Are 61 keys enough to learn piano?

ARE 61 keys enough for a beginner?

Short answer, yes. 61 keys is in fact enough for a beginner to start learning to play the piano on. As long as you pick a 61 keyboard that has weighted action, touch sensitivity, sounds decent and octave shift feature. It will be able to take you through the beginning stages of learning to play.

Now there are positives and negatives to going with this approach that we will delve into. You should tailor your decisions to your own needs and habits. It’s often easy to get stuck in analysis paralyzation. Try to get out of thinking too much about the perfect technology before you start and choose the device that will make it easiest for you to start.

61 Key Musical Range

Your musical range isn’t as limited as you might initially think with a smaller keyboard. Most contemporary, pop and rock music can be played. If you look at it from a pure octave range, 61 keys covers a large portion of an orchestra’s range from the cello to the violin.

Original classical music initially targeted the Harpsichord and it’s limited 60 keys. So 18th and early 19th century composers like Bach and early Mozard work often can be played on 61 keys with no or limited modification. As the piano became mainstream and grew to 88 keys you will need to take advantage of a keyboard with octave shift/transpose feature.

Reason for a 61 key

Full sized 88 key digital pianos can get expensive in a hurry. If you haven’t already decided that you are willing and able to commit to the hobby. There is nothing wrong with going to a smaller, cheaper 61 key keyboard and dipping your toe into the water. Finding out you love it and then upgrade when you outgrow it.

If you’re not interested in playing classical music, 61 keys is enough for a majority of pop music. Going with a keyboard that features octave shift will allow you to play songs that do need the extra range of a keyboard. 

A big deterrent to practice can be a lack of space to leave your piano setup in the room. Each barrier you remove to practice is helpful. If you can leave a smaller keyboard setup but would need to set up and take down a digital piano after each practice. Eventually that extra friction to each practice session will result in you skipping it.

The keys on 61 key keyboards are generally  lighter to depress. If you suffer from arthritis, other joint difficulties. Or find fully weighted acoustic keys heavy; this can be a good intermediate step. You can still play while building hand strength and muscle memory before upgrading.

Disadvantages to a 61 Key

You can outgrow this size relatively quickly. If you are practicing daily and putting in effort to learn it’s quite possible to outgrow the piano in 6 months to a year. Or your musical tastes change and you want to tackle more classical pieces. 61 keys lacks the range required if classical becomes a mainstay of your repertoire. You’ll find yourself wanting to upgrade without feeling you’ve gotten value out of your initial purchase.

One of the bigger disadvantages to 61 Key keyboards often lack a sustain option or offered as an extra. While you can get away without a sustain pedal early on, you will eventually need it.  It’s best to make sure the model you choose comes with one at the start.

The lack of properly weighted keys can lead to incorrect finger techniques that you will need to unlearn later. For example, when you press a key you don’t want your knuckles to collapse. You might be perfectly fine on a keyboard but when you switch to a fully weighted keyboard that extra muscle strength required might cause your knuckles to collapse until you’ve built up additional strength.

Those other keyboard lengths

You aren’t limited to only 61 key and 88 key keyboards and pianos. They exist on the smaller scale at 49/52 key keyboards and large 73/76 key keyboards. There’s nothing wrong with these different sizes if they serve a purpose to meet your particular needs.

The 76 key keyboard in particular may be useful if you’re limited in space but want to play classical music. The extra keys will allow for a wide variety of classical music while still keeping the size down. 

most important features to look for

There are a myriad of options out there, trying to pick that perfect solution. A lot of it is noise though, talking about features you will never use or don’t matter. Looking at 61 key keyboard as a stepping stone to you learning to play a full 88 key digital piano. These are the features that matter most

Touch sensitivity

  • The keys respond to the velocity of your touch, resulting in louder or quieter sound.

Semi-Weighted keys

  • Semi-weighted keys have resistance to being pressed and provide more resistance in the bass end of the keyboard. They make a reasonable attempt to mimic the action of an acoustic piano.

Transpose / Octave shift

  • Ability to shift the keys up/down and octave to allow access to greater range than the keyboard would normally present.

Sustain pedal

  • Sustains the sound of the key played even after you lift your finger.

These features are the minimum required when you are looking to use a 61 key keyboard and planning a move towards a full sized digital piano. While there are other features, we think it’s better to cut the noise and just focus on the most important items. 

61 Keys is enough to start

So, 61 keys is indeed enough for a beginner to start with and carry you part of the way. If your intention is to become a complete pianist though you will need to eventually upgrade to a full sized digital or acoustic piano. Depending on how much time you have to dedicate to practice and how quickly you progress that could be a few years away.

 

Plenty of people have, and continue to go this route. It’s quite effective and if it fits your lifestyle and budget you can as well.

 

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