The Difference Between Electronic Keyboards & Digital Pianos

By Gary Hill
There are many choices when it comes to electronic keyboards.

If you've ever considered purchasing an electronic keyboard, you might have gotten intimidated by all the various choices on the market. From synthesizers to organs and digital pianos to sampling keyboards, the array of instruments can be overwhelming to the novice shopper. There are important differences between the various types of instruments. Depending on your particular skill set and desired usage, you'll find a different instrument might suit your needs. It's important to understand the differences, though.

Electronic Keyboards

Electronic keyboards can mimic the sounds of acoustic keyboard instruments.

Electronic keyboards in general are any keyboard-based instrument that produces sound by using an electric source rather than a physical one. An acoustic piano, for instance, produces sound by striking strings with small hammers. In an electronic keyboard, the sound is produced artificially. Depending on the sophistication of the instrument, though, the sound can be quite convincing. In fact, many electronic keyboards can produce sounds that mimic acoustic instruments well enough to fool most ears.

Piano Attributes

Striking a piano key softly produces a different sound than pounding it does.

In order to understand a digital piano, one needs to have a grasp of the particular attributes that make a piano sound the way that it does. Outside of the general tone and sound, touch sensitivity is the central feature. Essentially touch sensitivity refers to the ability to alter the sound by striking the key with a different amount and type of force. In other words, striking the key softly will produce one sound, while hitting it hard makes another.

A Digital Piano Is An Electronic Keyboard

Every digital piano is an electronic keyboard.

It's important to know that a digital piano is, in fact, a type of electronic keyboard. The relationship between the two is similar to the one between an animal and a dog. A dog, like the digital piano, is a subset of animal (or electronic keyboard). While every digital piano is an electronic keyboard, every electronic keyboard is not a digital piano. So, it's possible to get an electronic keyboard that will simulate a digital piano, but with more capabilities.

Different Types of Electric Pianos

Not all electric pianos are digital pianos. The earliest electric pianos were similar to electric guitars. That's because the sound was produced by some form of string within the piano and sent out via electrical conversion to be amplified. These types of pianos still exist. Analog synthesizers that create the sound electronically have been made that function as electric pianos, too. Digital pianos, on the other hand, use sampled sounds (digital files) to create music. Pressing the keys trigger the samples.


The biggest consideration in terms of which instrument will have the most usefulness for a given musician is purpose. If you only intend to play it as a piano you should buy a piano. You will find that you can get a better quality keyboard by limiting to strictly piano for the same amount of money. If you want to produce piano sounds along with others, an electronic keyboard would be the way to go.