Digital piano

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A modern Yamaha Clavinova CLP-470PE digital piano

A digital piano (not to be confused with electric piano and electronic piano), also known as piano synthesizer, weighted keyboard, or in the late-1980s, personal electronic piano, is a modern electronic musical instrument; a special type of electronic keyboard or synthesizer designed to serve primarily as an alternative to the traditional acoustic piano, both in the way it feels to play and in the sound produced. It is intended to provide an accurate simulation of an acoustic piano. Some digital pianos are also designed to look like an acoustic piano, both the upright or grand piano body style. Digital pianos use either an electronic synthesized emulation of the piano sound or a sampled piano sound, which is then amplified through an internal loudspeaker. Digital pianos typically have weighted or semi-weighted keyboards, which attempt to recreate the playing sensation of an acoustic piano.

While digital pianos may sometimes fall short of a real piano in feel and sound, they nevertheless have other advantages over acoustic pianos. Digital pianos cost much less than an acoustic piano and most models are much smaller and lighter in weight than an acoustic piano. As well, digital pianos do not need to be tuned, and their tuning can be modified to match the tuning of another instrument (e.g., a pipe organ). Since digital pianos produce their sound electronically, the volume can be made louder or softer using a volume control. Digital pianos can be connected to a keyboard amplifier or PA system to produce a sound loud enough for a large venue. At the same time, most digital pianos can be played using headphones, which means that they are quiet enough for practicing in an apartment or hotel room. Some digital pianos can also emulate other sounds besides the piano, the most common ones being pipe organ, electric piano, Hammond organ and harpsichord. Digital pianos are often used in school and amateur performances to replace traditional instruments, which are much more costly.


The following is a list of features that typify the digital piano:

  • Sound level/volume knobs, headphone outputs.
  • Typically low maintenance, unlike acoustic pianos.
  • Many incorporate a MIDI implementation.
  • May have features to assist in learning and composition
  • They often have a transposition feature
  • They do not require the use of microphones
  • Are often easily portable
  • Depending on the individual features of each digital piano, they may include many more instrument sounds other than regular piano samples. Many less expensive or average-priced digital pianos often include basic instruments such as strings, guitars, electric pianos, pipe organs, and harpsichords, while a more expensive and advanced digital pianos may have a wider range of instruments such as synthesized sounds, tonewheel organs, wind instruments, drums/percussion set, and a variety of effects, similar to that of a portable keyboard or synthesizer.
  • Typically feature weighted keys to mimic the feel of a traditional piano[citation needed], thus earning the term weighted keyboard.
    • In addition, most digital pianos often incorporate a scaled key mechanism in which the lower notes feels heavier than the higher notes, vaguely replicating the feel of an actual piano.


Minuet in F Major, BWV Anh. 113, by Johann Sebastian Bach from the Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach, played with a digital piano
Minuet in D minor, BWV Anh. 132, by Johann Sebastian Bach from the Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach, played with a digital piano
Minuet in G minor (BWV Anh. 115) from the Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach, played with a digital piano

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.

In general, the sounds produced by a digital piano are based on sampling, by which real piano sound samples are stored in ROM. The samples stored in digital pianos are usually of very precision recording and made using high-quality pianos, expensive microphones, and high-quality preamps in a professional recording studio.[1] ROM may include multiple samples for the same keystroke, attempting to reproduce diversity observed on the real piano, but the number of these recorded alternatives is limited.

Sample-based digital pianos do have limitations on the faithfulness with which they reproduce the sound of an acoustic piano. These might 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 high-end models can reproduce the resonating effect. Also, because piano sound samples are taken for only a limited number of intensity levels, digital pianos usually lack the continuous timbral changes that characterizes real acoustic pianos.

Some digital piano implementations, like Roland's V-Piano[1] and the software-based Pianoteq, use mathematical models based on real pianos to generate sound, which brings the ability to generate sounds that vary more freely depending on how the keys have been struck, in addition to allow a more realistic implementation of the distinctive resonances and acoustical noises of real pianos.

However, with the technological advances, recent digital pianos are mostly capable of recreating string resonances, reverberations and other acoustical effects via a digital signal processing and modeling technology.


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

Digital pianos usually offer a MIDI connection, allowing them to 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, allowing it to function as a player piano.

Some have a built-in sequencer to aid in composition.

It may have illuminated keys so that a beginner can learn a piece by playing keys that are lit.

Some can transpose music as it is played, allowing the pianist to play in a familiar key while the piano renders it in another.

An acoustic piano produces reverberation in its soundboard and in the room where it is played. Digital pianos often have a feature to electronically simulate reverberation as well. Other digital pianos may have additional reverberation options such as a "stage simulation." Some also have chorus, tremolo, and phaser effects.

Some offer additional voices; common ones are string instruments, harpsichord, organs, clavichord, etc.[2] A more expensive and advanced digital pianos often share similar characteristics to electronic keyboards, offering a more wider range of sounds.

Since the inception of the MIDI interface standard in the early 1980s, most digital pianos can be connected to a computer. With appropriate software, the computer can handle sound generation, mixing of tracks, music notation, musical instruction, and other music composition tasks.

Construction and components[edit]

The physical form of a digital piano can vary considerably, with a keyboard as the one constant feature.

Shape and form[edit]

Yamaha P-140S

Conventional and furniture[edit]

Most conventional digital pianos vaguely resemble a spinet piano or an electronic organ (but usually lacking a fully enclosed lower section). Some premium flagship models, like Yamaha's Clavinova Grand, Roland's V-Piano Grand, and Casio's Celviano Hybrid are based on the casework of traditional grand or upright pianos. An opposite and recent trend is to produce an instrument which has a unique and distinctive appearance, unobtainable with a conventional instrument. Yamaha and Casio makes a model which is designed to stand against a wall and is far shallower from keyboard to back than any possible upright design.

Conventional digital pianos, due to its form, offers less portability than the other types, and is mainly designed for use in single place (e.g. home or studio), and not intended for mobility such as on stage.

A few examples of conventional-type digital pianos are Yamaha ARIUS, Roland FP/F series, Korg SP series, Kawai CL series, and earlier models of Yamaha Clavinova.

Furniture digital pianos are a derivative of the conventional type and as the type implies, it offers a more elegant and contemporary design that often imitate acoustic pianos. Furnitures are mainly intended for home use (also as home decor), and is usually more expensive than conventionals. Some furniture digital pianos, especially the premium ones, often feature an actual piano wooden keys as opposed to weighted plastic or matte keys.

Examples of furniture digital pianos include premium high-end models of Yamaha Clavinova range, particularly those produced in 2009 onwards. Other similar product are Casio Celviano Hybrid and Roland V-Piano Grand.

Stage piano[edit]

Another common form is the stage piano, designed for use with live performances, professional audio, or in recording studio. 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.

Examples of stage pianos include Roland RD series, Casio Privia Pro, and Yamaha CP series.

Compact and portable[edit]

Yet another form is the compact digital piano, mainly designed for home or personal use. This type resemble that of a stage piano, but lighter and slimmer, allowing more portability. Unlike stage pianos, compact digital pianos were commonly equipped with built-in loudspeakers, usually has lower cost than other types, and its sound quality were often comparable or similar to that of a regular electronic keyboards due to a simpler sound synthesis system.

Most compact digital pianos doesn't need a special stand and could be freely fitted in a conventional keyboard stand, while some types also come equipped with both dedicated stand and conventional stand.

Compact digital pianos, for the sake of lower production cost, were often equipped with a less complex system for the weighted keys. As a result, the feel of the keys is usually much less realistic than other digital pianos. However, it still retain the scaled key mechanism (lower keys are heavier than higher ones), though not as precision as more expensive pianos.

Many examples of compact digital pianos are mostly those usually produced by Yamaha, Kawai, and Casio under the $900 price range.

Piano module[edit]

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[edit]

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 hard 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.[3]

Many digital pianos, especially those that resemble an acoustic piano, have built-in pedals that function much as those on an acoustic piano.


Digital pianos as every electronic device are highly sensitive to any kind of liquids. To preserve lifespan they should be located in clean environment while dust as well as liquids can damage the piano and affect the quality of sound. Therefore, the piano should be cleaned regularly and a cover should be used whenever the piano is not being used. To prevent some components of the piano from unnecessary wear it is highly recommended to turn off and unplug the piano when it is not being used. Extreme temperatures can cause different damages to the quality of sound as well. For example, it is recommended to keep digital pianos away from direct sunlight.[citation needed]


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 Casio, Clavia, Kawai, Korg, Kurzweil, Roland, and Yamaha.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Roland V-Piano". Retrieved 2014-05-12. 
  2. ^ "Beyond the Acoustic Piano". Digital Piano Basics, Part 2. Acoustic & Digital Piano Buyer. Spring 2012. p. 128. Retrieved 25 July 2013. 
  3. ^ "Behringer Eurogrand EG8080" Canadian Musician Jul/Aug2006, Vol. 28 Issue 4, p72. EBSCOhost: Academic Search Premier. Accessed December 16, 2007

External links[edit]

  • - includes history of the 290SE (first reproducing computer controlled pianos developed in 1978), their modern CEUS system, with complete audio files of songs & images.