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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
James Grimshaw

Best starter keyboards for beginners in 2024 to help you learn to play

The portable keyboard has been a foundational instrument in developing the creative practice of the world’s little ‘uns since the early days of Bontempi; nineties schoolkids will remember obnoxious orchestral hits and absurd samples bounding around music rooms and rain-sodden temporary classrooms on dreary Tuesday afternoons.

Those first few notes you play on any musical instrument are equal parts magical and terrifying, whether you’re five years old or fifty.

That magic of making your own noise never really goes away, whatever you aspire towards – be it classical composition, contemporary production or subversive music scene acclaim. Regardless of our ambitions, we all need to start somewhere. The keyboard is arguably the best ‘somewhere’ to start, being an intuitive way to engage with musical theory and the building blocks of harmony.

Today, there is a fertile market for professional-grade instruments and devices; the bedroom studio is king, and independent music-makers are more prevalent than ever, in large thanks to the technological leaps that have democratised studio-quality equipment from audio interfaces to MIDI keyboards, samplers and more. However many of these devices are complex and confusing in their own way, even if designed for intuitive use. What if you just want to learn to play music?

You might have a young one displaying an interest in or aptitude for music and performance. You might have a friend or relative thinking about exploring a new hobby. You yourself might already be a musician in one form or another, hoping to develop your piano skills as a new second instrument. Whatever your reason, you’ll be looking for the perfect starter keyboard to facilitate that practice.

But, with a glut of products on the market, it can be difficult to figure out exactly what the best option is for a starter instrument. The wide variety of available instruments represents a wide variety of features and use cases, meaning there is a starter keyboard out there that suits your needs down to the ground.

We looked at ten of the best-in-class, spanning a range of prices and use cases, to help you find the keyboard that suits your own wants and needs.

Best beginner keyboards at a glance

See the best keyboards for beginners below

Casiotone CT-S100

Best for: beginners of all stripes

The Casiotone CT-S100 is an entry-level revival of Casio’s classic brand, a 1980s hallmark that paved the way for keyboards in consumer spaces. Unlike the vast majority of keyboards at this price point, the CT-S100 offers full-size keys. The size might be daunting for younger learners, but naturally acclimates the beginner to using keyboards of any instrument. Form-wise, the CT-S100 is compact as can be despite this key size, and also features a handy carry handle amusingly moulded right into the external case.

There are five core sounds with their own hot keys. Each of these has a variation that can be toggled by a separate “Tone” button – which, when held down, enables you to audition and select 122 other sounds via the keyboard itself. This is a nifty way to keep visual clutter down on the unit, and makes trialling new sounds much more intuitive than you might first think.

Further settings are accessed on the keys with a “Function” button, and auditory cues make it easy to understand where you are in the CT-S100’s internal menu. The features included are expansive, from transposition to key tuning and reverb effects – and every single setting can be saved to a preset.

The Casiotone is also fully MIDI-enabled, with a micro-USB connection enabling both MIDI output and input. Casio’s Chordana Play app integrates this MIDI functionality for learning purposes, enabling you to cue and play along to internal and user-loaded MIDI files with piano roll and music notation. Making MIDI work for you might require some cable wrangling, but the reward is an intuitive and invaluable tool for learners and creators of any age.

Buy now £120.00, Argos

Kawai ES120

Best for: quality piano emulation

Here, the line between ‘beginner keyboard’ and ‘digital piano’ is blurred somewhat, as this entry-level, full-size 88-key instrument folds Kawai’s rich history of piano manufacture and hybrid experimentation into a neat and comprehensive learner’s package.

The ES120 is the cheapest point of entry into the Kawai brand, and, externally, a simple machine. It has few visible features and fewer buttons – but it springs to life when paired with Kawai’s PianoRemote app via Bluetooth. The app enables a quick selection of sounds, whether the three core piano instruments or a wider array of sounds – including electric pianos, vibraphone, strings and more.

The three core sounds benefit from a sub-menu entitled “Virtual Technician”, which is easily the most comprehensive sound editor I have encountered in some time – even when it comes to software VSTs. Here, everything from velocity curves to damper noise and string resonance can be tweaked to your liking. The customisability also extends to changing the piano’s tuning and temperament independently, stacking instruments or splitting your keyboard for easier composition, and even sculpting the output EQ to suit the specific kind of head- or earphones you are using.

In terms of the unit itself, the keys travel well, with Kawai’s “Responsive Hammer Compact” action lending a pleasing and incredibly realistic resistance and give – a delight at this price point, and something that makes practice both expressive and rewarding. Speaking of delightful features, the unit also features both kinds of headphone jack input – 6.3mm and 3.5mm –, which is a charming touch that only serves to improve useability and accessibility.

This barely scratches the surfaces of the ES120s surprising features and options, all of which are perhaps overkill for the new player. But the unit is closer aligned with the sense of playing a ‘real instrument’ than any other keyboard on the list. This is a stand-out model for both core functionality and experience, but its price could put off those less committed to practice and development.

Buy now £559.00, Gear4Music

Roland GO:KEYS

Best for: casual learning and play

Roland needs little introduction, so embedded it is in contemporary music history. Roland's instruments from the Juno synths to the 808 have had indelible impacts on music, and Roland continues to innovate today. Its GO: series of beginner keyboards represents a reaffirmation of Roland’s foundational goal: to bring technology to new and amateur hands at an affordable price point.

The GO:KEYS is a flagship model for this new endeavour, offering 61 full-sized keys, a small profile and an extensive sound library. Starting with the keys themselves, they have a surprising action for the size of the unit. They enjoy spring action and a weighted feel, with a good ‘click’ under finger making for responsive play.

The sound library contains 500 unique sounds, split into eight sub-sections accessed via dedicated buttons. The GO:KEYS’ buttons are touch-operated as opposed to actuated; this touch operation enables a nifty two-track touchpad for modulation, tone-shifting and even roll effects. The GO:KEYS’ software is surprisingly deep given the demographic it seems to target, with tuning and transposition well telegraphed – and more useful functions like tap-tempo (via the modulation pad) toggleable.

Its two major USPs are its Loop Mix function – which allows players to play pre-recorded loops and remix them with the performance touchpad – and its Bluetooth connectivity. Both are a little gimmicky, but fun to mess around with. The former, in particular, is a fun introduction to more sample-based contemporary musical practice.

Buy now £235.36, Amazon

Roland GO:PIANO 88

Best for: classical learners on a budget

The Roland GO:PIANO 88 is a departure from the versatility and portability of the GO:KEYS, standing apart as a more serious learning keyboard for beginners with more specific utilities and features. Though it is larger, and makes more of itself as a low-cost digital piano alternative, it is not necessarily an elevation in quality; indeed, its keys are not sprung as with the GO:KEYS. However, the GO:PIANO 88 makes up for this less responsive feel in other ways. For one, the build quality is better, with a pleasing finish to the casing.

The GO:PIANO 88 offers fewer bells and whistles in general, but is all the better for it. Instead, its functionality has a keen focus on features that better suit learning and practice. For example, it offers just four playable sounds instead of 500. But these are strong, useful and expressive sounds, from pianos to organ and strings.

Settings and features are accessed via a function button and labelled keys. “Key Touch” changes the responsiveness of each sound, allowing for different kinds of expressive play. The metronome is simple and incredibly easy to use, too, allowing you to cycle between various time signatures. An onboard reverb is rich and luscious, served well by the superior speakers. Key presses are panned across the speakers relative to their position, too, which is a nice immersive touch.

Buy now £217.00, Amazon

Yamaha PSR-E473

Best for: budding bedroom DJs

Yamaha is a fun consumer brand; rare is it that you can expect a high-quality motorcycle, golf club and musical instrument from the same manufacturer. With specific regard to keyboards, though, Yamaha’s PortaSound series has been guiding young players through their early practice for decades. Today, the keyboard series has taken on the ‘PSR’ prefix, with the PSR-E473 one of its premier beginner models.

But the PSR-E473 is a confusing entry in the wider beginner keyboard space. Its smaller key size makes playing easier for smaller hands, as does its light action. But at first look, its interface is overwhelming: over 800 sounds, banks of buttons and pads, functions within functions and an LCD display with endless options to track.

A Live Control section assigns parameters to two control knobs, enabling you to add effects to any chosen sounds. An Articulation pad allows you to access authentic sounds relating to each sound, such as the harmonics on a guitar. There is even a Quick Sample section, where four buttons can be assigned to trigger samples from inputs or a USB storage device. Ultimately, its complex options for recording and remixing arrangements are likely to go over the average beginner’s head. However, it does boast a wide range of engaging sounds, and its tap tempo metronome is a welcome feature.

Buy now £344.00, PMT

Yamaha PSR-F52

Best for: baby beginners

Yamaha’s PSR-F52 is about as beginner as you can get from the company’s keyboard range, being a bare-bones, slim-key portable keyboard with little in the way of digital clutter. There are no screens here, save for seven-segment LED displays that show you which preset sounds or songs you are using.

Speaking of sounds, there are 136 of them – as well as eight drum kit packs. Not many of these sounds are altogether great, but the tinny built-in speakers are squarely responsible for this. Still, there’s some fun to be had in exploring the range of sounds available. The Dual function allows you to stack some common sounds together, while the Split function puts two sounds across the keyboard – allowing accompaniment from a parent or tutor.

A pleasant surprise here is, again, the metronome’s tap tempo function. This is a feature that practically no beginner keyboards offer in this price range, and was even a surprise on the higher-priced PSR-E473. Tap tempo is simple and intuitive, allowing you to play along to songs without needing fancy Bluetooth connections or tempo-detecting algorithms.

Buy now £82.40, Amazon

Roland FP-10

Best for: burgeoning professional students

The FP-10 is a different breed of beginner keyboard altogether, distinct from Roland’s GO: series in that it takes itself much more seriously. This is a professional practice piano, designed to emulate the feel and sound of the real thing as closely as it can to its price point. This it does with full-weighted keys, that each displays a neat, subtle faux-wood surface texture.

The FP-10 is extremely intuitive to use, and even easier than the GO:PIANO – if a little less exciting as a result. It cuts an austere yet sleek form, with practically no buttons; everything is controlled through a function key and the piano keys themselves. Its sound is remarkable, though, with full-throated bass response putting you that little more in touch with what you’re playing.

It is by no means as engaging as the members of the GO: series, but its build quality is a little higher – as is the fullness of its sound. This is a serious learner instrument, and one that lends itself well as a budget instrument to facilitate formal tuition.

Buy now £365.00, Amazon

Gear4Music MK1000

Best for: the frugal beginner

The Gear4Music MK1000 is a 54-key portable keyboard that makes no bones about its ‘budget’ status. That its percussion mode is labelled ‘precussion’ on the device itself and should tell you everything you need to know about its price point and purpose. It is an extremely simple keyboard for beginners to operate, with a basic interface that does away with function keys and complicated menu trees in favour of immediate access to sounds and settings.

The sounds are accessed by the ‘precussion’ buttons above the keybed; a shift button cycles between timbre lists, and each sound can be auditioned with a button press. Some sounds shine here, with the accordion and synth bass timbres particularly fun to play with. The Mk1000 offers eight-key polyphony, but no velocity – and the percussion sounds, which can only be played by their respective pads, cannot be triggered at the same time.

Rhythms are easy to dial in, though, and playback pleasingly in stereo. There are some gems amongst these rhythms, too, marking a departure from the weak bossa-nova grooves of 90s keyboards. They might even be candidates for future hits in their own right (just don’t tell Damon Albarn).

The record function is a trivial addition, simply offering monophonic recordings – no chords, rhythms or beats here. This is fine for the absolute beginner, and perhaps a fun feature for younger learners to use in making their first creative forays.

Buy now £40.00, Gear4Music

Alesis Harmony 32

Best for: small bedrooms

If there was a reward for the ‘smallest keyboard’, this would win it. But its diminutive size hides multitudes – multitudes of sounds, at least. The Harmony 32 features a healthy 300 sounds, and a further 300 rhythms to play along to. These 300 sounds are only identifiable by group, though – meaning if you want a specific sound, you’ll have to go hunting. There are also 40 demo songs to play along to, and a bog-standard record feature with which you can record your own composition to accompany.

Some of the sounds are surprisingly pleasant for a beginner keyboard of this form factor – especially the honky-tonk piano, organ and some of the synth sounds. However, bass instruments are a little hamstrung by a lack of octave and transposition functionality. The rhythm section is supplemented with five pads for drums, but – like the Gear4Music Mk1000 – these cannot be simultaneously triggered. Thankfully, the same sounds can be accessed as a sound, enabling polyphonic play with the keyboard or via MIDI.

Speaking of which, the Harmony 32’s MIDI functionality is alarmingly comprehensive for its price. It can send and receive MIDI – when receiving MIDI, further octaves and key velocity for included sounds can be accessed – and virtual instruments triggered by the keyboard. This makes it a perfect gateway device for young creators starting to dabble in Digital Audio Workstations, or DAWs. The cherry on top is that the Harmony 32 runs on 5V power – meaning it can run on anything from 4 AA batteries to your USB phone charger or laptop USB port.

Buy now £61.00, Amazon

Casiotone LK-S450

Best for: visual learners

The LK-S450 is, on a surface level, a gimmick device. Its chief selling point is its light-up key system, which sees LEDs under each key activate in response to key presses or MIDI information.

Far from being a gimmick, this feature is an inspired learning aid, helping visual learners follow along to demo songs and arrangements and pick up fingerings intuitively. It is also by no means the only thing going for this keyboard.

First, though, the interface. An LCD screen, five control buttons and a jog wheel enable easy interaction with settings, while quick keys let you move between menus easily. The jog wheel is pleasant to use, and makes scrolling through sounds and settings a breeze. In terms of tones, there are a whopping 600, the quality of which is a welcome surprise.

The Casio LK-S450 positions itself not just as a learning tool, but as an ‘arranger keyboard’, a true compositional tool as well as a learning tool. Arrangements can be recorded as MIDI files, with up to five tracks available – one for your core recording, and four overdubs. Advanced learners or tech-savvy beginners can set MIDI channels on the keyboard for each ‘voice’, enabling multitrack MIDI recording to external devices.

A novel inclusion in its deep settings menu is a “Karaoke” mode, which enables you to sing along through your keyboard using a microphone and some dedicated effects. This demonstrates well, though, that the LK-S450 is perhaps unnecessarily feature-rich. These features are nonetheless welcome, and the light-up keys a highlight in and of themselves.

Buy now £233.00, Amazon


Choosing a beginner keyboard is no easy task, and made all the harder when competition is high between the best-in-class. For playing experience, sound and functionality, the Kawai ES120 easily outclasses others, and at a price point not too far above the more feature-dense of other beginner products.

But the ES120s relatively steep price point might be a little too much to ask of most beginners’ budgets.

As an all-rounder at an astonishingly affordable price, the Casiotone CT-S100 pips its competitors to the post.

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