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Learning Piano On 61 Keys: Why 88 Keys Is Better

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In the age of digital pianos, learning how to play music has become easier than ever. There are so many options out there from full-sized 88 key pianos to miniature 61 key pianos. 61 key pianos are typically more cost-effective, but you’ve probably wondered if you can actually learn to play the piano with fewer keys. The answer below just might surprise you!

So, can you learn piano on 61 keys? Yes, you can learn how to play the piano on 61 keys, but there will be limitations on what music you can play.  A 61 key piano only has 5 octaves which are not always enough for some repertoire. This may require musicians to transpose and adjust the sheet music to fit the instrument. For this reason, 88 key pianos are the preference as there are no limitations on what music someone can play. 

If you’re new to the piano, knowing what kind of instrument to get started with can be confusing. In this guide, I’ll break down some of the pros and cons of a 61 key piano, and why I believe 88 key pianos provide a better musical experience. 

can you learn piano on 61 keys

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Advantages Of 61 Key Pianos

61 key pianos may be smaller instruments, but they provide a ton of value. Even though a standard piano has 88 keys, there is still a lot you can do with fewer keys. A 61 key piano is good for beginners looking to explore the piano. 

Digital pianos with less than 88 keys are great for learning early to intermediate pieces. They are also great for other activities such as music production, classroom activities, and group music activities. They save on space, are portable, and perfect if you’re just starting out as a musician. 

Pianos with fewer keys tend to be more cost-effective solutions compared to 88 key pianos. They’re not just instruments for children as they offer features that adults would love to have in their instruments too. Here’s a list of the many advantages of a piano with lesser keys. 

  • 61 key pianos are compact and space savers
  • Generally less expensive than 88 key pianos
  • Easier to use for music production
  • Music performance and production features
  • Perfect instruments for gigs and touring

Saving on space is really important when it comes to musical instruments, and 61 key pianos fit into that mold perfectly. You can easily slide these digital pianos under a bed, in a closet, or into a tight corner. The shorter length allows for easy transportation in a vehicle too. If you plan to use this piano not just to learn on but to perform on then it’s great. 

When it comes to music production, saving on space is important. 61 key pianos have a transposition feature that allows you to get the same benefits of an 88 key piano.

You can get those additional 2 octaves back with the touch of a button. The less space the keyboard takes up, the more room you have for other recording equipment. Even in live performance, you can transpose mid-song if the music requires it. 

In addition to transposition features, most 61 key digital pianos have performance and production features built-in. This includes options like drum pads, touch weight, ambiance filters, recording modes, lesson modes, metronome, and app syncing displays.

You can also find these features on 88 key pianos, but not the drum pads as often because of how much space the additional 2 octaves takes up. 

Affordability is also important when it comes to 61 key pianos. Customers can expect to pay 1/3 less than they would for an 88 key piano, and that’s for a good quality 61 key piano. There are certain brands that always set a high standard for digital pianos.  You can learn about some of the best digital piano brands here.

Below are my favorite 61 key pianos that offer the most features and quality for the price. 

Casio CTK-2550

Yamaha Np12

Casio and Yamaha are some of the top digital piano brand makers in the world. There are other great brands such as Roland and Korg, but those instruments cater to musicians looking for specific needs. They make models with more advanced features for live performance and tend to be complicated to use.

If you’re looking for a basic instrument that’s easy to operate with simple navigation for sounds and features, then your best bet is a Yamaha or Casio piano.

When it comes to certain styles of music such as Pop, Jazz, or Rock, there is definitely a huge selection of music that works great for 61 or even 76 key pianos. You can play anything from simple songbooks and modern favorites without worrying about running out of keys.

This is also the case for some, but not all Classical music. For example, Baroque era music by Bach was composed in lower octave ranges than some music of the later era. Part of this had to do with how pianofortes had lesser keys during that period of time. Beginner to intermediate technical exercises is also easy to play on a smaller instrument. Piano music in the beginner and intermediate levels tend to not go beyond 6 octaves in range. 

Disadvantages Of 61 Key Pianos

While I love so many aspects and features of 61 key pianos, there are some clear disadvantages. Especially for someone who wants to take their piano playing to the next level, a 61 key piano is not going to be the best option for you. Below is a quick breakdown of where 61 key pianos actually hinder the playing experience for pianists:

  • 61 key pianos only have 5 octaves instead of 7
  • Transposing workaround only works for some music
  • Visual development of the piano is skewed
  • Keys can be accidentally missed while playing
  • 61 key pianos feel cramped compared to 88 key instruments
  • It’s hard to play duets with fewer keys
  • Not all 61 key pianos have weighted/hammer action keys

61 key pianos lack enough octaves to play standard piano repertoire. Anything beyond 5 octaves is going to be unplayable, so forget those Beethoven Sonatas and Chopin Waltzes you dreamed of playing!

Even with the option to transpose the instrument, there is only so much you can do at a time with a 61 key piano. In general, most romantic era compositions will not be playable. Anything by Chopin, Liszt, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, Debussy will be tough to play. That kind of difficult repertoire utilizes the entire instrument from the lowest to the highest octaves.  

Some workarounds such as transposing the instrument mid-song can make some pieces playable, but it’s not really a solution.

It’s impossible to hit the transpose button in the middle of some pieces where the music is moving quickly and both hands need to play at the same time. Notes would have to be dropped out and overall that leaves to a less than pleasing musical experience. Having to press a key in the middle of playing is distracting and can actually cause you to mess up frequently. 

An often-overlooked disadvantage of 61 key pianos is the inability to really play duets with someone. Four hand piano compositions will be much tougher to play. Not only is there less room to maneuver, but the parts would need to be transposed and moved around, or doubled in order to play something simple for four hands. 88 key pianos, on the other hand, provide enough octaves and space for pianists to move around freely and play together with ease. 

One common issue with 61 piano keys is in the playing mechanism itself.

A majority of 61 key pianos do not have weighted or hammer action keys. Having that weight is essential for developing strong enough fingers and consistent playing techniques. Touch sensitivity is important, and no matter how many keys a digital piano has, this can be an issue.

That’s important that if you are in the market for a 61 key piano, that you make sure it has this feature. Read this article on hammer action and weighted action to learn more about this feature. 

An 88 Key Piano Is Better Than A 61 Key Piano

At the end of the day, an 88 key piano is always going to be better than a 61 key piano. With an 88 key piano, there are simply no limitations on what you can do. Be it Beethoven or your favorite Disney piano tune, you can play it all. If you plan to become a serious pianist someday, then you’ll want to start with an 88 key piano from the beginning. 

A 61 key piano is a nice starting point to get your feet wet and see if the instrument is right for you. As you advance as a musician you will simply outgrow a 61 or 76 key piano over time. That means another investment needs to be made, sometimes in less than a year depending on how well you learn the piano.

Besides, 88 key pianos tend to last longer because they are more expensive and have better quality. 

If you do decide to purchase a piano, see if you can find an acoustic piano. Real pianos have true hammer action and produce an authentic sound. Many digital keyboards are great at reproducing the sound, but nothing does it quite like a real instrument. Here’s a list of some differences between digital and acoustic pianos

To learn more about how to choose the right piano for you whether it’s a digital or acoustic piano, read this piano buying guide. It breaks down everything you need to know about purchasing a piano from start to finish.