I've been asked by many people about having a beginning piano student learn on a keyboard vs a piano. Of course true pianos or digital pianos are the best option, but sometimes they don't fit in the budget.
So if a keybord is what's in your budget, what do you need to look for?
These are big things that are must-haves!
1. Full size keys. Notice I didn't say "keyboard". The individual keys themselves need to be full size. It doesn't matter as much if there are 88 keys on that keyboard, especially for the beginner. But those keys need to be full sized so that the musician's fingers can begin to learn spacing and intervals.
2.Weighted keys - also called touch sensitive. This means that the volume of the keys can be adjusted through the amount of force played on the keys, not just a volume slide or control. To determine if the keyboard has it or not, try playing as lightly as possible and then as hard as possible. If you noticed a difference in the volume, then they keys are weighted; if not, then its not. :)
3. Port for optional sustain pedal. Check the back of the keyboard to see if there is a port to plug a sustain pedal into. While the sustain pedal is not a must-have for the first couple months, it is used within the first year of lessons. Sometimes the pedal comes w/ the keyboard as a package deal, sometimes its something you have to purchase later.
4. Stand/Bench. In the very front of the primer level piano lesson book (I use Faber's Piano Adventures), there is a page that describes how to determine the musician's seating at the piano--both how high and how close to the keyboard. This need must be met by either the stand and bench to be bought w/ the keyboard, or a counter and adjustable stool/bench at home.
5. Music stand/rest. This is a place to stand up your music. There have been many people who have forgotten all about that until they got the keyboard home, so just make sure.
These 5 things are must-haves and thankfully keyboard manufacturers are making keyboards that meet these needs in more budget-friendly ways. The Yamaha keyboard in the picture is just one example of a keyboard that provides these things. The pedal and bench are additional purchases.