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Piano Question: Velocity Matters?

We just purchased a little keyboard, and after "oohing" and "ahhhing" at the number of songs that are included, the various instruments, etc. I checked what I'd long ago heard was an important thing in choosing an electronic keyboard for learning: "velocity."

It's my understanding that "velocity" is a measure of how hard you hit the key. Tap it softly and the sound is quite different than if you strike the key violently. The same song can sound very different played with different key-striking velocities.

This keyboard doesn't support that. Not that we're getting ahead of ourselves or something - this is just a "see if someone is at all interested" type of thing - but how important is it that an electronic keyboard have the ability to play different "velocities?"

7 Responses to "Piano Question: Velocity Matters?"

  1. For playing around and learning how to keyboard, it's probably not very important.

    Caveat, I'm not a piano/keyboard player, but I've talked about this a lot with my wife who took lessons throughout childhood and has mused about getting her old upright piano back from her parents.

    If someone gets really interested in playing, you can always increase the quality of the instrument in various ways (these apply specifically to electronic keyboards.. there are other axes for pianos):

    . Velocity sensitive keys (this should be just about everything but the very low end)

    . Does it talk to your PC? (MIDIUSB bridges are pretty common these days)

    . Weighted keys (feel more like a piano, probably important if you want to play one eventually).

    . Do they have pedals? (Or can you attach same)

    Keep in mind that if price is an issue and you have a Mac laying around you can buy just a MIDI controller and use Garage Band. M-Audio makes several inexpensive keyboards that seem to work very well in this regard. My wife's desire for something to tinker around with seems satisfied by the $99 version that you can buy at an Apple store, and it's not even weighted (though it is velocity sensitive)

  2. I will somewhat echo the above poster. Velocity is important if you are really serious (and by really serious, I mean more than just "dinking around"). Anyone who has any keyboarding experience at all will be frustrated by a keyboard that does not support key velocity, let alone doesn't have weighted keys.

    Although this may be going to far forward, I firmly believe that the best way for someone to learn piano or keyboarding is to do so on a real piano. Once they have a good background on that, then move onto the electronic instruments. Of course, this advice ignores the price of real vs. electronic as well as space requirements.

  3. My fiancée is a professional piano teacher (has had her own studio for 20+ years) and she strongly seconds Scott Crick's comment above, especially this part:

    Scott Crick said on May 18, 2008:

    I firmly believe that the best way for someone to learn piano or keyboarding is to do so on a real piano.

    The hidden cost to learning on a keyboard is that your technique will work on a keyboard, and perhaps not on an acoustic instrument. Touch is vitally important to playing piano literature and even expensive keyboards that support velocity and have weighted keys, will create playing habits that won't easily translate to an acoustic instrument.

    I am in the process of learning to play piano, and have access to both a good electronic keyboard (with weighted keys and velocity adjustments) and two acoustic pianos, and the difference between thme is astounding. Learning to play on the piano doesn't preclude also playing a keyboard. However, going the other direction would require far more effort, mostly to unlearn potential "bad" habits the keyboard allowed.

  4. Erik, It depends entirely on the level of the player. Some musicians will want a keyboard that has both velocity sensitivity and weighted keys that mirror the feel of a piano. However, for simply playing around and familiarizing yourself (or children) with how a piano works a non-velocity sensitive piano does the trick. Once your little one gets serious she'll want you to shell out the cash. 🙂

  5. If all you want to do is dink around, velocity isn't that important.

    But I played piano for 8 or so years, and I could never use a keyboard that doesn't support velocity.

  6. I think there is something which velocity adds over and above the technical exercise of playing the right keys. If someone eventually does decide they want to delve deeper into playing the piano or keyboard, an important part of that whole experience is knowing how the way you play effects the sound you get.

    Let me flesh this out a bit. When I was 4 years old or so, my parents bought my sister and I a keyboard. It was dead simple, unweighted with 76 keys and 5 different sounds, but it had velocity. We (my sister and I) both took up lessons. My sister had a traditional training, whereas I went through a Yamaha school for a while. After a while, after moving cities, we both eventually stopped our lessons, but both have a musical legacy which goes with that.

    Now, fast-forward into my second last year at highschool. I had taken up percussion and I was in the upper level music course, along with a couple of violinists, some very talented pianists, a bass player, a trombonist and a clarinet player. Needless to say, I had trouble when it came to performance assessments. There's only so much skill you can demonstrate in a percussion (note: not drum kit) solo. I ended up playing piano. Really simple stuff that many primary schoolers would laugh at.

    The thing is, while my fingers didn't always find the notes when I wanted them to, they did find them in the way I wanted them to. Playing a piano, especially a real piano, has a lot of feel in it. It's not just soft or hard, there are infinite variations between the two. My music teacher commented that while I obviously was no pianist, I knew how to control a piano. I put that down to our dinky little keyboard with velocity all those years before.

    As a post script, that keyboard actually lives on. I use it as a midi controller now and then when I get the chance to do composition, and even sometimes for live stuff through logic pro.

    All in all, I think velocity is worth sacrificing a few other bells and whistles for.

  7. For just playing around it is not necessary but if you want your music to have any sort of expression it is kind of required.

    It's the difference between talking in a monotone voice versus having variety in your speech.

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