No matter what you may read in tabloids and broadsheets, music in UK Schools and Colleges is not all doom and gloom!  Quite the opposite in fact.

The numbers of students who opt for, and take up GCSE, BTEC and A Level Music courses has stabilised over the past few years with healthy, sustainable class sizes. This is mainly through the support of Headteachers, Music Hubs and Music staff. All of who understand the overall educational impact the Arts – especially Music – has on attainment and student progress.

Yes, school music department budgets are under pressure from accounts departments, but here at Normans we understand what classrooms and schools require. We liaise personally to supply the most suitable Keyboards and Digital Pianos.

For Key Stage 1-3 Music classrooms, the main consideration will probably be space and numbers of keyboards required. The majority of these classrooms need to accommodate class sizes of around 30 students. The logistical implications of having 30 keyboards is impractical and unmanageable for teachers.

I find in many Schools that the best solution is to have a 2-1 ratio of students to keyboards, and ideally of 61-note size. Although, 49-note keyboards can be equally suitable. This allows students to work in pairs on one keyboard, but still with access to at least 2 octaves of keys each. This enhances peer and independent learning. There are many entry level, affordable keyboards on the market from the likes of Yamaha, Casio and Axus, that can fulfil these criteria. Plus they all have an array of voices & rhythms and good in-built speakers, as well as headphone connectivity.

Entry Level

The first recommended keyboards are those entry level models which meet the basic requirements. And tend to have a more ‘basic’ price.

Casio CTK-240 49 Note Full Size Keyboard

The Casio CTK-240, at under £60, is a 49-note keyboard. Perfect  for the classroom that is short on space. It is also available as a package.ctk240 classroom keyboard

Yamaha PSR-F51 Portable Keyboard

Yamaha supply the excellent value for money PSR-F51. With 120 realistic instrument voices and 114 backing accompaniment styles – great for lots of experimentation – that are laid out in a colour coded, simple and intuitive design, you will certainly have many options for diverse lesson content and teaching. Even better for the classroom this model has duo practice mode. This allows two students to play together. Perfect for saving space and money. As always a package version is available. PSRF51 Classroom Keyboard

Axus Keyboards

Finally, the new kid on the block. The Axus AXP2 and AXP25 keyboards offer an industry leading specification at a very affordable cost.

AXP2:

  • 61 touch sensitive keys, the harder your press the louder sound you create
  • 200 voices, 128 rhythms, 10 built in songs. Vibrato and Pitch Bend.
  • USB and Audio Inputs, ideal for headphone use or playing along your favourite songs.
  • Includes mains adaptor, music stand and pair of headphones

AXP25:

  • 61 note, touch sensitive keyboard
  • Touch sensitivity can be turned off if required
  • 300 high quality instrumental voices, Dual/Split
  • 200 realistic backing styles with accompaniment control (start/stop, sync, fill, ending/fill)
  • One Touch Setting
  • Multi functional LCD display
  • A.B.C. Lesson function and chord dictionary
  • 100 keyboard songs, 2 demo songs
  • 32 note polyphony
  • Record/Playback function
  • 2 x 10W speakers
  • Transpose, metronome, tempo
  • Supplied with Music Rest and power adaptor. Battery operation available
  • Connectivity: AC power, headphones, sustain, USB

As we progress into Key Stage 4 and 5 classrooms, the requirements and considerations have more implications and impact on student progress and outcome.

Which course(s) are you teaching? How many students will require simultaneous access to a keyboard?

In my experience, GCSE and BTEC Key Stage 4 courses all require an element of composition and musical theory understanding which will require access to a keyboard. Either on a 2-1 ratio for classroom learning or even 1 keyboard per student. Especially when you go into the realms of keyboard based composition tasks and exam conditions coursework units.

Middle Ground

Similar to the earlier Key Stages, a 61-note sized Keyboard should be the one to consider, as it will be sufficient for composition and theory lessons.  The important aspect is to now consider connectivity?  These classroom tasks and coursework units generally require music composition software; Sibelius, Logic, GarageBand, Finale, Cubase etc., so it is essential that your keyboard has suitable connectivity to the P.C. and network for data storage and MIDI controller communication.  When Schools approach us for advice, we always involve the IT/Network departments to ensure we only supply suitably connectable keyboards, i.e. USB 2/3, Firewire, Thunderbolt 2/3, MIDI in/out.

The main keyboards we strongly recommend to our Schools & Colleges are the following:

Yamaha PSRE363 portable Keyboard

One of our most popular Keyboards supplied to schools & colleges teaching Key Stage 4/5 GCSE, BTEC or A Level Music Courses. Excellent specification and USB/MIDI connections.

Casio CTK-3500

Another great sounding and connectable keyboard with similar functionality to the Yamaha.

Yamaha NP-12

The best, affordable answer if you require a top quality connectable keyboard, but without the distractions of many ‘buttons’ and functions. This offering from Yamaha provides all of the features, such as touch-sensitive full-sized keys and amazing sound quality, that you would expect from the world’s largest and most popular keyboard manufacturer.

 

For the performance elements of Key Stage 4 and 5 courses, a good quality, robust and reliable Digital Keyboard is another necessity.  In my opinion, the key aspects to consider when looking for a great sounding, affordable and suitable digital performance Keyboard/Piano are;

  • 88 Full size keys. A must for all traditionally tutored and amateur performance pianists and accompanists.
  • Weighted Keys. Ideally, weighted graded hammer action boxed keys.
  • High Quality Sound. This ensures the recorded performance exams are of the highest possible quality for assessment.
  • Good quality In-Built Speakers for easy accessibility without outside amplification. Must be loud enough for ensemble work as well as solo performance.
  • Pedals. The sustain is a necessity, but ideally also with soft and damper pedals.

You want more? Okay.

Up at The Top

Axus AXD2 Piano

I’ll start with my favourite, the attractive and outstanding Axus D2 Digital Piano with graded action, full-sized keys, and excellent sound quality: I promise you, you will not believe the price… and how good it is. Buyer beware though, these sell out very quickly as soon as they come into stock. As a side note: Be warned. This may be the darkest Rosewood finish on the market!

Casio

We also stock the full range of Casio Digital Piano’s, from the Casio AP-270 in a traditional cabinet, to the fully-loaded AP-470.  These Casio Pianos are built to last, using high quality components and with first-rate manufacturing techniques.

Yamaha

When it comes Digital Piano’s, Yamaha have been at the forefront of quality design, sound and reliability for many, many decades. They have a knack of always raising the bar,  staying 2 steps ahead of the competition. (They are worried about our Axus D2 though!)

From the Yamaha P45 Compact Piano – with its portability and low price tag – all the way up to the Yamaha CLP685 Clavinova Piano – with its professional, unrivalled sound and build quality – there is a Yamaha Piano to suit everyone’s needs and budget.

One of most popular models we supply to Schools, Colleges and Universities, is the YDP and DGX ranges. This is due to their prolific functionality, robust engineering, and most importantly, an outstanding tonal sound quality.  I challenge you to not find a suitable and excellent, Yamaha Digital Piano.

About the author

Nick joined the Normans Sales Team after a musical career spanning 35 years; firstly as a principal trombonist in Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Band Service for 24 years, performing around the UK and worldwide, including on the Royal Yacht Britannia, and then within the education sector teaching GCSE and A Level Music and Music Technology. He is a keen Big Band, Jazz performer and Hi-Fi enthusiast.

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