Do Adult Beginners Need A Weighted Keyboard?

Do Adult Beginners need a weighted keyboard?Yes! Adults taking piano lessons need a weighted keyboard to develop the fine motor skills necessary in order to produce the sound they intend while playing piano.

We must gauge how much force to use within the tiny downstroke of the key, and that is next to impossible with no key-resistance.

If there is no resistance when you press a piano key down, there will not be enough feedback for our muscles to send the “programming” information to our fine-motor-skills learning center (our non-conscious mind).

The problem is that it won’t feel that much different when we play loud or soft, staccato and legato, etc.  It’s also harder to gauge exactly at what point in time you want the note to sound (to play in rhythm) without key-resistance that gives feedback to our fine motor skill muscles.

Without enough “key-resistance” the toning of the muscles and transmitting of the necessary information to our brains will not occur to the degree necessary.

If your piano keyboard has no key-resistance, it will create excessive tension in your hands, fingers and wrists.  This will inhibit the development of successful practice habits.  In fact, you will develop bad playing habits that take months to “un-learn” if you play piano keyboards without enough “touchweight”.

All the subtle effects we produce in order to play musically are greatly affected by key-resistance.

The distance a piano key travels is only 3/8”.  However, on a grand piano when you push the key down, it lifts a felt hammer almost 2” (1 7/8”) which means the hammer is traveling five times farther than the key.  The hammer is also traveling five times as fast as the piano player depresses the key.

So a uniform feel on a well regulated keyboard is of the utmost importance if we are to consciously train our non-conscious minds.  We only have a mere 3/8” to gauge the proper amount of force required for producing the sounds we intend.

What Does Piano “Touchweight” Mean Exactly?

Piano “touchweight” is the amount of force required to depress a piano key.

Static Touchweight (Downweight) is the minimum force needed to get the key to go down.  It is currently measured in grams.  The “average” piano keyboard touchweight on a modern piano should be around 50 grams.  The lower register is around 52 grams, the middle of the keyboard is about 50 grams, and highest part of the keyboard is approximately 47 grams.  There are many factors that affect touchweight in the real world, causing an individual piano’s touchweight to vary greatly.

Dynamic Touchweight is the force needed to depress the piano key during different playing conditions.  If the sustain pedal is down, or not, if notes are repeated at varying speeds, and if a note is played loudly or softly, etc.

Upweight is how much weight the depressed piano key can lift as it returns to the up position.  It should be at least 20 grams.

Here is a 2 minute video explaining downweight and upweight for a grand piano key:

Why The Difference In Piano Touchweight?

Upright Piano

Acoustic (traditional) pianos usually have enough resistance due to their design.  That being said, there is a huge difference in key-resistance depending on several factors.

Grand PianoUpright piano keys look like they are the same as a grand piano but there is an important difference that greatly affects the action.
The uprights have shorter keys overall, and the inner workings are quite different than a grand.
On uprights the key-resistance of the black keys is usually greater than it’s white keys whereas a grand piano’s will be more uniform because the keys are longer.

Unfortunately, traditional acoustic pianos can vary greatly in touchweight.  The graduated standard weight of a modern piano keyboard is between 47 to 52 grams.

They have approximately 48 grams of resistance in the middle of the keyboard.  The lower (bass) keys are heavier, and the higher (treble) keys are incrementally lighter as you move up the keyboard.

Check out this excellent video about the touchweight of upright pianos:

Here is another example of the touchweight of grand pianos:

Here is an excellent in depth article about acoustic piano touchweight from pianofinders.com: http://www.pianofinders.com/educational/touchweight.htm

Digital Piano Touchweight

Digital piano keyboards have improved greatly in the last decade.  The large manufacturers continue to innovate as they compete against each other to give the customer the same feel of a real acoustic piano’s touch.  The best digital pianos actually have wooden keyboards that are almost identical to acoustic pianos.

There is a wide range of quality level between digital pianos with a weighted keyboard.  Mostly, you get what you pay for, with some of the more expensive models replicating if not duplicating the exact feel of a grand piano keyboard.

Understanding digital touchweight can be confusing. 

On some models you can “adjust” the touch from “very light”, to “very heavy” but in reality the touch is the same throughout all of the settings.  The only thing that changes is how much pressure you have to apply to create a certain sound volume.  The amount of pressure needed to produce a certain volume level is what changes, not the keyboard’s touchweight.

This is called a touch sensitive keyboard which creates a loud sound much easier on the “light” action setting, and takes much more force to create the same sound when the action is set to “heavy”.

Here’s a video from 2016 showing different digital piano manufacturer’s hammer actions:

How To Test Your Piano’s Touchweight

Here’s what you’ll need to measure piano key touchweight:

  • 15 nickels (75 cents worth)
  • 2 dimes

The nickels weigh 5 grams so 10 nickels = 50 grams.  The dimes weigh 2.5 grams.

  1. Place 10 nickels on the end of the key being careful not to push down the key yourself.
  2. Depress the sustain (right) pedal and keep it down during the test.
  3. If the key goes down too easily, remove one or more nickels. 
    If it doesn’t budge, add nickels until it slowly moves downward onto the keybed.
  4. You may need to tap your finger on the wood below the key to get the key moving initially.
  5. You must test more than just one key to check the majority of the keyboard.  Make sure do be consistent with your weighing technique when checking different keys.
  6. The keys downweight should be around 50 grams on average, however if the action is crazy light, it could be below 35.  On the flip side, it may be as high as 65 to 70.  The “experts” suggest that if the weight is below 45 it is considered light, and anything above 55 is considered heavy.
  7. Now check the upweight by placing 4 nickels on the end of a key while it is in the DOWN position.  Remember to have the sustain pedal depressed.
  8. If the key does not budge, remove one nickel at a time until it slowly and smoothly travels back to the up position.  If it returns immediately, add nickels or dimes as necessary to find the upweight.   The upweight should be at least 20 grams or more.

Best Digital Pianos With Weighted Keys 2019

Here is what I got after searching on Amazon for “digital piano weighted keys”.

Top three inexpensive digital pianos 88keys (weighted) with best reviews as of Feb 2019:

  1. Alesis Recital Digital Piano
  2. Yamaha P71 88-Key Digital Piano
  3. Yamaha P45 88-Key Digital Piano

best digital pianos with weighted keys on amazon 2019

Conclusion

Yes, adult beginners and all new piano students need a weighted keyboard or acoustic pianos with properly regulated keys.

It is essential to build your piano learning foundation on an instrument that will train you to play musically.  The idea that you can get a weighted keyboard later, when you improve at the piano will almost guarantee that you will not improve.

Measuring static touchweight is a useful starting point for choosing the best piano your budget will allow, but it is only part of the story.

It is the dynamic touchweight while playing that is the critical factor.  It brings the thousands of moving parts into play (in acoustic pianos) and hundreds of moving parts (in digital pianos).

Keep 15 nickels and 2 dimes with you when piano shopping so that you can test static touchweight.  Run the other way if a piano’s keys drop quickly with 10 nickels placed on it.

The only way to make sure you will be happy with the feel of a keyboard is to play different models with similar showroom acoustics.  Try to play a key as soft as possible, then as loud as possible.  The one that feels best to you, and that you have the most control over is the one you should buy.

Happy Learning!

Bill Deputy (pianodragon)

P.S.-Make sure to pass this information on to anyone you know who is considering buying their first piano.