In the age of digital keyboards, there have been various different products made. Digital keyboards can have 49 keys, 61 keys, 79 keys, or the full 88 keys. Between 61 and 88 keys, which is better? Can you have as well of an experience with only 61 keys? Is having 88 keys practical for the average person?
Each kind of keyboard has its own advantages with the number of keys, quality, production levels, etc. The sizeable differences between 61 and 88 keys do well at showing their different strengths and weaknesses.
If you are short on time, here is an overview.
Also read: Best 61 Keys Keyboard Pianos
Also read: 7 Best Piano Keyboards With 88 Keys
Winner: Don’t want to read the full article? The editor’s choice is 61 keys.
When buying a new instrument, whether you have years of experience or are just starting out, the price plays a big role in the buying process.
Since a 61-key piano is smaller and has fewer keys than an 88-key piano, it tends to be a lot cheaper. There are good quality 61-key pianos out there at a very reasonable price. One example is the Casio piano, which is less than $150, depending on where you buy it. Some places sell 61-key pianos for less than $100.
You will not be able to find an 88-key piano for less than $100 unless you are shopping second-hand. The cheaper 88-key pianos, like Yamaha, start above $100. Usually, quality 88-key pianos will start around $200.
If you are an experienced piano player looking for quality, then splurging on an 88-key piano would be your plan. Though, you wouldn’t be buying the cheaper pianos made for beginners.
Beginners would want to start with the cheaper 61-key piano. It is a lot more cost-efficient. Starting out, you don’t need all the fancy tools that the more expensive pianos have. 61-key pianos, even though they are smaller and cheaper, are still good quality.
Verdict: 61-key pianos are the cost-effective option
If you are planning on taking your piano on the road and playing gigs, then the 88-key pianos may become a hindrance. 88-key pianos are around 5 feet long with the sides of the keys considered. The keys themselves are around 4 feet long.
Not only will an 88-key piano take up a lot of space in a car when traveling but will also be more of a hassle to set up and carry around. That’s like carrying around a whole other person.
A 61-key piano is just under 4 feet long at around 40 inches depending on the model. This is a lot smaller than the 88-key pianos and would be a lot easier to put in the car, set up and takedown, and carry around.
A smaller piano also works a lot better if you have a lot of other equipment. On a stage or in a studio, there’s only so much room. If you need room for production equipment or other instruments, a 61-key piano will help with saving necessary space.
If you aren’t planning on traveling and doing shows with your piano, you may still be concerned about how much space your piano will take up in your room/house. A 61-key piano is a lot more apartment or room-friendly. If you live with your family, a 61-key piano will take up less space in your room.
61-key pianos are great for the bedroom, a dorm, or if you simply don’t have a ton of extra space where you live. If you have extra space, then an 88-key piano wouldn’t be too much of an issue, but only if you aren’t worried about space.
The 61-key pianos also work great in educational settings where space is limited, and the extra range of keys isn’t necessary. Working with younger students doesn’t always require needing all the keys or other features that a 61-key piano lacks.
Verdict: 61-key pianos are the best for traveling and small spaces
This is where we find the 61-key pianos having a lot of downsides. With a 61-key piano, there are only 5 octaves of keys that you can play compared to the 7 octaves on an 88-key piano.
If you are a beginner on the piano, only having 5 octaves won’t be too big of a problem. However, with the more experienced players or the classically trained, a 61-key piano won’t do. Once hitting the advanced levels, the classical songs require the full 7-octave range.
There are workarounds that the 61-key pianos can do. In many of these pianos, there’s a system that allows you to access the 2 other octaves that are normally excluded with a click of a button. This will switch the sound of the keys of two of the octave ranges to be an octave higher or lower, depending on what the normal octave range of the piano is.
But even with this, there are limitations. In songs that are very fast, you won’t have time to switch to the other octaves while keeping the quality of the song. Not only will it take extra time to press the button/s to make the switch, but it will be distracting. Even for more skilled players, having to remember to make the switch to the other two octaves for a song can cause more mess-ups while playing.
Another limitation that 61-key pianos have is that they tend not to have weighted or hammer action keys. Having these kinds of keys allows for pianists to build strength and dexterity in their hands and fingers. Without this practice, getting to the faster and more advanced pieces will be more difficult to play.
With some pianos, having weighted keys allows for volume control while playing. This means that the harder you play a key, the louder the sound produced is. Having weighted keys allows for more details to be shown in the music being played. Without this, as many 61-key pianos don’t have this feature, songs can sound flat without nuances in sound.
88-key pianos do have weighted and hammer keys that give songs more depth.
However, with many of the 61-key piano’s limitations, they only start to apply to the advanced piano players out there. You can make it a long way with a limited octave range and less depth in sound. It isn’t until you start playing fast, complicated, or classical pieces that the limitations start to get in the way.
Verdict: The 88-key piano doesn’t have the same limitations that a 61-key piano has
This continues with the octave limitation workaround that the 61-key piano has. When you have an 88-key piano, you can see all the available keys that you have right in front of you. No octave can switch to being a different octave, and you don’t have to remember if it was switched or not.
Starting off with a 61-key piano can give you a skewed view of the keyboard, especially if you switch octaves frequently. You don’t know where all the keys are according to your hand placements the same way as you would with an 88-key piano.
If you are adamant about becoming great at the piano and would eventually need to switch to a 88-key piano anyway, having that skewed view of the piano can be a hindrance.
If you are more advanced, switching from an 88-key piano to a 61-key piano will cause misplacements of your hands and can cause frequent errors from hitting the wrong keys. You’ll be used to working with your hands in the 5-octave range, either missing the keys in the other two octaves or trying to use the octave switch workaround when it isn’t there.
Verdict: A 88-key piano is better for visually learning where the keys are and where the hand placements should be
If you are a fan of piano duets, you may be disappointed to find that 61-key pianos are not very duet-friendly.
First, many of the songs that make great duets require the full 7 octaves of keys. Without those octaves, it would make it difficult for those in the duet to play the song. Using the octave changing workaround can help with certain songs that would give you the time to do so, but many times, it would just be difficult.
Another reason why 61-key pianos are harder to duet with is sitting space. There is at least a foot of length difference between the two sizes of pianos, meaning you would really have to squish onto the bench to play the song of choice.
Sometimes, this space difference prevents a duet at all from not having the room for your hands to move. 4 hands across less than 4 feet of space can prove to be very challenging.
With 88-key pianos, there is plenty of space for the 4 hands to freely move around without bumping into each other. Parts wouldn’t have to be altered due to lack of space or lack of octaves.
Verdict: A 88-key piano is much more duet-friendly than a 61-key piano
We already touched on how a 61-key piano is better in a production studio due to it being smaller, but it is also better for overall music production.
With many 61-key pianos, they have features to create a whole orchestra with just one instrument. The Casio piano, for example, has the ability to sound like many different kinds of instruments from the flute to a tube to voice. These smaller pianos have editing features that give you much more creative freedom with the music you create.
Also, these smaller pianos have better abilities to hook up to sound systems or your computer for music modifications. This makes it easier to create your own pieces with less equipment while also saving space. Very good if your studio is on the smaller side.
An 88-key piano can have many similar functions, though many times they don’t have the same synthesizer capabilities that the 61-key pianos have.
When buying a piano on the cheaper side, both the 88-key and 61-key pianos will have around the same quality. However, as you get more expensive, the 88-key pianos usually last longer and have overall better quality. That doesn’t mean the 61-key piano is bad. They are still really good pianos with plenty of their own abilities.
Verdict: A 61-key piano is best for music production and sound creation
It can be tough to choose which piano is best for you. Of course, when you get to the advanced and professional side of the piano player life, the 88-key pianos will give you the freedom and quality you need.
However, when you are just starting out, a casual player, or producing your own music, the 61-key pianos can be your best friend. Costing less, saving space, being easier to travel with, having more production freedom, and being decent quality, the 61-key piano is better overall.
You don’t always need a fancy piano to get the job done, and the 61-key pianos will work just fine.
Linda Ritter is a passionate pianist and a songwriter for more than 7 years. With a Masters in Music, she has explored the world of music and has collaborated with several musicians and brands like Roland, Tune Core, and plenty of blogs.