Is There a Difference Between Semi-Weighted vs Weighted Keys?

Before we delve into the difference between the semi-weighted vs weighted keys of any digital piano, I would like to share two vital moments in my earlier piano journey.

I grew up with a Bechstein baby grand performance piano at home. Naturally, I was used to the weighted hammer action piano keyboard. Because it was a performance piano, the keys were relatively light.

  • My first shock was to play the upright piano at my friend’s home. I found the keys were so heavy. It was the moment that I realized the keys on every piano are different. This is especially true for acoustic pianos.
  • The second moment was to play an unweighted keyboard before I bought my first digital piano. The spring-loaded keyboard was so light to play and there was no different response regardless of how light or heavy I pressed the keys. This experience made me pay more attention to the key actions of digital pianos.

In this article, let’s take a closer look at the difference between semi-weighted vs weighted keys.

What are Weighted Keys on a Digital Piano?

When the acoustic pianos are from the same brand and maker, they may still have subtle differences in each piano. On the other hand, digital pianos are mass-produced electrical instruments. The technology used on the weighted key action of a specific digital piano model is the same. Of course, each digital piano maker applies different techniques to their keyboards.

weighted keys

What are the weighted keys? On a digital piano, a weighted key is touch sensitive and responds to the heaviness of pressing the key. The heavier you press the loud the sound. The weighted key is to mimic the acoustic piano keys at a pretty basic level.

Usually, the weighted keys mean that every key on the keyboard has the same weight, regardless of its position on the keyboard. Hence, it is not fully simulating the feel of an acoustic piano.

Graded Hammer Action Keys

With technological advancement, many digital piano manufacturers started shifting from simply weighted keys to the graded hammer action. The weighted keys are graded from low to high. The weight of the keys in the bass section is heavier feel in your left hand, and as you move up the keyboard to the right, the feel gets lighter. The digital piano makers also create mechanisms under the keys to mimic the hammer behaviors found in an acoustic piano.

Combining the graded weights and the hammer actions, we have the graded (or scaled) hammer action keyboard in digital pianos. Even though the graded hammer action keyboards are not 100% like the high-end acoustic pianos, still they offer some very amazing key actions that realistically simulate an acoustic piano.

Digital Pianos With Outstanding Key Actions

While the touch and key action are very personal choices. People may favor different brands and key actions. Popular Digital Piano Brands like Yamaha and Kawai, offer outstanding key actions.

  • For instance, Yamaha YDP-184 features Graded Hammer 3 (GH3) action which presents Yamaha’s signature feel. Notably, the GH3’s three-sensor configuration gives a quick response and realistic feel when playing fast repetitive notes.
  • Another example is Kawai KDP-120. It comes with Kawai’s Responsive Hammer Compact II (RHCII) keyboard which measures the velocity of the weighted hammers when playing each key.  This method more closely replicates the mechanism of an acoustic grand piano.

Check out the 10 Best Digital Pianos we reviewed and they all have outstanding key actions. You will find the best one that fits your style and preference.

Difference Between Semi-Weighted vs Weighted Keys

hammond organ

Interestingly, you may also have heard about semi-weighted keys. What is the difference between semi-weighted vs weighted keys?

The semi-weighted means spring-loaded keys (also known as synth action) with light weights attached to them. Due to the combination of the synth action and weighted action, it sounds like a nice in-between option.

In reality, there are not a lot of semi-weighted keyboards or digital pianos. It’s kind of a separate genre in itself. The semi-weighted keys were first seen in electric organs like a Hammond Organ. Nowadays, it is mostly on some high-end Nord organ simulators. And you may also find them on some old synthesizers.

If you are looking for a digital piano, you probably do not need to be concerned about the semi-weighted keys, rather focusing on graded weighted keys. Unless you are a professional musician looking for a synthesizer, then semi-weighted keys are more relevant.

On the other hand, if you come across a keyboard that features semi-weighted keys, you need to make sure it is touch-sensitive at a minimum.

Summary

In regards to semi-weighted vs weighted keys, the weighted keys are more relevant to piano players or pianists. For beginners, it is critical to get a keyboard with weighted keys at a minimum, ideally, a graded weighted key action. The weighted keys are crucial for developing piano technique and adding colors to any piece you play.

While the keyboards with unweighted keys are much more affordable, I would not recommend them to any beginners who want to learn to play piano. Still, there are few very affordable digital piano models available on the market, such as Donner DDP-20 which is a decent beginner piano with graded weighted keys.

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