What Is Polyphony And How Much Do You Need?

Chances are that you were searching for information about digital pianos/keyboards when you came across the term polyphony.

While I’ve been playing the piano for over 20 years now, I too was in this same position about 7 years ago when I was really getting into the technical side of keyboards.

While digital piano polyphony is important at the beginning level of digital pianos, I believe it becomes even more important as you start to scale up to the expensive digital pianos.

In this article we will cover everything you need to know about digital polyphony so that when you leave, you will know exactly what to look for.

It is important to note that the best digital pianos will typically have over 128 note polyphony. Anything lower than this will put you into the beginner to intermediate range of digital pianos.

Let’s start by getting a quick grasp of what exactly polyphony is.

What Does Polyphony Mean For Digital Pianos/Keyboards?

When polyphony is mentioned in relation to digital pianos/keyboards, it means the number of notes that can be produced at the same time.

For example, in kid’s keyboards, or older synthesizers, we will often see 8 note polyphony. What this means is that you can only play 8 notes at the same time without a note cutting out.

For example, should you be playing larger chords, a note would cut out upon hitting 8 notes at the same time. Later in the article, we will be explaining the importance of this with nice digital pianos.

While this might seem pretty basic, it starts to get tricky quickly as you get to the nicer digital pianos.

What Is The Most Common Polyphony In A Digital Piano?

As i’m a statistics kind of guy, I really love to dive in and see averages of certain things. I thought it would be fun to take a look at the popular digital piano models at different price points to show you the norms.

First off, the most common types of polyphony are as followed:

  • 48
  • 64
  • 96
  • 128
  • 192
  • 256
  • Limitless (Some newer models are limitless for piano sounds)

Price will play a role in the maximum polyphony, as you can see below. I’ve broken it down for what you can expect for polyphony based on looking at all of the most popular digital pianos for different price points.

  • $300-64 notes polyphony
  • $500-96 to 128 notes of polyphony
  • $1,000-192 to 256 polyphony
  • $2,000-Minimum of 192, ranging up to limitless

How Much Polyphony Do I Need In A Digital Piano?

At minimum, I recommend 64 notes of polyphony.

This is the holy grail of this article. If this is why you came to the article, you’ve come to the right place.

It is important to note that polyphony gets a little complicated when you start to introduce stereo samples.

Stereo samples can mean that for every note that is played, 2 notes of polyphony are needed. Furthermore, say you are layering different sounds together.

If we take 1 piano, an electric piano, an organ, and a bass, we now have 4 notes of polyphony for one note being pressed.

Should you be playing bigger chords or using the sustain pedal, you will more than likely exceed the polyphony on a cheaper digital piano.

Some of the nicer digital pianos piano samples contain 2-4 layers per note as well. This means, you will need a significant amount of polyphony.

For beginners, I would recommend the minimum of 64 notes of polyphony for digital piano.

If you have been playing the piano for some time, I would recommend aiming above 128 notes of polyphony.

Personally, I would go for 192 or more as that’s what most of the digital pianos have in the price range that I would be spending in.

How Important Is Polyphony In A Digital Piano?

I would say that polyphony is definitely important, With this being said, it’s not as important as the key-action though. The key-action is going to be what ultimately gives you the feel of an acoustic piano.

Wrapping Up

Polyphony in digital pianos or keyboards is a very interesting subject. Over the years it has become more of a conversation when discussing which digital piano people should buy.

My personal opinion is that you should focus more so on how the keyboard plays more so than the polyphony. With this being said, it is important that you have an understanding for what it is.

1 comment
  1. Hi there
    This is the best explanation of Polyphony I have come across online. It would be great if you could give some played music examples also. I am still struggling to understand what or why you might need to play 128 notes/sounds at anyone time and what the effect of this is and what kind of sound you would produce. I am looking to buy a digital piano just now and I was thinking the 64 polyphony would be plenty but I’m not sure if I am missing a something I haven’t considered? Anyway, the point I was making is, it’s a very good article and thanks for posting, it cleared a lot up for me.

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