Should I Get A 61 Or 88 Key Keyboard?

If you are thinking about purchasing a new keyboard you may be wondering, “Should I Get A 61 or 88 Key Keyboard?” This is a good question and today we are going to look at some of the differences between a 61 key and an 88 key keyboard.

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1 Should I Get A 61 Or 88 Key Keyboard?

Should I Get A 61 Or 88 Key Keyboard?

The first thing you need to consider is why you are getting a keyboard. If you want to learn how to play the piano or keyboard properly then you need to get an 88 key keyboard. If you want to use your keyboard for studio production work, then an 88 key keyboard will give you the ultimate playability experience. A 61 key keyboard will provide everything you will need for studio production work. If you go with a 61 key keyboard, make sure it has the octave switch button.

Is It Better To Learn On A 61 Key Or 88 Key Keyboard?

If you want to learn to play the piano or a keyboard properly, then you need to get an 88 key keyboard.

Sure, you can learn on a 61 key keyboard, but you are not going to experience the reach, the action, and the visual memorization of the full keyboard.

There are different views on this, but I believe if you are going to learn how to play an instrument properly then you need the real deal.

Do yourself a favor and start your journey out the right way. You will never regret getting an 88 key keyboard.

I have provided a table below to help you answer some basic questions to get you started.

QuestionAnswer 61 Key 88 Key
What Is The Main Reason For Getting A Keyboard?Learn To Play


Studio Production



X
X


X
What Type Of Music Will You Be Playing?Classical


Electronic / Modern



X
X


X
What Is Your Budget For A Keyboard?$$


$$$
X





X
What Type Of Keyboard Action Do You Prefer?Un/Semi-Weighted


Weighted Keys
X





X
What Is Your Level Of Commitment?Not Sure Yet


Very Committed
X





X
Video Credit: Sean Daniel

What’s The Difference Between A 61 Key And 88 Key Keyboard?

The main difference between a 61 key and an 88 key keyboard are the number of octaves available to work with.

88 Key Keyboard

A full-scale piano keyboard has 88 keys (7 Octaves) and will give you the full range of playability.

If you want to learn how to play piano or keyboard properly, I recommend getting the 88 key keyboard.

You will never regret learning how to play on a full-scale keyboard and an 88 key keyboard will work great in your home recording studio.

Most 88 key keyboards will have weighted keys or semi-weighted keys. This is important to give you the real feel of playing on a piano.

Space and budget may be the only drawback but I’m pretty sure you can make this work.

Roland FA-08 Music Workstation 88 Key Keyboard

61 Key Keyboard

A 61 key keyboard has 61 keys and 5 octaves.

Yes, you can learn to play on a 61 key keyboard, but I think it’s best to learn to play properly on an 88 key keyboard.

61 key keyboards are great for home recording studio setups and generally cost less than an 88 key keyboard.

A 61 key keyboard will save you a little space as well.

Arturia Keylab 61 Key MKII USB Midi Keyboard

Is An 88 Key Keyboard Necessary?

If you want to learn how to play properly then I believe it is best to learn on an 88 key keyboard.

Yes, you can learn to play on a 61 key keyboard but you are not going to experience the full visual experience and the complete reach an 88 key keyboard offers.

Most 88 key keyboards come with weighted keys. Weighted keys with touch sensitivity will be an important part of the learning process.

I understand that budget may be a factor in your decision process but if you can swing it an 88 key keyboard will be your best bet.

Is 61 Keys Enough For Audio Production?

Yes, 61 keys are enough for most all audio production projects.

If you want to make beats, create melodies, create base lines, and create chord fills then 61 keys will be enough.

Be sure and get a 61 key keyboard with an octave switch built in.

There will be times when you need to go up or down an octave or two and having the ability to switch octaves on your 61 key keyboards will be important.

61 Keys Or 88 Keys For Audio Production?

61 keys will do about anything you need for audio production, but 88 keys will be the best choice.

I have worked with 61 keys in my home recording studio, and it works well but there are times when you just wish you didn’t have to mess with the octave switch button.

When you start working with virtual instruments and playing parts for different instruments you will need to work in the octave range the instrument is designed to play in.

It’s much easier to just work on an 88 key keyboard. This way you can quickly access your key switches in the lower octaves and keep playing your melodies in the mid to higher octaves while recording a part.

In a recording situation the easier it is to play the parts without the extra step of switching octaves the better your recording projects may be.

A 61 key keyboard will work but an 88 key keyboard will be better.

What’s The Difference Between A Midi Keyboard And A Keyboard?

Midi Keyboard

A midi keyboard is a keyboard designed primarily to output midi information.

The midi data is used inside your DAW software to play virtual instruments, drum machines, and synthesizers.

A midi keyboard may have built in pads, sliders, and knobs to perform different functions and to operate inside your DAW software.

A midi keyboard will not have onboard sounds and built-in speakers.

A midi keyboard will not have 1/4″ audio outputs to run to an amplifier.

You will find midi in and output ports on a midi keyboard and most likely a USB output to connect to your computer.

Keyboard

A regular keyboard is designed with onboard sounds and may have built in speakers.

A keyboard can be played on its own without having to connect it to a computer to get your sound from virtual instruments.

Most all keyboards will have 1/4″ audio output jacks that can be connected to an amplifier or an audio interface.

Most keyboards will have midi in and midi output jacks, and some will have a USB output to connect the midi to your computer.

Can You Use A Regular Keyboard As A Midi Keyboard?

You can use a regular keyboard as a midi keyboard if it has midi in and output ports on the back.

You will need to send the midi information from your keyboard to your computer.

There are several ways to send your midi information from your keyboard to the computer.

1. USB Port

Look on the back of your keyboard. If it has a USB output, you can connect the USB output from your keyboard directly to your computer.

The USB port will only transfer the midi data and no sounds.

2. Midi In And Out

Look on the back of your keyboard. If it has midi in and outputs, you can connect the midi output from your keyboard to your computer with an audio interface.

Using an audio interface has some advantages especially if you have other instruments and microphones you are working with.

3. Midi To USB Adapter Cable

If your keyboard has midi in and outputs and no USB output, you can use a Midi to USB adapter cable.

Keep in mind this will only transfer midi data and no sound.

Is A Midi Keyboard Better Than A Keyboard?

Is a midi keyboard better than a keyboard? It depends on what you will be using your keyboard for.

If you are a gigging musician, you will probably want a keyboard with built in sounds that you can connect directly to an amplifier so you can hear yourself on stage. If this is you, then you will want an electronic keyboard with built in sounds.

If you just want to use your keyboard in a studio setting you may find a midi keyboard is better.

The big difference between a midi keyboard and a keyboard is that a midi keyboard has to be connected to a computer to get sound from the midi keyboard.

The midi keyboard needs to be connected to a computer and software that will give the midi keyboard it’s source of sounds via Virtual Instruments.

Most electronic keyboards have a built-in computer and sounds and can operate on its own without the need for an external computer and virtual instruments.

So, if you want a keyboard that you can take anywhere and play you will most likely want to get an electronic keyboard.

If you will only be using your midi keyboard for studio work and at home practicing and playing you may opt for a midi keyboard.

Remember, a midi keyboard has no built in sounds. A midi keyboard only generates midi data that can be used inside your DAW software.

What Is The Difference Between A Midi Keyboard And A Midi Controller?

A midi keyboard is a keyboard that only generates midi data that can be used inside your DAW software to play piano or any other instrument that you have software for.

A midi controller also only generates midi and will not have traditional piano keys to work with.

A midi controller will have lots of pads, knobs, sliders and other buttons that are great for drumming and creating different sounds inside your DAW software.

PreSonus Atom SQ Midi Controller

What Are Virtual Instruments

Virtual Instruments are software-based instruments that can be used inside your DAW software.

For instance, you can connect your midi keyboard to your computer and play the piano, drums, violins, guitars, bass, a full orchestra, you name it and there is a virtual instrument software package that will play the instruments.

EastWest Sounds Virtual Instruments

Most virtual instruments are recorded live in a professional studio hall. This way the natural ambience and reverb are captured along with the sound of the instrument giving it a realistic sound.

The sound of the instrument or instruments is captured with microphones and then turned into samples that can be used inside of your computer.

So, when you hit a note on your midi keyboard your virtual instrument software will play the instrument in the note and octave you are playing on your keyboard.

If you play the note on your midi keyboard soft the virtual instrument will play soft and if you play hard the dynamics will also change to play hard on your virtual instrument.

Relevant Article

If you want to learn more about some great virtual instruments by EastWest Sounds check out my article: EastWest Sounds Opus.

How Do I Connect My Midi Keyboard To My Computer?

How To Connect Your Midi Keyboard To Your Computer With A USB Cable

There are several different ways to connect your midi keyboard to your computer.

1. USB Cable

If your keyboard or midi keyboard has a USB output port, simply connect your keyboard directly to your computer with a USB Cable.

Come out of your keyboards USB output and plug directly into your computers USB port.

Keep in mind that a USB cable will only transfer midi data and not sound.

2. Audio Interface

If you have an audio interface, you can connect the midi output port on the back of your keyboard to the midi input port on your audio interface.

You can then come out of the midi out on your audio interface and return the midi data to your keyboard or send it on to other midi devices.

Audio interfaces are a great way to connect all of your instruments and microphones to your computer.

3. Midi to USB Adapter Cable

If your keyboard only has midi in and out and no USB connection, you can get a Midi to USB adapter cable and connect directly to your computer.

In this instance I would probably choose to use an Audio Interface, but I wanted to let you know you still have this option.

Does A Midi Keyboard Need An Audio Interface?

A midi keyboard does not need an audio interface to connect to your computer.

However, if you are using other instruments and microphones in your home recording studio setup, you will find that an audio interface is a great way to connect all of gear in one central location.

An audio interface also gives you the option to connect your studio monitors and headphones.

It’s super easy to set, monitor and control your recording levels with an audio interface.

An audio interface will give you many advantages in your home recording studio setup.

Advantages Of Using An Audio Interface

Let’s take a look at some of the advantages of using an audio interface.

1. One Convenient Location To Connect All Of Your Instruments And Microphones

If you are reading this article, you probably already have a midi keyboard or are thinking about purchasing a keyboard of some type.

You may also play guitar, drums, bass, or are a singer and need to record your instruments or vocals.

An audio interface provides you with one central location to connect all of your instruments and microphones directly to your computer so you can record, write, produce, and practice when inspiration hits.

I’m sure you would agree that an audio interface is the better option for serious musicians, beatmakers, singers, and producers.

2. Easy To Connect Studio Monitors And Headphones

If you are wondering how to connect your studio monitors or headphones, all you need is an audio interface.

Simply connect your studio monitors to the audio outputs on the back of your audio interface.

Your audio interface will also have a connection for your headphones.

3. Better Sound Quality

One of the main functions of an audio interface is to convert analog signal coming from an instrument like a keyboard, guitar, or vocal microphone, into a digital signal that your computer can work with.

To do this, the analog signal will pass through an ADC (Analog to Digital Converter). The ADC converts Analog signal into Digital signal.

Now that the signal is in digital format your computer and DAW software can work with the signal inside your DAW software.

You will want to hear what your projects sound like that you are working on.

The digital signal coming out of your DAW software and computer will now get converted from Digital to Analog to be played back through your studio monitors or headphones.

This is accomplished through the DAC (Digital to Analog Converter). Humans need to hear analog signal. It’s what our ears hear and understand.

Long story short, The ADC and DAC converters in a quality Audio Interface will give you better sound quality for recording and listening to playback coming from your computer.

Your computer has ADC and DAC converters, but they are not designed for professional music production and are not as high quality.

4. Great Way To Connect Midi Devices

An audio interface with midi in and out ports is a great way to connect your midi keyboards and midi devices like drum machines and midi controllers.

The midi information will go directly into your computer and DAW software from your audio interfaces connection to your computer.

You can lay down a beat with your midi keyboard or drum machine and record some keyboard parts as well.

You can play any instrument you want with your midi keyboard and virtual instruments.

5. Easy To Set And Monitor Your Gain Settings For Recording

One of the most important parts about recording instruments and vocals is setting a proper input level.

You do not want the incoming signal to be too loud or too quiet.

Most audio interfaces will tell you if your signal is too loud or too quiet via led lights or halo rings on the focusrite scarlett line of audio interfaces.

If the sound is too loud this will create a clipping noise in your recordings. Simply turn down the gain settings on the audio interfaces channel input.

If the signal is too quiet, it will not give you a good full sound. Simply turn the gain setting up on the audio interfaces channel input.

An audio interface makes it simple to get your gain settings just right.

Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 USB Audio Interface

6. Easy To Record Your Instruments With Direct Inputs.

If you need to record an instrument like guitar, bass, or keys, all you need to do is plug the instrument or microphone directly into the audio interface.

The channel that you have the instrument or microphone plugged into will now be feeding this signal into your DAW software.

When you are ready to record the instrument or vocal, simply arm the track in your DAW software and hit record.

It’s as simple as that.

7. Phantom Power For Your Condenser Microphones

If you have a condenser microphone, it will require phantom power to operate properly.

Most all good audio interfaces come with built in phantom power.

Just activate the phantom power for the input you have your condenser microphone plugged into.

This will provide the correct amount of power to your condenser microphone so that the microphone can do its job.

If your microphone is not a condenser microphone, leave the phantom power off.

Always connect your microphones to the XLR inputs.

8. All Of Your Instruments Are Connected To Your Computer With One USB Connection

We talked about a scenario where you have a guitar, keyboard, midi keyboard, bass, drums, and vocal microphones all connected to your audio interface.

All of the signal from all of the instruments and microphones gets connected to the computer through one USB connection.

This is super clean and will free up USB ports on your computer for other devices.

9. Separate Volume Control For Your Studio Monitors And Your Headphones

Most all audio interfaces will have a master volume control for your studio monitors and a separate volume control for your headphones.

You may be doing a late-night session and only want to use your headphones. You can set the volume to where it’s comfortable and no one else will hear what you are doing.

You may be listening to a mix on your studio monitors at one level and need to listen in to something detailed on your headphones.

You can listen to your studio monitors at a lower level and listen in on your headphones at a little higher level to catch some details like a reverb trail or delay settings.

This really comes in handy in a mix scenario.

10. Connect More Than One Set Of Studio Monitors

Most serious mix engineers and producers like to check their mixes on more than one set of speakers.

You can connect two or even three different sets of speakers to one audio interface if your audio interface has enough outputs.

This is a good way to reference your mix on different speakers all controlled from one audio interface.

Supper convenient and easy.

How Do I Connect My Midi Keyboard To My Audio Interface?

Connect All Of Your Instrumets To Your Audio Interface Diagram

1. Connect The Audio Signal

If you have a keyboard with built in sounds you can connect the 1/4″ audio output jacks to your audio interfaces 1/4″ audio inputs.

This will allow you to use all of your onboard sounds inside your DAW software.

Connect your keyboards audio output jack to your audio interfaces audio input.

Take a look on the back of your keyboard. You will probably see one or two 1/4″ audio output jacks.

Simply, come out of the 1/4″ audio jack with a 1/4″ cable and plug the other end of the cable into a 1/4″ audio input jack on your audio interface.

If you want to record in stereo, you can connect both left and right 1/4″ outputs on your keyboard into two 1/4″ audio inputs on your audio interface.

If you only need to record in mono, then just connect the left side 1/4″ audio output to your audio interface.

2. Connect The Midi Data

If your keyboard has midi in and outputs on the back of your keyboard and you have midi in and outputs on your audio interface, you can connect the midi from your keyboard to your audio interface.

Simply, come out of the midi out port on your keyboard with a midi cable and plug directly into the midi input on your audio interface.

You can then come out of the midi output on your audio interface and loop back to your keyboard’s midi input, or you can send the midi data on to another midi device.

The Advantages

The advantages of connecting your keyboards audio and midi directly to your audio interface are huge.

  1. You have a complete library of sounds on your keyboard that you can use inside your DAW to create unlimited amounts of music.
  2. You have midi data that you can use to control virtual instruments inside your DAW giving you a greater library of sounds.
  3. You can use midi to control your DAW software and virtual instruments.
  4. You can write and compose with midi in your piano roll inside your DAW software.
  5. You can record audio directly from your keyboard.
  6. You can listen to your keyboard and music playback from your DAW directly through your studio monitors or headphones.
  7. You will have better audio quality for recording and playback because you are using a quality audio interface.
  8. You can connect all of your instruments and microphones to your audio interface for simplicity and consistency.

The possibilities and advantages to using an audio interface with your keyboard are endless.

What Others Are Saying

Direct QuoteSource
“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.”https://joshuarosspiano.com/can-you-learn-piano-on-61-keys/
“The amount of different types of keyboards on the market today is truly mind-boggling, so much so that the word “keyboard” has become an umbrella term covering everything from digital pianos to synthesizers, sequencers, and beyond. Knowing where to begin the search for something that suits your particular needs can be daunting. Narrowing down the options is often a good place to start when it comes to choosing the proper keyboard.”https://makingmusicmag.com/choosing-the-proper-keyboard/
“Controllers have lower price tags than other keyboards for beginning piano students because they lack any built-in sound-generating capabilities. Instead, the keyboard transmits MIDI data to other hardware or software. While a good choice for someone interested in creating computer-based music, controllers are not recommended for students who want to play, rather than program, their music.”https://www.schoolofrock.com/resources/keyboard/buying-guide-how-to-buy-your-first-keyboard
“If you buy a 61 key you’ll end up buying an 88 at some point. So, I’d say go for the 88.”https://www.reddit.com/r/piano/comments/6t83jr/61_key_vs_88_key_keyboards/
“If you can afford an 88 one get it, otherwise a 61 key will get you started and be useful for 2–3 years.”https://www.quora.com/Should-I-get-a-61-or-88-key-keyboard
“For most modern styles of music such as pop, rock, folk, etc. a keyboard/digital piano with 61 keys should be enough most of the time. Since the majority of the contemporary songs do not use more than 5 octaves, it should get you covered. In case your primary focus is going to be classical music, then I would recommend considering a traditional 88-key keyboard.”https://pianoground.com/is-a-61-key-keyboard-enough/
“Initially, pianos would have had between four and five-octave keyboards which compared to the standard seven and a quarter octave pianos common today seems quite limited in range.”https://www.cmuse.org/61-versus-88-key-pianos/
“Weighted keys are the main difference. Learning on a keyboard with no weight to the keys will drastically alter your technique when learning. Pedals are not that big of a deal until you get to more complex compositions. The number of keys are not that big of an issue, it just means that you’ll be an octave or so short on the full range of a piano.”https://arstechnica.com/civis/viewtopic.php?t=52530
“The truth is that there is a lot of personal preference. However, there is certainly a minimum viable size for people who want to learn how to play piano to a good standard. If you buy a miniature MIDI keyboard with 25 keys, you might be able to learn chords and melodies in isolation, but full songs become a challenge.”https://pianu.com/blog/size-keyboard-beginners

In conclusion

In conclusion, I would say that getting an 88 key keyboard will be your best bet.

Yes, you can learn to play on a 61 key keyboard and 61 key keyboards will work great in your home recording studio setup.

An 88 key keyboard will most likely have weighted keys and will give you the true feel and reach of playing a real piano.

I think if your main goal in getting a keyboard is to learn how to play then you should try to get yourself an 88 weighted key keyboard.

You will never regret getting 88 keys.

If you enjoy writing, recording, playing music, and producing music then take a minute to look around my website.

You will find lots of great articles to help you out with setup and buying guides.

If you want to learn more about connecting your keyboard to an audio interface, be sure and check out my article: Should I connect My Midi Keyboard To My Audio Interface?

Please leave your questions and helpful comments below. I’m always happy to help out where I can.

6 thoughts on “Should I Get A 61 Or 88 Key Keyboard?”

  1. Wow this must be the most comprehensive article about keyboards I have ever read! You really covered all the bases here, I appreciate the pictures and video you added in for extra context and understanding. I totally agree with your assessment that the 88 weighted keyboard is the way to go. I mean if you are going to make the investment in money, equipment, and space, why not get the absolute best experience? I hope when I move in several months I can get a place with enough extra space for a music room!

    Reply
    • I’m glad you like the article!  I think everyone will be happier with an 88 key keyboard.  Sometimes we just need to look at a good comparison to see all of our options so we can make the best choice.

      If you are interested in the best ways to connect your keyboard to your computer be sure and check out my article:  Can You Plug A Keyboard Into A Focusrite Scarlett Audio Interface? This article covers different ways to connect you keyboard to an audio interface as well.

      I hope you get to set up your home studio soon.  

      Reply
  2. Your first sentence told me what I needed to know.  That if I want to play a piano properly then I need the 88 key keyboard, which makes sense.  I would not want to complicate it with midi and all.  Just a regular 88 key keyboard.  Any suggestions on what to purchase brand wise and such?

    Reply
    • I think it’s good to get straight to the point when providing information.  If you want to learn to play piano, then an 88 key keyboard is the way to go. 

      I think a great 88 key keyboard to get started with would be the Yamaha P-45.  It has weighted keys, built in speakers and sounds great.

      Reply
  3. I always wondered if you can still play music seamlessly if you buy a smaller keyboard with an octave switch button, or will there be a pause in the music while you get the button?

    Apart from the extra space, I definitely think that the 88 keyboard is better, especially if you or your child is learning to play. Just makes the process a lot easier all around.

    My choice would also be to get a weighted keyboard to get the feel of the piano without the extra expense. But I love that you can connect to your computer with ease to record and listen to you music. It is now easier than ever before to have your own private recording studio.

    Reply
    • One huge advantage of playing an 88 key keyboard is that you have all the octaves available, and this is much better than messing with an octave button on a 61 key keyboard.

      In a studio setting a 61 key keyboard with the octave button is very manageable but a 88 key keyboard will still be the best choice.

      A 88 key keyboard with weighted keys is perfect for learning how to play and for your home recording studio.

      You might be curious about how to connect your keyboard to your computer. Be sure and check out my article: Can You Plug A Keyboard Into A Focusrite Scarlett Audio Interface? This article will tell you how to get your keyboard connected to your computer and some of the advantages. 

      Reply

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