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Choosing the Right Keyboard on a Budget

What you need to know about starter digital keyboards.

As a piano teacher, I get asked this question a lot: “What’s the best keyboard that won’t break the bank and isn’t a toy?” The answer depends on your budget and what features you’d like to have.

I’ve found that the Yamaha PSR-E Series covers most of the bases – while offering budding players and students a wide variety of appealing features.

Prices vary widely across the series, but all PSR-E series keyboards have a number of features in common:

  • 61 keys
  • Display screens
  • Hundreds of high-quality Voices – Yamaha-speak for “instruments”
  • Styles (Rhythms)
  • Songs
  • Built-in speakers

They also all have a headphone jack so you can practice in your own private listening environment, a sustain pedal jack and a 3-step lesson feature, which is extremely cool!

Let’s dive in and I’ll give you my take on what makes each model unique – information that can help you determine which model may be just right for you.

Starting from the top down, the PSR-E473 offers the most bang for the buck: touch sensitive keys; a backlit screen; USB audio and MIDI connectivity; a DJ pattern mode with real-time control knobs; over 800 Voices; and much more, making this fully-featured model a keyboard that an aspiring player can really grow into.

Nipping at the E473’s heels is the PSR-E463. While the 463 doesn’t offer quite as extensive a feature set as its big brother, it does strike the perfect balance between price and performance with all-important features such as a touch sensitive keyboard, backlit screen, over 500 instrument Voices and USB computer connectivity.

I’ve emphasized the term touch sensitivity, because as a piano teacher, it is one of the most important features I’ve seen in helping a young player learn to play music well.

Every piece of music has a dynamic range, meaning that notes get softer and louder, allowing the player to interpret and convey the emotion of the piece. A touch sensitive keyboard adds value because the keys register velocity. Basically, the harder you hit them the louder the sound, enabling the musician to deliver a more compelling and dynamic performance.

And then there’s the PSR-E273. This humble little workhorse offers quality and performance that no other keyboard at this price point can match. Though the keys are not touch sensitive, it does provide an LCD display and an educational suite – and you can even plug in your smart device to play your music through the keyboard’s internal speakers!

Last but certainly not least, if you’re looking for a stocking stuffer (for a rather big stocking), consider the PSR-F51. For under a hundred bucks, this little “keyboard that could” is a great gift idea for a young player – and a great option for a really tight budget.

To wrap up this session, I’m going to geek out a little and talk about why USB computer connectivity – one of the features highlighted above – is so cool and useful.

Why is it important? Because it’s a feature you will put to good use – enabling your keyboard to communicate with recording programs on your computer such as Steinberg’s Cubase. This can really come in handy for composing, recording and sharing … opening up a whole new world of possibilities for your keyboard.


Click here to view the full line of Yamaha portable keyboards.

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