Updated: Jan 18, 2022
Many people tend to confuse one for the other. At first glance, it may be hard to spot the difference. We’ll clear all of that up for you. First, we must learn the definition of each instrument and then what separates them will become obvious. Let’s go!
Of course we can tell the difference between an acoustic piano and a digital piano. The digital piano does not have the hammers and steel-wires that create the sound. Digital pianos are electronic alternatives which may even have a reduced-amount of keys, for more portability (full-sized acoustic pianos have 88 keys).
Along with sound banks that include various emulated acoustic piano sounds, the digital piano may also include drum kit samples and other sound effects. The digital piano is very versatile and can be used in most musical compositions. In some instances, they may sound so realistic that it is difficult to know they are not acoustic, when hearing the recordings.
Speakers are also very common in digital pianos. This means that you could plug it in and start playing with no external speakers needed. It’s just an added benefit and makes these instruments easier to travel with. Some are heavier or longer than others, some are wider but at the end of the day, the purpose of digital pianos is to give the pianist user-friendly hardware for at home or on the go.
Knobs and features of digital pianos can range widely but popular models will usually come with pitch-bend and octave-changing capabilities. That’s what really sets them apart from acoustic pianos. One might argue that digital pianos are less limiting as far as creativity goes, especially when you consider all the advantages, such as playing a “wind” or “strings” solo or even doing a complete percussion track using nothing but the digital piano itself.
MIDI Keyboards (Controllers)
MIDI keyboards are not only more portable but more versatile than digital pianos. The big defining characteristic of the MIDI keyboard is that they themselves are not technically “instruments.” MIDI Keyboards are actually tools that control virtual instruments. Some will have built-in sound libraries but the ability to connect them to digital audio workstations (DAWs) is what makes them a must-have for music producers. Once they are properly set-up and communicating with the software, the possibilities are endless.
Depending on the price range, one could find MIDI controllers to meet many needs. If you are looking for something simple that fits in a backpack or an 88-key version with plenty of buttons, knobs and faders, you will find it. Some MIDI keyboards will even have very realistic-feeling piano keys to make playing more enjoyable and others may have built-in drum pads for percussion or to trigger certain actions.
Interestingly, many MIDI keyboards connect directly to laptops through USB cables which not only serve to transport the data but as a power source as well. This means that no external power source is needed; simply connect the MIDI keyboard to the laptop and it will be powered without having to connect the hardware to the wall (depending on the model). One less wire to worry about is good news for anyone who enjoys keeping a neat workspace.
Unlike digital pianos, which are pretty easy to shop for, when in the market for a MIDI keyboard, one must know what they plan to achieve before making a purchase. This is because of how many options there are. It can seem overwhelming but knowing what you wish to do with the controller will make it much easier to research and narrow down on the model that will get the job done.
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