Performing with keyboard and piano opens up opportunities and gives you lots of creative and practical freedom as an artist. But it also has its own unique sets of challenges – fortunately, with a bit of practice and knowledge, these are easy to overcome.
Do you play keys and need some tips on making you act the very best it can be? In this article, we’ll be giving lots of practical advice to help you shine on stage, as well as our pick of the best music keyboards of 2020.
Preparing for your performance
Perform and sing with keyboard or piano and you’ll have an incredibly useful skill in the music industry. Normally when preparing for a performance, vocalists only have to worry about their voice. But when playing, the keys become a part of your act.
Many big names play and sing at the same time including acts like:
- Elton John
- Lady Gaga
- John Legend
- Alicia Keys
- Taylor Swift
- Justin Bieber
By including an instrument, such as a piano or keyboard, you double the amount of work you have to put in – hopefully to make sure your performance is remembered for the right reasons and not because your playing skills were slightly off.
Keyboard vs piano
Your first decision may have to be, whether to play keyboard, piano or something in between – a digital piano. If you are planning to buy your own instrument or update a current one, here are some of the broad pros and cons of each.
Some venues will expect you to play whatever they have, so the more versatile you can be, the better. Don’t get too tied to your own keys – play other people’s from time to time, both digital and acoustic, to keep your hand in.
Keyboards are relatively inexpensive to buy (starting from around £70, although expect to pay a few hundred for a model good enough quality to play in performances). They’re lighter and more portable, especially compact versions that come in much smaller sizes than the standard notes on a piano.
You can also create far more sounds on a keyboard, including those that imitate other instruments, beats and have features like built-in loop pedals and playback. Unlike a piano, you can connect a keyboard to headphones and practice to your heart’s content without disturbing your parents or neighbours – and no one needs to hear your mistakes!
Pianos are large and cumbersome and can’t be moved easily. When performing at a piano, you have to face the audience side on, as the lid obstructs a straight-on view (unlike a keyboard). This can be worked around – as we’ll discuss shortly – but it is limiting.
Pianos can also only produce a piano sound, with no options for effects and features. But the sound they create and the romantic weighted feel of the keys is inimitable. Piano timbre is beautiful and perfect for ethereal tunes, love ballads and even ‘plinky plonky’ rock numbers.
How do you prepare for a music performance with keys?
The first rule of performing with a keyboard or piano is: Make sure you are stage ready to s play and sing at the same time. It can be a bit like trying to pat your head and run your tummy simultaneously.
At first, it feels odd and one or other of the actions can easily go wrong because your brain isn’t used to doing both of these things at once. The temptation is to start performing on stage too early and spend most of the time looking down at the keyboard – this is not performing.
Is it hard to sing and play the piano?
It is if you’re inexperienced, or not suited to either. Like any skill, it takes time to do automatically and naturally. The younger you start, the better. But you can learn at any age.
Practice playing and singing separately, then gradually bring the two together.
To test whether you’re ready to play and sing in public, try doing it at home with a distraction first – like while a different song plays on the radio, or a friend chats to you. If you can hold your own with other things going on, you’ll be fine in live performance.
However, if even after work and practice it feels like a chore, is always difficult and unenjoyable, you may have to question if it’s the right instrument for you. As a singer, you need to play an accompanying instrument. Keyboards are the most versatile of all of these, but guitar comes in second and for some genres – like indie and rock – is preferable to keys. So it may be worth trying that instead and seeing if it’s a better fit.
Best music keyboards 2020
If you’re looking to buy a new keyboard, there’s a lot of choices out there. According to Music Radar, these are some of the best keyboards you can purchase this year:
- Yamaha MOXF6 Keyboard
- Clavia Nord Stage 2 Keyboard
- DSI Pro-2 Keybaord
- Korg Kronos X Keyboard
- Elektron Analog Keyboard
- Roland FA Series Keyboard
Always try a keyboard before you buy it. Online shopping is great for bargains, but keyboards and pianos are tactile things and you’ll get a much better idea of what suits you, by having a try of some in a store, or at a friend’s house.
Best keyboard piano for kids
If you’re a young musician or buying for one, portability and size will be very important. These are Music Oomph’s keyboard piano picks for kids.
- Alesis Melody 61 MKII Portable Keyboard
- RockJam RJ549
- Casio SA-77 Mini Personal Keyboard
- Yamaha YPT-260 61-Key Portable Keyboard Piano
- Casio CTK-2550 61-Key Keyboard Piano
- Hamzer 61-Key Keyboard Piano
- Plixio 61-Key Keyboard Piano
Best keyboard piano for beginners
According to Digital Piano, these are the 10 best keyboards for performers staring out.
- Joy JK-63M Electronic Piano Keyboard
- RockJam RJ761 Electronic Piano Keyboard
- Casio CTK-2550 Portable Keyboard
- Casio LK-190 Portable Keyboard
- Yamaha YPT-360 Touch-Sensitive Keyboard
- Plixio 61-Key Electronic Piano Keyboard
- Yamaha EZ-220 Portable Keyboard
- Hamzer 61-Key Digital Piano Keyboard
- Yamaha PSR-EW300 Portable Keyboard
- Casio SA-76 44-Key Mini Keyboard
How can I teach myself keyboard?
If you’re in the market for a new keyboard and are new to playing, it may well be worth choosing a model with built-in tutorials, or that links to an app. Keyboards are so advanced these days, doubling as your teacher as well as your instrument and making learning even easier. Most of the mid to high range models will have a feature along these lines.
Choosing the right song to perform
It’s a good idea to think carefully about the type of song you are going to be performing and making sure it suits your instrument. If you’re playing an acoustic piano, don’t pick a grime number!
Song choice is vital, especially for an audition. so picking a good song to sing with piano or keyboard is important. Dance numbers are obviously tricky due to the restrictions on dance routines. But it’s not impossible to perform a dance music number. You’ll have limited mobility, so you need to be someone who’s comfortable with moving on the spot and can do so without feeling awkward.
Your hands might be tied up, but there’s much you can do by moving your head and feet to the beat and adding in some body movement. A keyboard that can produce many different sounds, opens up every genre imaginable.
Pick something simple if you’re less experienced. A haunting ballad with a light and easy accompaniment can be just as (or more) effective as something that’s musically challenging – and even take the world by storm.
Remember that there are huge resources at your fingertips, study other performers live performances on YouTube or your favourite artist at a concert. Start to pick up what works and what doesn’t for various performances. Then try and test them out yourself. You may even develop a whole new style in the process.
Using your space
Just because you may be rooted in one particular space on the stage does not mean you can’t engage the audience and get them on your side. What will really set you apart from other performers is the way you can still communicate your message through eye contact, facial expressions and really putting your back into it, regardless if there are musical keyboards between you and the audience.
As you’re rooted to one spot, your eyes become even more powerful to the audience -much like a close up in a movie, as opposed to a wide shot, where there’s lots of other things happening.
You need to express the emotion in the song so if appropriate don’t be afraid to kick your chair back and stand up, the more passion you give and the more you enjoy it the better the performance. (Just remember, that if you’re alone on stage, kicking your chair away means you won’t get it back till the end of the number). If you have to keep looking down during your performance and have nothing but a blank expression on your face then perhaps you not stage–ready.
Get the right posture
It’s very important when performing with musical keyboards that you have the right posture. Whether you decide to sit or stand, you should retain a flexible feeling in your spine. If you do slump, your breath control will be affected, which may impact your vocals.
Do keep in mind that you don’t want to be too rigid as this will look unprofessional. Just because you have musical keyboards in front of you doesn’t mean you cannot still get into the song and enjoy yourself. If anything the movements you make are even more crucial as it is limited. You want the audience to be on your side, and not feeling disconnected just because there’s an instrument between you.
Making sure your mic is in the right position is paramount to making sure you keep the right posture. You want to make sure the mic is close enough to your mouth so you don’t have to lean, and high enough to make sure your spine stays tall but not covering your face. If you’re playing an upright or even dare say, a grand piano (lucky you), you’ll need to place it at an angle, so that the audience can see you side-on and a bit of your face too.
When placing your piano or keyboard before a show, have a walk around the auditorium to see what view audience members from all across the room will get at the angle you have it. This will prevent a setup where many end up with a view obstructed by a piano back.
How can I have a good voice projection whilst playing keyboards?
Just because you are playing musical keyboards doesn’t mean your vocals should suffer. Try not to tighten your shoulders, neck, or jaw as you perform as this will tighten your throat as this can lead to poor vocals and breathing control. You need to pay even more attention to this than you would when practising your singing. Concentrating on two things at once can cause more tension, so it’s up to you to combat it. Release it and let the sound ring out.
If you choose to sit when playing the keyboard, a good way to maintain power is by sitting on the edge of your seat and squeeze your bum against the seat. This way you will get as much power to your voice as if you were standing. Piano stool are generally better than chairs, they’re slightly higher and with no back, force you to hold your torso up using your core strength. Instead of slumping. And ideally, you should be amplified by a mic.
You must remember that your voice takes priority and playing musical keyboards should be secondary. It’s the piano that accompanies the voice, not the other way around. If you’re not 100% confident in playing the piano, then you need to keep practising before hitting that stage. If you can’t play without having to think about the next key then this can lead to a sub-par performance. Similarly, you shouldn’t be having to think about the next word when singing.
But once you’re up and running, as a singer who also plays keys, you’ll have a lot of freedom to write your own music, play all kinds of gigs and even set up your own home recording studio.
- Which keyboard sounds the most like a piano?
Those with weighted keys. Acoustic Bridge recommends the Yamaha DGX-660 88-Key Graded Hammer Action Digital Piano, Casio Privia PX-770 Digital Console Piano, Yamaha P-115 88-Key Weighted Action Digital Piano with GHS Action, Korg LP-380 Lifestyle Digital Piano and Kawai ES110 Portable Digital Piano.
- Should I get a 61 or 88 key keyboard?
Both have the same number of notes, but with less range. 61 has 5 octaves, while 88 has 7. If you play in cramped spaces and have to transport your keys in a small car, a 61 may be better (check the back seat with a tape measure before buying an 88). An 88 has more of a ‘real’ piano feel.
- Can you sing and read at the same time?
Absolutely. And while it’s not ideal to use sheet music while performing in a show, practising with it is very advisable and common. Being able to read music is a huge benefit to singers and pianists, although some learn purely by ear without the help of lessons or a teacher.
Do you perform with keyboard or piano? Post links to you playing and singing on stage i8n the comments below, we’d love to see them.