When you’re deciding which keyboard to buy, one of the key considerations you need to make is the number of keys that will be installed on the instrument. This decision will impact the playability of the keyboard and how much space it takes up.
Overall, a keyboard with 88 keys is much more versatile than a 61-key equivalent. It allows you to play over 7 ¼ octaves, as opposed to the 5 octaves offered by 61 keys, so that you can play with more expression. The only argument for 61 keys is that these keyboards are more space efficient.
Whether you will benefit from having an 88-key or 61-key keyboard depends on your circumstances and what you intend to use the instrument for. If you want to become the best pianist you can be, then having more keys will definitely be an aid. If you’re living in a small space, maybe the 61-key instruments will be the better option.
This article will break down the benefits and drawbacks of these two differently sized keyboards so that you can make a calculated decision.
61 Keys vs 88 Keys Comparison
Modern keyboards are available in a variety of sizes. Some are designed to closely resemble a grand piano, while others are compact and reduced in size to make them more practical for music production and performing live.
Two of the most popular keyboard sizes are those with 61 keys and 88 keys. The former allows you to play across five octaves, while the latter provides an additional two and a quarter octaves thanks to the extra 27 keys.
Firstly, if we’re looking at it from the standpoint of playability, an 88-key keyboard is the clear winner. These instruments have the same number of keys as a full-sized piano, and therefore you can play any piece of piano music on them.
The increase in the number of keys comes with an extension in the width of the instrument, though. Fitting an 88-key keyboard into a small space is going to be difficult, and it’s also going to be trickier to transport than a 61-key keyboard.
The question that you need to ask yourself is whether you are more concerned about improving your skills as a keyboardist/pianist or whether you value practicality more.
If you have the space available, I recommend opting for a full-sized 88-key keyboard, as this will simply increase the options you have when rehearsing, performing, or recording music.
On the other hand, if your space is limited, a 61-key keyboard is a great alternative that still allows you to play with expression without being as difficult to store or transport from one location to another.
Number of Keys vs Key Action
We’ve established the main differences between a 61-key and 88-key keyboard, but another thing that needs to be considered is the type of key action. If an 88-key keyboard has a poor key action, this will counteract the benefits provided by the additional keys.
The main types of key actions used by keyboard manufacturers are:
- Hammer action
Semi-weighted keyboards use a combination of springs and weights to provide a slightly realistic feel of a piano, and these are likely to be the least expensive of the three types.
Full-weighted keyboards don’t use any springs and therefore improve on the feel of semi-weighted keyboards. However, hammer action keys are the best choice if you want the ultimate playing experience.
Hammer action keyboards are designed to feel exactly like a piano’s keys, having weights and hammer mechanisms installed, which enhances the resistance and the touch of every key.
It’s important to consider the type of keys that are installed on a keyboard, along with the number of keys. If you want maximum playability and a realistic, piano-like feel, an 88-key hammer action keyboard is the gold standard.
Alternatively, if you’re not overly concerned with feel, you could opt for a more affordable semi-weighted keyboard that will still allow you to practice, perform and record keyboard parts effectively.
Which Keyboard is Better for Music Production?
When you invest in a 61-key or 88-key keyboard, you need to consider what you intend to use it for. If you’re a keen pianist looking to improve your skills, an 88-key instrument is going to provide you with the best platform for that.
Alternatively, you might be looking for a keyboard that can be used with recording software for music production. This may mean that it’s less important to have the additional keys at your disposal, and you’d rather save space in your home studio.
Many top producers use compact keyboards to trigger samples, input MIDI information, and tweak the various controls and parameters in their DAW.
If music production is your priority, a 61-key keyboard may be the best option. You should check that the keyboard comes with all the onboard controls that you need, as there will obviously be less space for them compared to the space available for a full-sized 88-key keyboard.
You’ll also be able to transport a 61-key keyboard much more easily than an 88-key instrument, which may be of benefit if you like to take your music production gear on the road with you.
Practicalities and Mobility
It’s incredibly important to consider not only the musical aspects of a keyboard but also the physical aspects. As we’ve discussed in this article, 88 keys are far better than 61 keys if you want to play with more freedom and expression.
Not everyone has the space to store or even use an 88-key keyboard, though. On average, 88 key keyboards are around 50” in width.
In comparison, a 61-key keyboard has a width of around 40”, which is considerably shorter.
It’s a good idea to measure the space that you have available, whether in your home studio, rehearsal space, or any other place that you intend to use and store your keyboard.
If you have adequate space for an 88-key keyboard, then, go for it. However, remember that you’ll need a large stand to use it for performances, and it will be more difficult to fit into a vehicle for transportation!
Do I need a MIDI keyboard?
If you would like to use a keyboard to control your DAW and record MIDI instrument parts, you’ll need MIDI capabilities. Most keyboards are connected to a computer via USB and can then be used as DAW controllers.
What is an octave shift control?
Keyboards have octave shift controls installed so that you can quickly move up or down the octaves when playing the same keys. This is particularly useful on a smaller-sized keyboard as it allows you to access more notes.
Is it OK to learn piano on a keyboard?
Learning to play piano on a keyboard is perfectly fine – many great pianists started out this way. A keyboard with weighted or hammer action keys will make it easier to transition to an acoustic piano in the future.