Practice on a digital piano? In this post you’ll learn how to set your instrument’s volume in order to optimize your keyboard technique.

To become a GPP (“Good Piano Player”), developing the ability to consistently play a gradation of dynamics (volume) is vital.

On acoustic and most digital pianos, dynamics are determined by the velocity at which a key is depressed (which is determined by the force at which you strike the key).

Piano nerd (like me)? Learn more about how force and velocity are related (but different) concepts.

If you practice regularly on an acoustic piano, developing this ability is straightforward. That said, the better and more responsive instrument you have, the easier it is to develop a refined technique for performance of dynamics.

But if you practice on a digital piano – like millions of people these days – there is a potential hitch for developing this kind of technique.

While teaching virtually for the better part of two years during the Covid pandemic, I started to notice that many students with digital instruments were regularly playing too softly or loudly.

How could this happen? Could it happen to you?

If there are other people in your home, maybe you’ve set the volume of your digital piano quite low, so as to not disturb them. But now, in order to compensate for this low volume setting, you develop the habit of using more force than is necessary to play loudly (f or ff).

Conversely, maybe you live alone, or your family loves to hear you play. So you set the volume high, or even turn it up to 11. In order to compensate, you develop the habit of using less force than you should to play softly (p or pp).

“Than you should” means that if you were to play with identical technique on an acoustic piano, you wouldn’t get the results you’d expect, or want.

Happily, the solution is straightforward. Standardize the volume of your digital piano to mimic the volume of an acoustic piano as closely as possible. This can be done whether you’re using headphones, onboard speakers or an external amp, though depending on which there may be more than one volume control to experiment with.

In other words, set the volume so that when you play at maximum keyboard velocity, you get a fortissimo (ff) sound similar to an acoustic piano (but not louder than that). When you play at minimum velocity, a pianissimo (pp) sound should result (but not softer than that of an acoustic).

To be even more precise, you could even measure the MIDI velocity (0-127) of your attack, and the dynamic that results. Your instrument may provide a way to do this, but if not, connect your instrument to your computer and look for a music app that will.

You may be wondering, how should I know what an acoustic piano would sound like in my home? Obviously, it’s highly subjective. It depends on the size and quality of the hypothetical instrument, the size and acoustics of your room, and other factors. Use your best judgment and ask others for their opinion.

Once you standardize the volume, take note of it and don’t change it!

Read my latest post on Creative Keyboardist, The Right Way to Read Music.

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