When you’re just getting started on the piano or keyboard, you have a lot of questions. Most of them are probably about how to actually learn to play. Another common question I hear is about the instrument itself. After all, not everyone has an acoustic piano or a baby grand sitting in their living room. And if you’re keyboard shopping, you probably are wondering: “Do I need 88 keys to learn piano?”

When you think of a piano, you’re probably thinking of an acoustic one: the kind built of wood, heavy and often in need of tuning. They come in many shapes, sizes and even colors (1), but they all have the same number of keys: 88.

If you have an acoustic piano, you are guaranteed to have 88 keys.

Acoustic Pianos Vs. Other Options

There are eighty-eight keys on a piano and within that, an entire universe.

James Rhodes

There’s nothing inherently wrong with acoustic pianos, but not everyone has one. Or wants one. They take up a lot of space. That’s because besides those 88 keys there are a whole lot of internal components and outer housing. They require manual tuning by a professional tuner, there’s no volume control. And you can’t exactly lug one to your local open mic night, either. They sound great, but obviously they’re not for everyone.

What’s the alternative? Keyboards and digital pianos. And that’s what people are asking me about when they ask me a million variations of: “Do I need 88 keys to learn piano?” 

Let’s take a closer look at that question.

Do You Need 88 Keys On a Piano?

Maybe you’re shopping for a digital piano or keyboard. Or maybe you’re looking at the one you already have, and worrying that it isn’t good enough. Not to worry. I’m here to help you figure out what you need.

Here’s what I tell people when they ask me, “Jacques, do I need 88 keys to learn piano? What if my keyboard only has 32/49/61 keys? Do I have to buy a new one?”

  • You only really need 49 keys to get started.
  • 88 keys are nice, but it’s no big deal if you don’t have that option right now.
  • It’s okay to start small and upgrade later.

That’s right: 49 keys are enough to get started. Because your instrument is really made up of repeating sets of 12 notes, as long as you have a few sets you will be fine.

Obviously, in many cases it would be ideal to have a full 88-key keyboard. But you are not going to fail at piano just because you have fewer keys.

How to Count Piano Keys

The piano keys are black and white but they sound like a million colors in your mind.

Maria Cristina Mena

Before we can move forward, there’s something important I need to mention. You’d think this would be obvious, but we need to talk about how to figure out how many keys you have. Somewhere along the way, a huge number of people have been misled about how to count their piano keys.

Simply put, count ALL the keys. Let’s say that again (say it out loud if you aren’t quite sure about it): Count. All. The. Keys.

It doesn’t matter what color they are or what part of the keyboard they are on. Piano keys are piano keys (2), all the way across. It doesn’t matter if they are black or white or longer or shorter. Count them all. Because if you’re asking if 88 keys are needed to learn piano, you should probably know the right way to count them.

How Many Keys Are Enough to Learn to Play Piano?

How many keys do you actually need? Once you start looking at smaller keyboards, you’re going to see several options:

  • 25-32 keys (usually for MIDI controller keyboard)
  • 49 keys
  • 61 keys

There are other options, but those are the most common sizes available. Let’s rule out what won’t work for a typical beginner piano student.

Is a MIDI Controller Enough to Learn Piano?

The first option are keyboards with 25 to 32 keys. These are usually MIDI keyboards (3). Without getting too technical, MIDI keyboard controllers are not so much a musical instrument as a tool to create audio tracks in a computer. You need special hardware, special software, a computer and speakers/headphones. That’s a lot to set up if you are just trying to learn how to play piano.

These are typically not a good option for new piano students. But they also aren’t a particularly good option for anyone who is interested in playing piano for the sake of playing alone.

MIDI keyboard controllers are typically not a good option for new piano students. But they also aren’t a particularly good option for anyone who is interested in playing piano for the sake of playing alone.

Even if you manage to find a keyboard that is not a MIDI controller, 25 to 32 keys simply isn’t enough to make the most of your piano learning experience. There are 12 notes that you need to know, and they repeat across the entire keyboard. On a 25-key keyboard, that only gives you two sets of 12 notes to work with – not very many. A 32-key keyboard won’t even get you to a full three sets. It’s just not enough.

Is 49 Keys Enough to Learn Piano?

Okay then, what about 49 keys? Bingo! 49 keys are enough for a beginner keyboard. That’s because those 49 keys give you a full four sets of notes to work with.

If you have this many keys, you get two sets of 12 notes for each hand. That’s not as many as you could have, but it’s nothing to sneeze at. So if you can’t afford or don’t have space for a larger model, 49 keys are plenty to start with. 

Is 61 Keys Enough to Learn Piano?

By now. you already know the answer to this question. If 49 keys are enough, it’s obvious 61 keys are also enough.

One thing I’d like to point out here: If you have the budget and the space for a 61-key keyboard, you probably do for an 88-key keyboard too. There isn’t a huge price difference if you do a bit or research on your options. There are going to be 27 more keys on a full-sized keyboard, which is just about one foot of additional length. (This can vary a bit from model to model.)

Before you order a 61-key keyboard, do at least a little bit of extra research. If that choice still makes sense for you, great. But if you can accommodate a full-sized keyboard, all the better.

Choosing the Best 88-Key Keyboard 

(Please Note: There are links in this section where you can purchase the pianos and keyboards I recommend. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases.)

The piano is an orchestra with 88 things, you know.     

Vladimir Horowitz

If you have decided to buy a full-sized, 88-key keyboard, cool! That decision has already helped you narrow down your choices a lot. But you still need to choose the brand and model that’s right for you.

There are a lot of top and middle-quality options out there, and I’ll be honest: I haven’t played all of them. But based on what I have used and enjoyed, I’m comfortable making a few recommendations:

Of course, these are just a few of many great options. Go with what makes sense for your needs, your budget and your own personal preferences.

Think About Your Budget When Considering ‘Weight’

Did you notice how I mentioned weighted and semi-weighted keys in that list above? If so, good eye. Weighting is all about the user experience, and this is an important consideration. The weight – or lack of weight – in your keys can make a big difference in how they feel when you play.

In an acoustic piano, there is literal weight and hammer action to the keys because of the way the piano is constructed. Keyboards and digital pianos are different. It costs more money for manufacturers to add the weighted feel, so naturally weighted keys cost more.

Fully-weighted keyboards feel more authentic, but they do cost more than semi-weighted keyboards. If keeping your costs low is important, you may want to opt for a semi-weighted model. 

For most people, that will be more than adequate. If you want to really replicate the acoustic experience without having an actual acoustic piano, you should look for a fully-weighted, hammer-action digital piano. It’s an  investment, but once you experience it it’s hard to go back.

Do You Need Weighted Keys to Learn Piano?

Do you need weighted keys to learn piano? No, you really don’t. I never want to exclude people from learning just because they don’t have top-of-the-line equipment (4), and in this case that’s just not necessary.

Hopefully you’ll have at least semi-weighted sometime in the future, but don’t worry if that isn’t an option right now. It’s better to start learning on an imperfect instrument, than to never get started!

Do I Need 88 Keys to Learn Piano? Wrapping Up

Okay, the question of “do I need 88 keys to learn piano” has been answered. Hopefully you are feeling a lot more informed! Now let’s review what we’ve talked about and what you should be looking for in your new piano or keyboard.

There Are Two Requirements When Choosing a Piano

There are two requirements I ask my students to consider when choosing their instrument:

  • Find something that has at least 49 keys so that you have a bit of range to work with (I won’t get into this further since we’ve already covered the “do I need 88 keys to learn piano” question.)
  • Get a sustain pedal (5) so that you can add depth to your playing. (Here’s a budget-friendly one I use.)

That’s it. That is all you really need to get started. Everything else is just icing on the cake.

Getting Started With a Keyboard or Piano of (Almost) Any Size

No matter what type, brand or model you end up purchasing, that’s just the first step in your piano journey. You know this already, otherwise you wouldn’t be on a website that teaches piano!

So how do you get started once you’re all set up? There are a few directions you could take this, and in my opinion some of them work better than others. But obviously I’m going to be a bit biased towards my own resources.

If you’re interested in learning an approach to piano that requires zero sheet music and is a LOT faster than traditional lessons, you are in the right place. Playing real songs doesn’t have to be hard. Beginner piano lessons don’t have to take years. And having fun on the piano is what you’re here for, so go for it!

 

References 

  1. Denver CBS4
    https://denver.cbslocal.com/2019/06/01/16th-street-mall-colorful-pianos/
     
  2. Wikipedia
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musical_keyboard
     
  3. Wikipedia
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MIDI_controller
     
  4. Statista
    https://www.statista.com/statistics/453896/average-price-of-grand-pianos-us/
     
  5. Wikipedia
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustain_pedal