When it comes to digital pianos, polyphony means the largest number of notes or tones that the piano can play at one time. Literally, it means many sounds (poly=many and phony=sound). Polyphony is a feature of digital and electric pianos only because it is a limit of the electronics. An acoustic piano can play all the notes at once because each note has it’s own string.
Polyphony varies depending on the model of the digital piano but available options are 16, 32, 64, 128 or 256. It can be a little confusing to determine which option is best, but considering the below points should make the process less painful. The idea is to be able to use your piano to your heart’s content without losing notes while you are playing.
Does the Cost of Piano Affect Polyphony?
Whether you know this or not, the amount that you pay for your digital piano will have a direct bearing on polyphony. Basically, opting for the cheapest available unit typically means that the maximum range will be lower. In many cases, 64 is what you can expect when making a modest investment. Even if you are not very adept a playing, this is a fairly low range.
Even though you may not be playing chords that require you to run your fingers all over the keyboard, there are other features that will reduce your available polyphony when they are in use.
Features And Polyphony
As I have already mentioned, it is not likely that everyone who plays piano will use all of the notes. But this does not mean that you should not purchase a unit that has a high number. There are some features that will reduce polyphony significantly.
I would suggest you buy one that has more than you need instead of being stuck with one that does not produce the sound quality that you are looking for. Yes, this will likely mean you have to invest more, but it is worth it. Especially if you want the digital piano to sound like an acoustic. While the largest option available is 256, you can get away with buying one with 128 since it allows the player a bit of flexibility.
Features that will have a direct effect on polyphony levels are drum backing tracks, accompaniments and a metronome. Many beginners use these often while they are in the learning phase, so it is essential to buy a piano that can accommodate this.
What Happens When Polyphony Is Exceeded
If you exceed your polyphony numbers, some of the notes you are playing will be lost. Most digital pianos have algorithms in place that will determine which notes should not be played in the event that some need to drop off. Basically, when you go over the maximum, notes will be lost, but they may not be noticeable at all.
Honestly, the only people that will notice every time are those who are perfectionists when it comes to playing. Others will continue to play without realizing there is a difference in the way the notes sound.
While there are five different choices when it comes to polyphony and digital pianos, you should choose a piano based on your ability and desired sound.
- If you want your piano playing to sound closer to a grand piano, get a digital piano with the highest polyphony you can afford.
- A model with a lower range will save you money, but the sound quality will be affected.
- If you are a serious piano player, you are better off investing the extra money and playing music without worrying about dropped notes.
So, what do you think? Is polyphony an important feature on digital pianos? Tell me your opinion in the comments below.
Hello! My Name is Scott and I am the Piano Dad! I started taking piano lessons as an adult to spend time with my 8 year old daughter and love every minute of it. I created this site to help other pianists learn more about playing piano as an adult. Hope you enjoy and learn a little something!