Digital pianos offer excellent benefits over acoustic pianos in some situations. They're more affordable, more accessible and most importantly, they're quieter, meaning that now you can practice whenever you want.
Or so it would seem. Your digital piano's key noise might shock you when you finally get it home and start practicing it. What you thought would be a silent experience is now accompanied by this dull thumping sound.
Well, if you don't want the neighbors banging on the door at 3am while you're thundering through a Rachmaninov concerto, read on. I'll explain why digital pianos make noise, and more importantly, what you can do to mitigate it.
Do digital pianos make key noise?
This actually comes as a shock to lots of people who buy a digital piano. They expected silence when they plug the headphones in and weren't expecting the keys to make noise.
However, the simple fact of the matter is, the keys will make noise and there's nothing you can do about it. All pianos and keyboards have key noise - it's not as pronounced on an acoustic piano because the piano's sound drowns it out.
This is an inevitability, and until someone comes up with a way of replicating a real piano action that doesn't make any noise, you are stuck with it.
What causes digital piano key noise?
Digital piano key noise is caused primarily by one thing. However, there are a range of other factors that might cause your piano to be noisier than it should be. The primary thing that causes key noise is the action.
A digital piano's action is what makes it feel like a real piano and not a cheap keyboard. The keys have to be weighted down, which makes them heavy. The principal of a real piano action is that you get a sound when a hammer strikes the string, so even though this doesn't happen in a digital piano, you won't get a real piano feeling unless the key hits something.
That's what you're feeling when you play a digital piano - the key striking the bottom of the keybed. In fact, some of the Yamaha Avantgrand models even have a dummy piano action actually installed into the case to simulate this better. It's an amazing feat when you think about it, but the bottom line is that for you to get the feel of a real piano, the key needs to hit something, and when the key hits something (usually the bottom of the keybed) it will make a noise.
There are a range of other factors that might influence digital piano key noise - the weights in the keys may come loose and move about when playing, causing a clicking sound. You might spill something on the piano, or have dust get in underneath, which causes excess noise.
However, these are faults, and if you're experiencing them, you should have the piano looked at by a technician or send it back to the manufacturer if it's under warranty.
How to deal with digital piano key noise
While you might be frustrated that your piano is noisy, there are things that you can do to help dampen the sound. Be aware, though, that there is a certain level of noise that you're just going to have to deal with. If you try these steps and you're not happy with the level of sound caused by the keys, you might consider returning your new piano and picking a model that has a quieter action.
Put your piano on a mat, or on carpet.
While you might prefer a wooden floor, the fact is that if you place anything that makes noise in a room with a wooden floor, the sound is going to be much more live and have more reverberation than if you had it in a room with soft furnishings. The same applies to your digital piano. A room with a carpet or a mat will dampen the sound much more than if you put your instrument in a room with a hard floor.
Don't put your piano right up against a partition wall.
If you're worried about disturbing neighbors or other residents with your piano late at night or early in the morning, you might consider moving your piano away from the wall a little. If you live in an apartment complex or a newer home where the walls are very thin, the sound of the keys thumping away can transfer through the wall and disturb other people.
By moving your piano slightly away from the wall, not only is it good for the piano because there's ventilation and you're less likely to get mould behind it if you live in a high humidity area, you're also minimizing the risk that sound gets transferred to your neighbors through the walls. This advice also applies to upright pianos.
Ensure you keep your piano well-maintained.
As mentioned earlier, it's very likely that if dust or other foreign objects get in between or beneath the keys, they can cause excess noise. If you don't look after your piano, you may find this happens. If your piano develops faults, such as the weights in the keys become loose, you might also experience excess noise. Keep the keys covered when not in use, and if you're experiencing clicking or thumping that's not normal, consult a piano technician.
Keep the piano on the ground floor.
Obviously if you live on the 21st floor, this isn't going to be much use to you. However, for those who live in duplexes or in houses, this is a very useful piece of advice. We've spoken about sound transferring through walls, but sound will also transfer through the floor.
If you want to keep the noise contained and not disturb other people in your house, keeping the piano on the ground floor is a good way to do this. If you combine this with keeping your instrument in a carpeted room, you'll find that the sound dissipates much more effectively and shouldn't bother anyone else.
What else should I consider?
While all digital pianos make noise, some make noise more than others. For this reason, you will want to try out your piano at a local music store before buying it. Turn the volume down and play away. Just be aware that you can't get away from this - to some extent all digital pianos make key noise.
One of the other things you can do is use the built-in metronome rather than a separate one, especially if you're using headphones. It's one thing if your piano is quiet but you're having to practice with a metronome and the metronome is loud. Interested in how to use a metronome effectively? Check out my guide on how best to employ a metronome in your practice.
There are plenty of ways you can deal with it - I've just mentioned a few of them here. When you're buying your next digital piano, definitely take this into consideration - you'll be glad you did. Of course, if you want to really keep the noise down you'll need a pair of headphones. You can read my recommendations on which headphones to buy here.
Buying a digital piano? You might be confused about polyphony. Read my guide here.