Whether you’re a pianist or a singer who also plays keys, choosing the right kit with the features you need can be confusing. So which instrument is best for you?
Finding the best keyboards to perform on stage will help you look and sound great. But which is the best keyboard for live performance will depend on your individual needs as a musician and what the best buys are just now.
In this article, we’ll give you the lowdown on 2020’s best keyboards for all budgets, styles, preferences and levels of experience, so you can work out which to choose.
Which is the best music keyboard for live performance & why?
Live performance is very different from working in the studio and recording using keys. All sounds must be produced there and then and if you’re the only one on stage, it’s all down to you. Which is why an all-singing all-dancing keyboard can take you from a single instrumentalist to a full-fledged backing with beats and more instruments. It’s the modern-day version of a one-man-band.
There isn’t one single answer to the question of which is the best keyboard, and that’s because it depends on a number of variables. Here are the main points you must consider before splashing out on a keyboard or digital piano.
Before you buy, consider:
- Your budget (basic models start around £70 and go up to many thousands).
- Your experience level (don’t buy a keyboard with loads of high-level functions you’ll never use if you’re a beginner, it’ll overwhelm you on stage and you might press the wrong button!).
- The types of gigs you do (how much space do you get on stage, do you need a ‘big’ sound, is the visual of the keyboard important).
- Your genre of music (the amount of versatility you need in terms of sound production and effects).
- How you need to transport it (you’ll need to be able to lift it yourself, will need a car for most of these and some of the much larger pianos are hard to move at all without a few pairs of hands).
- Your image/branding (do you need a certain aesthetic, or colour – does it need to be retro style?).
Before you start shopping, think about all of the factors we’ve listed above and see if you can future proof them a little. Most keyboards are a significant investment, so consider the direction in which your career is going when taking everything into account.
And it could save you money further down the line too. For example, if you’re a pianist getting into looping, choosing a keyboard with that feature included may be a better buy than buying a separate loop pedal.
Finding the best keyboard pianos to perform on stage with
There are three categories of keyboards/pianos.
- Digital keyboards are the cheapest, most convenient, and most versatile, but don’t have the same traditional, heavy key feel or sound you get with an acoustic piano.
- Digital pianos are bigger and pricier than keyboards, but nearly as versatile while mimicking the feel and sound of an acoustic piano effectively.
- Acoustic pianos offer a traditional and beautiful sound. However, they’re also the largest and can be prohibitively expensive.
Some of the most famous and respected keyboard brands include Yamaha, Roland, Casio, Kawai, Korg and Moog, so looking at these brands is a good place to start. But there are smaller brands that offer great models too, especially when it comes to specialised products like digital baby grand pianos.
Keyboards on the market today range from those designed to feel and look more like a traditional piano, to complex synthesisers used to create cutting edge effects, beats and create a soundscape. Now let’s take a look at some of the best on the market.
Best keyboards for live performance – 2020
Roland FA Series
First up on our list is the Roland FA Series. It has all 2000 sounds from Roland’s Integra-7 module, a 4GB SD card, an easy to read display and is simple to operate. Perfect for live sequences and those wanting to use backing tracks at the same time as playing or singing, it includes playback of WAV, AIFF and MP3 files.
Next is the Moog Grandmother. This is a stylish bit of kit, perfect if you want a modular, yet authentic vintage sound. It’s also got a very cool retro look. It has lots of versatility in terms of the scope of sound it can produce – including acoustic guitars, strings, brass and woodwinds.
Best music keyboards 2020
The Elektron Analog Keys
The Analog Keys from Elektron is a fantastic model if you want a live synth with loads of effects that’s particularly durable, has a lot of power and versatility for making leads, poly sounds, basses and beat, this is the keyboard for you.
Best keyboard workstation
If you’re new to this kind of shopping, there may be some terms with which you’re unfamiliar. A workstation is very useful for songwriters and those who like to create unique sounds. Workstations have sound modules and sequencers, enabling you to play and then record sections, with a vast array of sounds from which to choose.
Korg Kronos X
The Korg Kronos X is another brilliantly versatile workstation with sound engines, FM synth, sampling, sequencing, effects and a setlist mode. And you can choose from 61, 73 and 88-note options ideal for those who are limited on space or want the full piano experience.
Best keyboard for gigging musicians
As a gigging musician, you need something robust, durable and completely reliable. You’ll be loading it into a car or van at least once a day, it may get knocked and it will need to work in hot and cold environments.
Playing live performances for money means you need to come up with the goods, or your pay and reputation are at stake. Keyboard manufacturers know this and while to an extent you get what you pay for (and as a pro you should have decent kit), some brands score higher than others in user reviews and tests.
Here’s another great option for busy working musicians needing quality keys. From Dave Smith Instruments comes the DSI Pro 2. This machine has been developed to withstand hard use and to be touch-sensitive live on stage.
Best professional music keyboard
Nord Stage 3
Another great option for pros is Nord Stage 3. It’s also very responsive in a live environment. It has a lovely 73-note keyboard and a 76 and 88 note versions. If you want the option of an organ effect (ideal for church settings), a powerful synth and an effects/EQ/amp section it’s a great choice.
Best digital grand piano – best digital piano for classical pianists
Digital pianos differ slightly to keyboards in that they’re generally less portable, are focussed on the piano sound, have 88 hammered action keys and look a bit more like a piano than a keyboard usually does. Digital grand pianos look stunning, with the same dramatic visuals as a traditional grand piano. Here are our picks for the best digital grands.
- Casio PX-770
- Yamaha CVP 409 GP
- Cameron & Sons CSM-41D 88-Key Digital Grand Piano
- Suzuki MDG-300 Micro Grand Digital Piano
- Suzuki MDG-400 Baby Grand Digital Piano
- Medeli Grand Digital
Best keyboard piano for beginners
As a beginner, it can be useful to buy a model that includes tutorials as well as sounding good in performance, like:
- Casio CTK-3500
- Roland RP102
- Yamaha YPT-260
If you’re learning with a teacher, a keyboard with dual-split functionality can be helpful for student-teacher playing, such as:
- Yamaha P-45 or YDP-S34
If you plan to do some looping or songwriting in future, take a look at:
- Roland GO: KEYS
The loop function is easy to use with an intuitive function, it has powerful Bluetooth speakers and you get three months’ access to a tuition app. If you’d like something super simple and straightforward that looks and feels like a piano, try:
- Yamaha PSR-F51
It’s a low cost, portable, entry-level model with 61 full-sized keys and gets great reviews.
The best small keyboard for live performance
If you play as part of a band, or in very small venues, you don’t always have the luxury of space. And if you have a small car, you won’t be able to fit a full-sized heavy keyboard in – nor be able to carry it if it’s too heavy for you.
The Yamaha MOXF6 is a great solution to this problem. You can also import samples by using the flash memory, perfect for live performance.
Best keyboard piano under £100
If you’re just starting out you might not want – or be able to – spend a great deal. And there’s actually no need. At this price bracket, you may be better off searching the second-hand market. Some good places to try are:
You can also ask around at jam nights and in local musicians‘ groups on Facebook. Word of mouth is often a good way to get a deal.
But if you’re just looking for the odd bit of simple accompaniment or very basic effects, you might want to try the Yamaha PSR-F51 Portable Keyboard we already mentioned. We found this model on offer, well under the £100 price point, although it is usually slightly over.
Best stage piano under £1000
If you’re looking to spend a bit more but need to stay under a grand, narrow down your shopping to one of these digital pianos.
- Yamaha YDP-143 Arius Digital Piano
- Korg Rosewood LP-380 Digital Piano
- Yamaha DGX650
For more advice on playing keyboards while performing, check out this article.
Keyboard music stores
If you have limited knowledge of tech specs and some of the features don’t mean very much to you, it’s often good to go in and speak to staff in a music shop. Their knowledge is specialised so they can help guide you to the right models. Additionally, they’ll have keyboards in the store that you can try.
And this enables you to get to grips with and play around with some of these features, to familiarise yourself. It also gives you a feel for different sizes, aesthetics, weighted keys and numbers of notes. You may find you just click with a particular model when you play it for real.
Don’t forget that while your instrument is your tool, it isn’t everything. Your numbers, skill and personality as a musician are ultimately far more important. So don’t worry if you can’t afford the finest model. They may have handy features and a nice feel, but you can shine with everything from an old fashioned upright to a digital baby grand.
- Which digital keyboard is the most like a piano?
For an authentic piano-style instrument (that won’t need a removal van), buy a high-quality weighted keyboard. Check out the Kurzweil Forte SE, Nord Piano 4, Nord Stage 3 88, Dexibell Vivo S7 Pro, Korg SV-2S 88 and for a portable option suited to beginners, take a look at the Casio PX-S3000.
- What keyboard do professional musicians use?
As you’ve probably gathered by now, it varies a great deal. It depends on your choice3 and how much you have to spend. But professionals often have to play venue or studio instruments too, and these can vary even more. So be sure to practice using keys other than your own from time to time.
- Which is the best keyboard from Yamaha?
This brand has long been a top-ranking creator of acoustic and digital pianos and favourites are a matter of preference. The Yamaha DGX-660 is a bestselling instrument with a wide range of features and consistently scores high reviews, while a trusted budget pick is the Yamaha PSR-51.
Which keyboard do you use for live performance and why did you choose it? Let us know which you think is the best keyboard to perform on stage with.