Piano Geek Terminology

What’s the best keyboard for beginners?

Here’s a quick guide of the most common piano terminology 

Piano Geek TerminologyYou’re going to find out what the following piano terms mean:

1. Weighted keys

In our “types of pianos” post we explain the difference between digital piano and electric keyboard. Most digital pianos try to mimic the acoustic piano touch to make you have a real piano playing feel that’s why they’re called digital piano and not digital keyboard. We personally recommend weighted keys as it helps students build up finger muscles in the long run.

2. Touch sensitive keys (and dynamic levels)

If you press down a piano key gently, you’d notice a soft sound. When you press down a key harder, you’d hear a loud sound. And there are various degrees in between. ‘Touch sensitive’ basically means: the harder you strike the key, the louder the sound. So, it’s very important to buy a digital piano that has as many touch sensitive levels as possible so you can express your piano pieces in your own dynamic style that you want. Another explanation we can think of is in any song in general, the beginner verse is always quieter, but when you get to the chorus part where usually repeat itself multiple times, that particular part always tends to be louder. Therefore it’s cruical to express yourself this way so the song wouldn’t be boring. 

3. Graded hammer action

Here’s the definition of graded hammer action:

“With heavier key weighting in the bass (left-hand end) getting gradually lighter as you go up the keyboard (towards the right)…”

This mimics the exact feel of an upright or grand piano. Upright and grand pianos have hammers. The hammer strikes the string which then produces the sound.

4. GHS key touch

This is Yamaha’s terminology for their different key mechanisms. GHS stands for ’Graded Hammer Standard’. This is Yamaha’s basic key mechanism. The hammers are graded (see 3. above), but the touch is quite light. This can be found on their budget line: P35, P105 and YDP142.

5. Keyboard split

The keyboard split allows you to play a different voice (sound) over different parts of the keyboard. For example: You could choose a string bass when playing your left hand and piano soloing with your right above the treble clef Piano Geek Terminology. This is a useful feature to have when playing in a band, or even if you’ll be giving live performances on your own.

6. Polyphony

Most digital pianos today have the following polyphony: 64, 96, 128, 192 or 256. Older pianos can have 16 or 32 note polyphony. This number represents how many sounds can be played at the same time. It also includes notes that are held down by the pedal. 64-note polyphony is probably more than you would ever need. However, if you desire a digital piano that has many different instrumental sounds, effects, rhythm, percussion, and sound layering, then you might need a higher polyphony if you use a few of these features at the same time. This is because when you combine multiple effects with complex chords and long sustained notes with the pedal, then the polyphony value can multiply. Our honest recommendation is that we think 64-note polyphony is good enough for nearly all types of music and complex pieces. 128-note polyphony might come in handy for composers and the like.

7. Midi IN/OUT (USB)

MIDI allows you to connect your piano to your computer. This is a really useful feature. Whatever you play on your piano can be replicated in note form on your computer. This is great if you want to write your own music! Some pianos have a USB port for a memory stick. This does the same as the Midi IN/OUT mentioned above. But you don’t need a cable.

8. Aux IN/OUT

Connect your piano to any speaker system, amplifier (to get more volume), home stereo system (hi-fi), mixer, sound system or MP3 player. Some digital pianos don’t have the Aux IN/OUT feature. If you’re piano doesn’t have this, then you can use the headphone jack to connect to an amplifier or any external device, but you won’t be able to play any devices through the piano system (such as an MP3 player or iPod).

  • USB TO HOST is plug and play simple for recording and playing back MIDI files, as well as transferring data to and from your computer.
  • USB TO DEVICE is for connecting optional peripheral USB storage devices like floppy disk drives and thumb drives*. When a USB flash memory is inserted in this instrument’s USB TO DEVICE terminal, user songs created on the instrument and the registered settings can be saved to or loaded from the memory medium. USB flash memory can also be used to transfer song data downloaded from the Internet to the instrument, where it can be used with the performance assistant technology and the Yamaha Education Suite features mentioned below. Furthermore, user songs saved to USB flash memory in MIDI file format can also be used with these features.

9. Record function

In our opinion, a basic record feature is all you really need. Most digital pianos have a Midi feature that allows you to connect directly to your computer. You can then do more advanced recordings. With the basic record feature you can usually record up two tracks. Whatever you play will then be saved inside the piano’s memory. You can then play it back anytime you want.

10. Built-in metronome

The metronome is simply a constant tapping noise that helps you to play in time to the music. This is a useful feature if you’re studying for an exam or performance. With the built-in metronome you can set the speed of the metronome to any tempo you want.

11. Transpose

Speaking of transposing as a group of music educators we truly don’t recommend students to use too much of that.  We only recommend using this function if you wish to accompany another instrument playing live as an emergency solution then the transpose feature will come in useful.

For example: Your friend plays trumpet. The trumpet is a Bb instrument. Middle C on a trumpet sounds the same as Bb on a piano. The transpose feature allows you to change the pitch of your piano to align with the pitch of the instrument you’re playing along with – In this case, the trumpet. In our opinion, piano player should just learn how to play in the Bb key instead of avoiding it.

12. Reverb

Reverb is short for reverberation. This feature gives a slight echo (lingering) after the note has been played. It gives a similar effect to playing in a large concert hall. There are usually a few reverb selections to choose from: Room, stage, hall, theatre and concert hall. Usually, the larger the hall is, the longer the echo. You just have to decide which effect you want.

13. Dual voice

This is a rather nice feature. The dual voice allows you to combine different sounds. So, one sound would overlap the other. For example: when you select piano and strings together, you get both sounds playing at the same time.

14. Scale tuning

Scale tuning could mean a number of things. Commonly it refers to the type of tuning. The piano is tuned to an ’equal temperament’ scale. Other scales that used to be common but are rarely used today are the ’Mean tone’ scale, ’Pythagorean’, and ’Just intonation’. It’s highly unlikely you’d make use of the ’scale tuning’ feature.

15. Display screen

A display screen might be useful if you’ve got young children learning to play. Some type of display screen has many musical games that teach children the names of notes, pitch, rhythm, and how it all relates to the piano’s keys. (But you can get these piano games online for free anyway). Other types of display screens can be found on piano that have hundreds of functions such as lyrics or notation display which would be very helpful for students that are learning to play the piano. But, on the other hand, a display screen is really just one extra thing that can go wrong, or suffer accidental damage.

16. Pitch Bend

Just like bending a string on a guitar, you can easily change the pitch from one note to another. On an acoustic piano you can never do that but on digital pianos all the nobs and buttons you pay for can provide you with that function.

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When we were all just starting out buying any pro instruments for the first time, we made all kinds of mistakes before such as buying a digital piano home but found out it's either too complex to use or with too little functions then ended up having to take it back for an exchange or what not. Don't you just hate that? So we started writing digital piano reviews by analyzing every aspect of each model thoroughly and putting my information together here in one location. Enjoy!

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