Learning the piano is something lots of people express an interest in. If one sticks at it, and learns how to do it properly, it can bring a lifetime of achievement and musical joy. However, quite often, this isn’t the case, and many new learners get frustrated and de-motivated to the point where they quit after a few months.
This presents a dilemma for the person who bought them a piano to learn on, that now isn’t going to get used. To compensate for this, most financially responsible adults don’t go and buy a high-end upright or grand piano immediately; the first purchase tends to be a beginner keyboard, and if the learner expresses an interest in progressing with learning the piano after the first few months, at that point they upgrade.
What I’m going to go through today are five of the best keyboards for learning the piano. These keyboards will provide everything a beginner will need to get started with learning the piano, while at the same time being not too expensive so that if the learner does decide to quit, there’s not been a lot of financial investment into the instrument. Let’s get started.
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The 5 Best Piano Keyboards for Beginners; In-Depth
Our #1 Choice: Yamaha NP12 Piaggero Slimline Home Keyboard
Our Rating: 5/5
I’ve written about this keyboard before, because I think it’s such excellent value for the money you pay. Strictly, this isn’t a beginner model - it’s more of a beginner/intermediate model. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because you pay roughly the same amount for this as you would for any of the other beginner keyboards on this list.
What sets this model apart are two things; the attention to detail, and the lack of features. Notice I said the lack of features, and that’s really what I meant. There aren’t many features on this keyboard. No backing tracks, very few voices, and a very minimalist appearance.
Now, this is a blessing to some and a curse others, because Yamaha have overwhelmingly focused on giving you the best piano experience for as little money as possible. You get a few piano voices, some electric piano sounds, a harpsichord, MIDI capability, and that’s pretty much it.
However, notice I also said the attention to detail sets this model apart. Yamaha have really done an excellent job on this keyboard, to the point where it can almost be considered a digital piano rather than a keyboard. The action is graded, meaning it’s heavier in the bass and lighter in the treble, just like a real piano. And it’s actually very pleasant to play, and more than adequate for a beginner or intermediate player.
The quality of sound is very good too, as you’d expect from Yamaha; the onboard speakers deliver a crisp, clean sound that is very pleasant to the ear. Overall this is a really pleasant instrument to play and to practice on, and is more than adequate for anyone learning classical and jazz piano up to around Grade 5 or 6.
Just bear in mind when you get this that it’s focused on delivering a quality piano experience at a competitive price point, without the bells and whistles you’d expect on a keyboard. However, for longevity, this could be the best buy here; you’re not going to have to upgrade this in six months if the pianist outgrows their instrument; it’ll be a few years before any beginner outgrows this Yamaha, which is more than can be said for any of the other instruments here.
Our #2 Choice: Yamaha YPT-260 Portable Electronic Keyboard
Our Rating: 4/5
This is more the sort of thing we’d be expecting to see on this list; your standard Yamaha electronic keyboard. Yamaha have made models very similar to this since the 1980s. I certainly owned one very similar to this when I was a child; a Yamaha PSR-175. In all honesty this particular model, the YPT-260, is not all that different. The features and the sound quality have been improved, but the basic premise remains the same; a cheap and cheerful keyboard that will serve a beginner very well.
This piano is feature-packed, and contains everything a beginner pianist will need, and then some. There are over 400 voices and 130 accompaniment styles. Now, you won’t need these if you’re playing classical music, but if you’re playing rock music or funk music or something similar, you might find the plethora of voices and accompaniment styles interesting. However, even if you are learning classical, or you have a child learning classical, I will say that as a former piano teacher, children love playing around with the voices, and are much more inclined to practice if they find a voice they like or think is funny, so don’t write this keyboard off for classical pianists just yet.
This keyboard also contains a lesson function, where it will teach you how to play the built-in songs. This can be very useful if you don’t have a teacher or can’t afford something like Flowkey. It also contains recording functionality so you can record yourself practicing and then play it back to see what it sounds like.
As ever, with Yamaha, the build quality you get for the price you pay is impeccable. I can vouch for this, as the owner of several Yamaha musical instruments; you won’t go far wrong with this brand.
Our #3 Choice: Yamaha PSR-E363 Portable Electronic Keyboard
Our Rating: 4/5
The third Yamaha on this list. I guess it goes to show that they really dominate this market, with models to suit almost any price point or feature requirement. This piano is really not geared to the classical pianist, although it would be suitable for them. This piano is more geared towards students who want to play other styles, such as rock and funk. There are over 574 high-quality voices built-in to this keyboard. You’ll never run out of new voices to try and play around with, which for a budding pianist is a real plus. Never worry about becoming bored while practicing again!
Alongside the many hundreds of voices are 165 different accompaniment styles. For the budding composer, this would be a dream come true; you can jam to your hearts’ content. There are also over 150 preset songs, which if you so wish, you can use the onboard Yamaha Education Suite software to learn how to play.
What sets this keyboard apart from the competition is that Yamaha have written a series of iOS apps that pair with this keyboard, meaning that you can connect your phone or tablet, and hear your favourite music through your keyboard’s speakers. This is especially useful if you have custom backing tracks that you want to play along with.
Other features that I really liked include the Master EQ and reverb effects that can make it sound like you are in different rooms or environments, and the duo mode setting that splits the keyboard into two so you can play along with a teacher or a partner.
Our #4 Choice: Alesis Melody 61 MKII Electric Piano Keyboard
Our Rating: 2.5/5
This keyboard is noticeably cheaper than anything else here. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. If you’re on a tight budget, or don’t think you’ll stick at learning music, this is a good way to test the waters without potentially wasting too much money. However, I have to be honest, this model isn’t pleasurable to play at all, and you might find that your interest is put off by having such a poor quality instrument.
This instrument feels cheap, too. It really doesn’t feel like a quality product, and I’d be very surprised if it lasted more than a few months without something going horribly wrong. Some of the reviews have stated that there are quality control issues, including issues such as headphones not working properly and the keyboard not making any sound at all when you play the notes. This is disappointing, but I guess the old adage may be true; you get what you pay for.
There are some redeeming features, usually found on higher end keyboards. It includes a microphone input, so if you want to sing along with your playing, that’s easily done. This is not something I have found on many other keyboards at this price point, so if it’s a feature you value, this Alesis Melody may be a worthwhile choice. There are over 300 built-in sounds, even though they aren’t particularly good quality sounds. The piano also features several built-in songs and accompaniment rhythms, as well as a learning mode.
For the beginner, it’ll do, but I’d strongly suggest you put your money into something a little better.
Our #5 Choice: Casio CTK-2500AD Electronic Keyboard
Our Rating: 3.5/5
I’ve called this the all-rounder, because I think it offers the best feature set for the price you pay. I do think that anyone who is serious about their piano playing should stretch to one of the Yamaha models mentioned previously. However, I recognise that those feature sets are not necessarily important to everyone, and lots of people are looking for the best bang for the buck; the most features at the most reasonable price. And that’s what I believe this Casio provides.
This piano is very reasonably priced, and you get a lot for your money. Along with a 61 key full-size piano keyboard, you get a good grand piano sound, 100 different accompaniments and 60 included songs. You also get an onboard lesson mode, which I think is useful but not as good as the Yamaha Education Suite.
This keyboard could be very useful for learning, as it includes the ability to connect to an iOS device, where you can use an app called Chordana to play MIDI files on the keyboard itself. There’s a MIDI file for just about every song or piece out there for free, so if this is a feature that you think you might take advantage of, it’s certainly not something I’ve seen on many other keyboards.
Other than this, this Casio offers the ability to connect a media player so you can play along with your favourite songs, as well as something called “Dance Music Mode,” which will allow the player to control synth loops, drum beats and other effects so that they can create dance music tracks. This isn’t a feature I’d value, but I recognise that there are lots out there that would.
In a way, this Casio keyboard is almost a hybrid of the others; a good classical piano sound, the ability to compose your own tracks and play along with them, as well as a large selection of good-quality voices and built-in backing tracks. It’s almost like a compromise of all the features of all the other models here, and that’s why I’ve called it the all-rounder.
Is It Better to Learn Piano or Keyboard?
Now, I recognise that some of you learning this might be taking keyboard lessons instead of piano lessons. Keyboard lessons will primarily teach you how to play pop music using an electronic keyboard not unlike the models I’ve featured here; piano lessons will primarily teach you how to play classical or jazz music with an emphasis on music theory and note-learning.
While I’m not here to say which is better - that’s for you to decide - there are noticeable differences between the two, and it’s worth understanding what the differences are before choosing a teacher and an instrument. This website is geared towards those taking piano lessons and not keyboard lessons, but the advice here applies to both. Generally piano lessons will be more academic, and I feel that they’re more versatile; they give you a greater breadth of knowledge and the ability to do more things. However, the choice really is up to you and should primarily be influenced by the kind of music you like and what you hope to get out of music lessons.
The keyboards here can be used by a beginner taking either piano or keyboard lessons, and the advice is the same; they are for the most part intended for a beginner to test the waters and see whether they wish to continue with piano or keyboard lessons in the future, at which point you’ll want to look at upgrading.
If you need something a bit more upmarket, check out some of my other digital and acoustic piano reviews.