Digital piano

Digital piano
Yamaha's Clavinova is a long-running line of digital pianos

A digital piano is a modern electronic musical instrument, different from the electronic keyboard, designed to serve primarily as an alternative to a traditional piano, both in the way it feels to play and in the sound produced. It is meant to provide an accurate simulation of a real piano. Some digital pianos are also designed to look like an acoustic piano. While digital pianos may fall short of a real piano in feel and sound, they nevertheless have many advantages over normal pianos:

  • Compared to acoustic pianos, digital pianos are generally less expensive.
  • Most models are smaller and considerably lighter, but there are large ones as well.
  • They have no strings and thus do not require tuning.
  • Depending on the digital piano, they may include many more instrument sounds including strings, guitars, organs, and more.
  • They are much more likely to incorporate a MIDI implementation.
  • They may have more features to assist in learning and composition.
  • They usually include headphone output.
  • They often have a transposition feature.
  • They do not require the use of microphones, eliminating the problem of audio feedback in sound reinforcement, as well as simplifying the recording process.



In most implementations, a digital piano produces a variety of piano timbres and usually other sounds as well. For example, a digital piano may have settings for a concert grand piano, an upright piano, a tack piano, and various electric pianos such as the Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer. Some digital pianos incorporate other basic "synthesizer" sounds such as string ensemble, for example, and offer settings to combine them with piano.

The sounds produced by a digital piano are samples stored in ROM. Despite the fact that a digital piano plays samples, it is not a sampler because it lacks the ability to record samples. It does, however, qualify as a rompler.

The samples stored in digital pianos are usually of very high quality and made using world class pianos, expensive microphones, and high-quality preamps in a professional recording studio[citation needed].

Digital pianos do have limitations on the faithfulness with which they reproduce the sound of an acoustic piano. These include the lack of implementation of harmonic tones that result when certain combinations of notes are sounded, limited polyphony, and a lack of natural reverberation when the instrument is played percussively. They often lack the incidental acoustic noises associated with piano playing, such as the sounds of pedals being depressed and the associated machinery shifting within the piano, which some actually consider a benefit. These limitations apply to most acoustic instruments and their sampled counterparts, the difference often being described as "visceral".

On an acoustic piano, the sustain pedal lifts the dampers for all strings, allowing them to resonate naturally with the notes played. Digital pianos all have a similar pedal switch to hold notes in suspension, but only some can reproduce the resonating effect.

For the vast majority of listeners, however, professional recordings made with a digital piano are difficult or impossible to distinguish from a recording made with an acoustic piano.

Many digital pianos include an amplifier and loudspeakers so that no additional equipment is required to play the instrument. Some do not. Most digital pianos incorporate headphone output.

Shape and form

Yamaha P-140S

The physical form of a digital piano can vary considerably. Most vaguely resemble a low upright piano (but usually lacking a fully enclosed lower section). Others, notably Yamaha's "GranTouch" range are based on the casework of traditional upright or grand instruments. An opposite and recent trend is to produce an instrument which has a unique and distinctive appearance, unobtainable with a conventional instrument. Yamaha makes a model which is designed to stand against a wall and is far shallower from keyboard to back than any possible upright design.

Yet another form is the "stage piano", designed for use with a live band. This type of digital piano normally makes no attempt to imitate the physical appearance of an acoustic piano, rather resembling a modern synthesizer or music workstation. A distinguishing feature of most stage pianos is a lack of internal loudspeakers and amplification - it is normally assumed that a powerful keyboard amplifier or PA system will be used.

There are also digital piano modules, which are simply keyboardless sound modules chiefly containing piano samples. One early example of a digital piano module is the Roland MKS-20 Digital Piano.

Keyboard and pedals

Just like a traditional piano, a digital piano features a keyboard. A digital piano's keyboard is weighted to simulate the action of a traditional piano and is velocity sensitive so that the volume of the sounds depends on how fast the keys are pressed. Many instruments now have a complex action incorporating actual hammers in order to better simulate the touch of a grand piano[1]; these hammers do not actually hit strings, but since a real piano's hammer is in free flight when it contacts the string it could be argued that this difference would not affect the instrument's touch anyway.

Many digital pianos, especially those which physically resemble a piano, have built-in pedals which modify the instrument's behavior in the same way pedals on a regular piano do. As with traditional pianos, some digital pianos omit the sostenuto and/or the una corda pedals. Some digital pianos have jacks for pedals to be attached at the user's option.

Other features

Most digital pianos implement a variety of features not found on a traditional piano.

Digital pianos are implemented for MIDI, so they can control or be controlled by other electronic instruments and sequencers. They may also have a disk drive or other external media slot to load MIDI data, which the piano can play automatically. In this way, a digital piano can function as a player piano.

Some digital pianos have a built-in sequencer to aid in composition. They usually let you record a minimum of 2 tracks.

A digital piano may have lights associated with keys so that a beginning piano player can learn a piece by playing lit keys.

Some digital pianos can transpose music as it is played. This allows the pianist to play a piece using the fingering of a familiar key while the piece is actually heard in another.

A standard piano creates natural reverberation inside its soundboard and in the room where it is played. Digital pianos often have a feature to electronically simulate reverb as well. Other digital pianos may have additional reverberation options such as a "stage simulation."

In addition to reverberation, some (as seen on Yamaha's and Kawai's websites) have additional effects to add to the sound such as a "chorus" effect.

Other typical high-quality voices that go along with piano are strings, harpsichords, organs, etc.

Since the 1980s, computers and digital pianos have connected via MIDI to perform various functions such as software synthesis (computer-generated sound), musical notation (printing of music), Music sequencer (recording of MIDI and digital audio) and interactive music lessons (from lesson supplements to complete courses of study). Since 2000, a generation of CEMI (Computer Enhanced Musical Instruments) has emerged that incorporates software and internet technologies into musical instruments.

The ePiano is one example of how CEMI technology is incorporated into digital pianos.


Manufacturers continue to develop technology for both sound and feel covering a wide range of quality and cost. Well-known manufacturers of digital pianos include Yamaha, Roland, Kurzweil, Clavia, Casio, Korg, Kawai.

See also


  1. ^ "Behringer Eurogrand EG8080" Canadian Musician Jul/Aug2006, Vol. 28 Issue 4, p72. EBSCOhost: Academic Search Premier. Accessed December 16, 2007

External links

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