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#1571619 - 12/06/10 09:51 PM Questions: Keyboard action types, choosing a keyboard
simpler Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 12/04/10
Posts: 2
Hi, first post, and I have lots of questions. Don't run away!

I currently dabble with keys, and I'm going to begin learning a bit more, self teaching from a book. I'm mosty interested in synths (psychedelic stuff) and electric piano (funk/jazz), with a mild interest in jazz piano - which might progress, who knows at this point. I've been using a cheapy MIDI controller to play around with (non-weighted), and I'd like to find something with a better action. Questions:

I've read that Rhodes pianos have waterfall action. What exactly does that mean? I know of non-weighted, semi-weighted, and hammer, graded and non-graded.

Looking at my broad interest in keys at the moment and taking into consideration that I'm pretty much a beginner, would one action type be better than the others for learning the fundamentals? Are there any major benefits to learning the basics on a piano action as opposed to a synth action?

I've seen some of the lower end Yamaha stuff mentioning graded soft-touch action. Is that semi-weighted?

Thanks for your time.



Edited by simpler (12/06/10 09:52 PM)

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#1571636 - 12/06/10 10:54 PM Re: Questions: Keyboard action types, choosing a keyboard [Re: simpler]
zx629 Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 11/18/10
Posts: 18
Waterfall keys are the type you see on pianos. Diving board keys are the keys you see on later hammond organs and keyboards and synths. If you're interested in synth stuff you may prefer the diving board style with semi weighted action. If you want to learn Piano you'd want a weighted (fully, not semi) hammer action (waterfall keys). Those vary from brand to brand and by price range so you'd want to check out some different ones to see which you prefer. Hope that helps.

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#1571643 - 12/06/10 11:11 PM Re: Questions: Keyboard action types, choosing a keyboard [Re: simpler]
anotherscott Online   content
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/20/10
Posts: 3076
There are 3 basic key shapes:

Waterfall keys are traditional of organs. They have square (solid) fronts with no lips.

Piano-style keys are similarly solid looking but have a small lip in front.

Diving board keys look kind of like diving boards... they don't have a solid front, instead they are more triangular, jutting forward at the top. They are typically associated with synths.

Yamaha's Graded Soft Touch is not actually weighted, but it does provide increasing resistance as you move toward the bottom of the keyboard and less as you move to the top, to emulate one characteristic of real pianos. It does not feel nearly as piano-like as a weighted action, but it is better for piano than most other non weighted action keyboards are.

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#1571654 - 12/06/10 11:30 PM Re: Questions: Keyboard action types, choosing a keyboard [Re: simpler]
Bob M Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/02/09
Posts: 208
Loc: North Carolina
Simpler,

After you've done a bit more browsing, you will probably notice that pro keyboard players want at least 2 "boards" in their "rigs"--a weighted piano action one for piano material (the key swings a weighted lever) and an unweighted synth keybed for organ, synth sounds, etc.(metal coil springs under each key), for other sounds and instruments. I had a "semi-weighted" midi controller for a short time--the only difference from the unweighted version being metal slugs glued to the underside of the white keys. I sent it back, as it was not very different from the unweighted ones. That the pros want both styles of keybeds tells you that there isn't really a "better".

I have a Yamaha NP 30, and like the feel of any of the Yamaha boards with "graded soft touch action". Rather than metal springs, each key pushes on an elastic donut to trigger the contacts. There is a higher resistance at the top of the key travel than at the bottom, which is the opposite of the way the coil-sprung keys feel. It is a very light action but simulates like the feel of a weighted DP action, and is described by many as very pleasant to play. Push down 6-7 white keys with the side of your hand at the same time on different boards and you will see what I am talking about.

Since you have been playing around for a while, maybe you are ready for a Korg, Yamaha, or Casio digital piano? If $500 is too much to commit at this time, try a Yamaha "graded soft touch" board (Best Buy had a great price, $200, on a 76-key board at Thanksgiving). Oh, the Alfred "Adult Beginner" book would be really worth $20!
_________________________
Bob M

Charles Walter Model 1520
Yamaha NP 30, NP 11, PSR E333

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#1571664 - 12/06/10 11:47 PM Re: Questions: Keyboard action types, choosing a keyboard [Re: simpler]
ChrisA Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/28/08
Posts: 3841
Loc: Redondo Beach, California
Originally Posted By: simpler
.. I'm mosty interested in synths (psychedelic stuff) and electric piano (funk/jazz), with a mild interest in jazz piano - which might progress,


The defining characteristic of a piano is the unique weighted hammer action. The keys cause hammers to move and the hammers have mass you can feel through the keys. Organs don't have that, synths don't either.

After that all the rest is "just details". You have to decide if you want a weighted hammer action or not.

There are some compromises and these tend to also be low cost. Each company's entry level digital pianos have very light action.

WHat you need to do is take headphones and a notebook to the local Sam Ash or Guitar Center and play every digital piano in th store. Don't look at price tags or brands. But do write down the make and model and your impression of the key action. Then at home look up on the wen which key action was in the pianos you tried.

It would help a lot if you also had access to a real acoustic grand piano.

You will need to make several trips and do keep notes. Only after you can describe and compare the different key actions should you buy.

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#1571670 - 12/06/10 11:54 PM Re: Questions: Keyboard action types, choosing a keyboard [Re: Bob M]
simpler Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 12/04/10
Posts: 2
Much thanks for the info, everyone.

Anotherscott, the explanation of different key types is very appreciated.

Bob M, you pretty much hit the nail on the head. I could swing $500 for something like a p-85, but that would leave me broke at the moment, so I'm considering the lower end Yamaha stuff, like the np30. Are the keys on the np30 and similar Yamaha keyboards fullsize? Also, I've been keeping an eye out for a cheap/used upright. I'm sure that one will turn up eventually. Maybe I should run a wanted ad. Btw, I have a copy of The Piano Handbook on the way. I don't know if it will be as good of a book as the one you mentioned, but I'm sure that I'll learn something from it with some motivation behind me.


Edited by simpler (12/07/10 12:05 AM)

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#1571734 - 12/07/10 03:17 AM Re: Questions: Keyboard action types, choosing a keyboard [Re: simpler]
LaRate Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/11/10
Posts: 249
Loc: Germany
There are basically three attributes to distinguish:

1. Key shape: (as mentioned above)
  • Piano Style (solid, small lip in front)
  • Waterfall (organ style, solid, more suitable for typical organ play techniques, licks etc)
  • Diving board

2. Weighting:
Piano keys are made from wood and therefore have a specific weight that makes them feel in a characteristic way. Electronic Keyboard keys are often made of plastic - to emulate the momentum of a real piano key, manufacturers add weights to the keys:
  • unweighted - typical for synths and simple keyboards
  • semi-weighted - added weight, but not up to the full amount of wooden keys
  • fully weighted - added weight to the full amount or use of actual wooden keys (e.g. Kawai CA series, MP10)


3. Action Type:
  • spring action - keys are returned by a spring mechanism, typical for synths, unweighted or semi-weighted keyboards
  • hammer action - keys are joint with little hammers that strike a padded surface when a key is played, the key is returned by the hammer weight
  • graded hammer action - the hammers have different weights to emulate a real piano action - the hammers in the discant area are lighter, the hammers in the bass area are heavier


In theory one could combine all of these values, in practice, some restrictions apply:
- (Graded) Hammer action keyboards are almost always fully weighted (I know of no semi-weighted hammer action).
- (Graded) Hammer action keyboards are almost always piano shaped
- Fully weighted does not necessarily mean hammer action (e.g. Kurzweil builds fully-weighted spring actions), but most fully-weighted keyboards are of the hammer action type

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#1571799 - 12/07/10 07:22 AM Re: Questions: Keyboard action types, choosing a keyboard [Re: simpler]
anotherscott Online   content
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/20/10
Posts: 3076
Originally Posted By: simpler
I could swing $500 for something like a p-85, but that would leave me broke at the moment, so I'm considering the lower end Yamaha stuff, like the np30. Are the keys on the np30 and similar Yamaha keyboards fullsize?


P85 and P95 have 88 weighted keys. NP30 has 76 unweighted (but "graded soft touch") keys, The NP30 doesn't feel nearly as close to a real piano as the P85/P95 do, but it is reasonably playable, more so than most other unweighted keyboards.

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#1571897 - 12/07/10 10:02 AM Re: Questions: Keyboard action types, choosing a keyboard [Re: simpler]
AndyT Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/31/09
Posts: 120
Loc: Cambridge, UK
nice Summary LaRate thumb

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#1572346 - 12/07/10 10:34 PM Re: Questions: Keyboard action types, choosing a keyboard [Re: simpler]
Bob M Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/02/09
Posts: 208
Loc: North Carolina
Simpler,
A used upright will not be cheap. We moved my wife's piano from her mothers ($180), did 2 tunings ($180), and the instrument still is brittle and metallic sounding, particularly in the lowest octaves. And it's a semi-tone down, which would take another 2 or 3 tunings to raise to standard pitch. I go to it some, but my DP sounds so much better and is more flexible (volume control, headphones, touch adjustment, etc.) that most of my hour plus each day at piano practice is spent on it. I would love to have a good acoustic piano, but have neither the space or the skill to justify it at present. BUT, I don't pass up the opportunity to sit down and play any grand piano I come across, when no one else is listening.

You'll end up paying close to $300 for the NP 30 new, and I doubt you will find a used one since people, like me, who move up to a digital piano, hang on to them because they are a pleasure to play and are so portable. A used Yamaha P85 at around $300 would be a real "find", and Guitar Center occasionally offers a Casio CDP 100 for around $300. These, or other used DP's with weighted actions, would be better values IMHO.
_________________________
Bob M

Charles Walter Model 1520
Yamaha NP 30, NP 11, PSR E333

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#1572350 - 12/07/10 10:49 PM Re: Questions: Keyboard action types, choosing a keyboard [Re: simpler]
Bob M Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/02/09
Posts: 208
Loc: North Carolina
Simpler,
Don't miss "Just as good as an acoustic....?" on the Adult Beginners page.
_________________________
Bob M

Charles Walter Model 1520
Yamaha NP 30, NP 11, PSR E333

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