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Practicing on a Digital Piano (Video) PROS and CONS

My Casio PX 110 sits on the second floor of my townhouse because there’s no room for it anywhere else. Haddy Haddorff stole the space that Cassy formerly inhabited. In truth, the digital is not on the high priority activity list of instruments here but it has a role in technique-based toning and conditioning

In the video, I demonstrate how I use my Casio as a practicing tool; where it excels and falls short.

Disclaimer: This Casio Privia model PX110 is no longer manufactured, though there are some around on the Internet. And because my Privia is over 5 years old, having been put through the wringer through years of use, the keys are loose, and there are conspicuously audible clicks upon release of notes. Unfortunately, updated models PX120 and 130 have gone downhill, sounding tinny, and having blubbering notes.

1) CON: The digital is NOT an acoustic piano. It doesn’t have strings, hammers, or any mechanisms in its tone production that match a true piano.

As a result, it would be a stretch to say, that the player can create the same nuances, dynamics, and clarity of articulation that a decent piano would provide. I underline decent, because there are too many clunkers out there that would make playing a digital, by comparison, a heavenly experience. And because the electronic instruments never need tuning, they are appealing to many, while also being space savers. Still, in my opinion, those two enumerated positives would NOT outweigh the advantage of acquiring an adequate acoustic piano to realize the beauty of music in all genres.

2) PRO: Practicing on a digital can be a great work-out keeping the player in tone and condition, especially if the KEYBOARD has 88 weighted keys. The approach to the keyboard should be deep, defined, and somewhat uniform in touch to acquire the desired physical benefit. Scales, arpeggios, and other technical passage work lend themselves to the world of electronics, without too much artistic sacrifice.

3) PRO and CON: The Digital Keyboard affords the ability to RECORD and PLAYBACK and I provide some examples in the video, still fleshing out challenges in playing the mainstream classical repertoire where nuances and dynamics are central to a performance.

Nonetheless, even if the player can’t exact from the generic weighted digital what he imagines as a desirable sound image, he can still work on phrasing, comparing one playing to another on record to playback, making some adjustments that would advance his skills. He can also explore various fingerings that would improve phrasing.

These keyboards come with two pedals that usually slip away. You plug them into the sustain and soft pedal outlets behind the keyboard. It’s advantageous to invest in piano style pedals that will stay in one place and not cause anxiety when their use is needed.

In the area of rhythmic cohesion, the player can listen attentively on replay to discern a weak underlying beat.

For some attuned to the use of the metronome, there’s one built into nearly all digitals that might be used to address rhythmic problems.(though I’m not a believer in using a metronome in this way. I consult it for the overall tempo based on the number of quarters per minute designated by a composer)

3) CON: The key release clicks on many of these keyboards can be bothersome, though the more expensive ones, might have less of a related issue. This would be an area to evaluate when choosing a keyboard. Where one keyboard has less clicking noises, it can have tonal problems that undercut its appeal, so taking a number of factors into consideration will result in a wiser purchase.

4) PRO. A Player can practice to his heart’s content, not disturbing the neighbors by using earphones. This may be the resonating appeal of the digital. It banishes any looming threats of eviction.

For beginning students of piano, I still recommend that parents acquire an acoustic, “real” piano, because when laying down a musical foundation that includes development of a singing tone, legato, and awareness of dynamics and nuance, the digital is not an adequate substitute for the real thing. And once again, the choice of an acoustic piano, cannot be a rushed journey to acquisition. It has to be a patient, thoughtful process with advice from the teacher and piano technician.

As for sound explorations, using a vast tonal bank, where some digitals have this resource, adds to the joy of experimenting with colors and shades on a mechanical level. For those exploring popular music, jazz, and related genres, it can be a blast to have a repository of “instrument” sounds and rhythmic assists that can be punched in.

But my discussion involves the use of the digital piano as it pertains to piano study and practicing. The strengths and weaknesses can be assessed and the student/player can go from there having the proper knowledge to make intelligent decisions about what to acquire in the short or long run.

Please share your experiences with electronic keyboards, even if you have the very pricey variety with all the accouterments that make the playing experience for you a journey on cloud nine. I haven’t discussed Clavinovas, Rolands, etc. in this blog, or the Casio models that are more pricey. This is a vast universe requiring research and lots of sample playing to accommodate individual needs.

Bottom line, having a lovely acoustic piano and a digital could be the best combination on the block, adding spice and variety to music-making.

NOTE: Since I published this blog, I reviewed a host of digital pianos on site at Guitar Center and Best Buy in Fresno, and have framed my opinions based upon these hands on experiences.

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