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Jargon busting - What are 'weighted' keys?

Hello all,
I always do my best to explain things in a clear and straightforward way, but occasionally, as I'm sure is the case in many professions, I catch myself using industry jargon or slang to describe things, this is a habit I am trying to break! So every now and then I will write a short blog to explain things in more detail, the first subject is 'weighted keys'.

If you have been researching keyboards or digital pianos then you will have certainly come across the words 'weighted keys'. What it is referring to is the feel of the keys when you press them down. Look at the piano below.



Looks like the piano you had at your Granddad's, or at your school right? Do you remember how those keys felt to press down? They were heavy, there was resistance in them. This was because on the inside the keys are attached to a mechanism called the 'action', see below.


It's essentially a series of levers that transfers your pressing of the key into a hammer striking a string, and it all looks rather complex doesn't it? - But the long and short of it is; when you pressed the key down it felt kind of 'heavy' to the touch.

Electric keyboards and pianos do not have any need for this complex mechanism because there are no strings inside to produce a sound! When you press a key a recorded sound of a piano is simply played back to you.

So, in electric pianos and keyboards the 'weighted' keys have to be simulated to get them to feel like the real thing to the player. Not all models of keyboard have any such simulation and in those cases they are called 'non weighted' keyboards. And the ones that do will use a very compact version of the action you see pictured above, see the Yamaha version below.


This is the Yamaha GH3 weighted key mechanism, it's the one they put in all of their Clavinova digital pianos. It's been regarded for years as the most accurate simulated piano action on a digital piano.

Ok, I could bore you with lot's of technical talk about how exactly the GH3 mechanism replicates the real thing, but the bigger question is WHY? Why have weighted keys? - The answer is simply because it's what traditional pianos have and that's what we're used to, and the chances are if you're going to take piano exams they'll be on a traditional piano so you'd better get used to it!

From a playing point of view having slight resistance in the keys is a benefit because they are more forgiving, if I have strayed onto a bum note with weighted keys there is a split second where I can make an adjustment before fully pressing down, this is much harder on a non weighted key. It's technique like this and the tuning of muscle memory that you can only really learn from using weighted keys, which is why most teachers recommend you practice on something that has them.

I hope this has helped! - Good news for beginners is that the prices of keyboards with 'weighted' keys has shot down recently and you can now buy one for less than £300! Like the Yamaha P45 below. Bye for now!

Click here to view the Yamaha P45 on ePianos.co.uk




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