Weighted vs Un-weighted Keyboards

The keyboard action on all acoustic pianos will be ‘weighted’ with ‘touch response’ which helps the player to be more expressive by way of varying the volume and tone in his / her performance. Or putting it another way, the harder a key is struck, the louder it will sound and equally importantly the more gently it’s struck the quieter it will sound. So many tonal variations can also be achieved according to how the instrument is played, more so with careful use of the pedals. Additionally the keyboard action is ‘graduated’ in the way that the lower keys are heavier and the upper keys are lighter.

By contrast the keyboard action on a harpsichord is not weighted or touch sensitive, so the player has little control over the volume or tone of individual notes.This is also the same with an organ, the notes are either on or off regardless of how hard the keys are struck. Although with an organ, the player has control over the dynamics via the ‘swell’ pedal and also possibly by using the ‘percussion’ feature if available.

In order to replicate the feel and tonal qualities of an acoustic piano most digital pianos have ‘touch response, hammer action’ keys. Many now even have ‘string resonance’  and ‘damper resonance’ to make the sound even more authentic. Additionally the better quality ones have synthetic ebony and ivory key-tops.

But just because a digital piano is advertised as having these features doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s any good. The quality and feel varies tremendously. But in many cases it’s subjective and down to personal choice. I personally like the Korg RH3, the Casio tri-sensor and the Yamaha NW-GH keybeds. But there are other good ones available.

Most digital pianos have 73 / 76 or 88 keys which is fine for most types of piano playing (a concert pianist will need 88). I would not advise less keys than this for serious piano playing, although I doubt that you’d find one with less.

Now, many digital keyboards have ‘un-weighted’ or ‘semi-weighted’ keys. This doesn’t mean that they are inferior to or cheaper than the weighted option - just different - for different needs. Again they come in vastly varying qualities ranging from cheap, clanky, wobbly ones to those which are superb, durable and top rate. Just about all of these are ‘touch sensitive’, so even on these there will be a fair degree of control for expression etc. Usually the touch control can be altered for more or less sensitivity, or turned off completely for organ /  harpsichord tones.

Semi-weighted organ style keys create the possibility to play much faster than on a weighted board, making them more suitable for certain styles of music (rock organ, electric piano and synth solos etc.).

Some of the more expensive boards also have ‘after touch’ which is a feature enabling you to add effects like modulation etc. by pressing the keys harder after the initial strike.

So what if I want both ‘weighted’ and ‘semi weighted’ keys?

Well actually this is often my wish, but unfortunately a keyboard that does both is yet to be invented. To make a weighted keyboard much less weighted would defeat the object and please no-one. So actually the only option is to have two boards - a ‘hammer action’ board at the bottom and a ‘semi-weighted’ board at the top! There are many possible combinations, but one would be:

  • A digital piano on the bottom
  • A controller keyboard on top connected via midi and using the sounds from the lower board

An ultimate combination may be:

  • Korg Kronos 73 or 88 on the bottom
  • Hammond SK1 73 organ on top

But there are numerous possibilities in all price ranges.