be carried around. Hence the design screams portability. Set up is very easy. It comes with a stand that ensures the safety and efficiency of this keyboard.
The keys are not made of wood, which isn’t exactly surprising: it is a budget level keyboard after all. Instead, they are made of plastic. Nevertheless, they are well built and firm. I loved the realistic feeling I got from the keys. This is likely because these keys come with an actual hammer to weigh them down.
If you do not like the touch sensitivity of these keys like I didn’t, the option to adjust them is present. I used this feature and got a level I found very satisfactory.
As for the sound of this Piano, it is quite good. This is even more remarkable when you remember that it is an entry-level piano. It comes with different instrument sounds like Grand pianos, Vibraphone, Strings, and others.
What we don’t like
The Piano’s key action lacks more than 2 sensors. Hence, when I tried playing fast repeated notes and controlling the sound, I found it really hard.
Best Entry Level: Alesis Recital 88
- 88-key keyboard
- AC and battery-powered keyboard
- Comes with 3 sensitivity levels
- USB Powered Keyboard
This keyboard from Alesis continues the company’s tradition of producing quality keyboards that have a great design, and that can stand the test of time.
It comes with 88 full sized keys. These fully weighted and sensitive keys are great to touch. I found them great and easy to use. Furthermore, their being fully weighted indicate they have a professional feel. Longtime players and beginners looking to experience the weight of professional keyboards will feel comfortable with this keyboard.
The Piano comes with a feature that correlates the amount of force used on a key with the amount of volume generated. Therefore, the harder you press on the keyboard, the louder and sharper the sound becomes. This makes for interesting sounds for players that have the slightest ounce of creativity.
The keyboard comes with customizable sensitivity levels. On a keyboard with already sensitive and responsive keys, this is great.
It comes in a small, portable size. The portability is further strengthened by the option of using D-cell batteries on the keyboard. It is also AC powered.
The Piano comes with 12 pre-installed voices and 3 effects: modulations, reverb, and chorus. Considering the price of this entry-level Piano, it has many rich features. It comes in 2 modes, the lesson mode, and the split mode. It also has the metronome feature and the transpose feature. Aside from the standard pitch and mod wheels, the keyboard comes with some other buttons like the octave up and octave down buttons that help users to extend the note ranges of the keyboard.
It is compatible with a host of software and MIDI hardware devices. It comes with Ableton Live Lite that gives you even easier ways of producing great music. Altogether, the features and the design make this a very satisfactory keyboard.
What we don’t like
Sound quality from the Alesis Q88 is slightly disappointing.
Best Workstation: Roland FA-08 88
- LCD Panel
- 128-note Polyphonic synth engine
- Full-featured workstation and arranger
Fresh from out of the box, it is clear that this new keyboard from Roland means business. Unlike previous keyboards that I used in the Fantom series, there are no bells and whistles attached to this keyboard. The design is minimalistic and straight to business. The keyboard comes with 88 keys, each of which is weighted. While testing, I observed the responsiveness of each key is quite impressive. Considering that this is a weighted keybed, I found the keys fast and great to use. I do not predict player fatigue as a result of the keyboard.
The interface of the keyboard is set on a large LCD panel. The panel houses navigation buttons, a scroll wheel, and other buttons and knobs. All the main settings can be found on the LCD panel.
The high-quality of the LCD panel is a testament to the level of detail and attention put into creating this keyboard. The layout is never redundant, and every single layout is meant to make it easier to use.
On the left side of the panel, there is a sound modification area. On this side, 6 knobs exist, with each knob fully customizable and controlling different sound effects. As a controller keyboard, it has a DAW control button. This can also be found on the left-hand module of the keyboard.
Moving on to the right side of the keyboard, you have the arpeggiator which is flanked by the chord control. These are fully customizable to ensure ease of use. You have many tweaks you can make here. There is also a tap tempo button, which I found to be a nifty addition to the keyboard. All these buttons, knobs and controllers are found on this bad boy, along with other controls.
Moving on to the connections, it is clear that Roland has discarded fancy and ultimately pointless parts in favor of more practicality. The keyboard has a host of connections that I found very useful. At the rear of the keyboard, you will find 2 balanced and 1 unbalanced ¼” outputs, a sub out, an SDHC slot, a pair of USB ports, and many other connectors.
The sound that emanates from this keyboard is mighty impressive. Roland is known for churning out keyboards with impressive sounds and does so once again with the Roland FA-08 88. The synthesis engine on this baby is quite good. It has a 128-note polyphonic synthesis engine. There is a slew of instrument sounds that accompany the keyboard. From drums to guitar, the number of represented instruments is quite great.
As for the effects on this keyboard, they are no less impressive. You have a high degree of control over the tones and Studio Sets. One feature I liked is the way the keyboard allows you to have a Studio Set with a multi-effect for each. You can choose from the over 60 effects on the keyboard. The sequencer allows you to sequence up to 16 tracks, which is really remarkable.
Overall, this workstation is very impressive.
What we don’t like
The keys on this keyboard are not velocity-sensitive. The lack of a touchscreen on the LCD is another gripe I had.
Most Portable: Williams Legato 88
- 88-Key Piano
- Bluetooth MIDI connectivity
- AC and Battery Powered
- Comes with 10 instrument sounds
This entry-level keyboard comes with 88 fully sized and weighted keys that give the feel of a more expensive piano.
It comes in a matte black décor. This makes it look compact and more professional than its more flashy contemporaries. It is lightweight and can be carried around with ease. Nevertheless, it won’t fool anyone into believing it is more than a budget option.
On the panel of the keyboard there is a Power Switch, the standard effects buttons, Metronome mode, Reverb mode, the Split mode and a host of other buttons. It lacks a screen which is a bummer but is not surprising at this price. The rear panel of the keyboard features a number of ports for connectivity. There is a MIDI port, sustain jack and other I/O.
On first sight, it seems Williams is out to make the cheapest keyboard on the market and sell as many units as possible.
This is underlined by the tacky looking design and the horrible plastic housing. The buttons, knobs, and design look cheap. The semi-weighted keys of the keyboard feel like the normal keyboards on the market. The plastic keys feel super-cheap.
During testing, despite the bad aesthetics of the keyboard, it surprisingly doesn’t sound as bad as it sounds. It sounds warm and of acceptable quality. As it is still a low-entry device, the speakers cannot compete with the sound obtained from bigger and more expensive keyboards. The speakers sound bad and do not allow you to enjoy the full range of sound.
What we don’t like
Well, as this is a budget device, Williams has decided to eliminate features that would increase the price. For instance, it lacks a screen and recorder. The keys are also not graded and feel more like organ keys than piano keys.
Over to You
There are a lot of MIDI keyboards around that are fantastic for learning piano. Some offer more than just MIDI out and even double up as entire workstations and digital pianos.
We’ve covered some of the best MIDI keyboards for learning piano in this roundup. Pick the right option for your needs from this list and start jamming!
For more recommendations and advice, don’t hesitate to reach out to me here.
- Want a general-purposes MIDI keyboard for controling your DAW? Here are our top picks.
- Yamaha loyalist? Then you’ll love our roundup of the best Yamaha keyboards
- Beginner learning to play the piano? Check out our guide to the best digital pianos for beginners