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Digital pianos vs acoustic pianos

Acoustic piano versus digital piano. Over the years as musician and teacher I’ve often seen, specially the last 10 years, that students who play jazz or rock piano have difficulties with pain in both back, shoulders and arms. Since I’ve experienced the same sensations playing on digital pianos and/or synthesizers I see an explanation to these symptoms connected to those instruments.

1. The digital piano has a fixed release. On some pianos you can choose how long release you want but you can’t affect it while playing. As a pianist you want to control that yourself and be able to vary the release depending on what you are playing. For instance a jazz-pianist playing swing-phrases can use a relaxed portato on a real piano and the sound would be almost legato as a result of the use of accents. On a digital piano you will have to “stay longer” on each key to get the same result – or else it will sound staccato-like. This will lead to tensions in your arms.

2. You can’t expand the sound differently on a single tone on a digital piano. All anticipations of notes will be very flat and non-expanding. 3. If you repeat a chord with sustainpedal down with similar attack on each chord the volume doesn’t increase as I does on an acoustic instrument.

3. The key sensitivity is related to key velocity and much more sensitive than on a normal piano. The dynamic range within a fixed volume is not big – you tend to use the volume knob to get the result you want. It’s also impossible to press a key without resulting in a sound. Instinctively a lot of pianists block their elbows tight to the body and play only from the wrist – you can call this a “wood-pecker-attack”. Shoulder pain is an obvious result of this technique.

4. Last but not least: the manufacturers of digital pianos are trying very hard to sample more and more characteristics from the pianos. This leads to possibilities to incorporate pedal-sounds (actually sounds from the pedal mechanics!!) All this is to please the pianist – you could say that most samples of pianosounds are built on the impression of the piano from the pianists listening point. A lot of keyboardsound are implemented. That’s because they want us, the musicians, to recognize the sound from the playing position. Then you take that sound and amplify – that’s not what you here from an acoustic instrument – not even if you put a microphone over the strings!

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