If you are old enough to remember watching DVDs as a kid, you might remember watching its bonus features. Whenever you plugged in a Disney DVD, it had a short film included alongside the film.
Cars had one called “One Man Band,” where two inventor-buskers duel for a little girl’s coin. As a kid I was fascinated by the goofy contraptions they used to play multiple acoustics at the same time.
Playing multiple acoustic instruments simultaneously might be a pipe dream, but being a one-man-band isn’t! Arranger keyboards take notes played in real-time and automatically apply accompaniment in the background.
Below are five arranger keyboards we recommend here at Music Strive!
Best Arranger Keyboards for the Money
Table of Contents
- Best Arranger Keyboards for the Money
- Choosing an Arranger Keyboard
- One More Thing Before Concluding: What is a Workstation Keyboard?
1. Casio Casiotone CT-S500
Every instrument family has plenty of variety, and arranger keyboards are no different. Casio made the Casiotone CT-S500 for beginners looking for extensive sounds and playability.
Its features are limited compared to the other products listed, but it’s still extraordinary at what it can do.
First off, the S500 is loaded with 800 sounds, with everything from guitars to sitars and jazz drums. Every instrument sounds authentic, and with programmable effects and a pitch wheel, you can make them sound even more believable.
If curious, check out Sweetwater’s product page, which has a video of two reps jamming. For such a compact and affordable product, its versatility honestly blew me away.
If you want a more personalized sound, you can record samples too. My college roommate, in typical composer fashion, had way too much fun with this feature.
He took a kitchen kettle and whacked it several times until he was happy. I have to admit, it was fun to be able to record a sound and instantly play it back with a physical keyboard – even if the sound was annoying!
In terms of durability, the keys are weighted and expressive. I was also excited to find it could run on AAA batteries! If I wanted, I could take it downtown and do some busking without worrying about power sources.
The downside of Casio’s S500 is its limited features. It has great potential with sampling, but you can’t customize its preloaded beats and accompaniments.
2. Korg EK-50
Korg’s EK-50 is a step up in customization. It includes loads of sounds, but its parameters are where it really shines.
Like most digital keyboards, I noticed the EK-50 has buttons for changing accompaniment styles, songs, and sounds. What I found different was how the other buttons let you adjust parameters in these categories.
For example, the left side has six buttons labeled “Part Mute,” which let you take a preset accompaniment and mute instruments you don’t want. This has many practical uses.
In my case, I wanted a rock tune without drums since I was already jamming with a drummer. By muting the drums, we could have a bass guitar without conflicting beats.
When I learned about arranger keyboards, I wasn’t sure how they “followed” my chord progressions. Thankfully, you don’t have to worry about this.
Just transpose to your key’s song, and it automatically translates your left-hand notes into corresponding figures.
Unfortunately, I found the sounds subpar. Many, especially the overdriven guitar and trumpets, sounded cheap and electronic. The user manual was not very helpful either.
Still, if you want a budget product for jamming with off-the-cuff accompaniment, the EK-50 is a solid choice.
3. Roland E-X50
The Roland E-X50 takes the customization of the Korg EK-50 and steps it up a notch, although they’re both very similar.
Even though the Roland E-X50 only has a few more buttons, they somehow made the keyboard look more intimidating. Thankfully, after toying with it, I can say it adds more features without being overly complicated.
I was impressed by the range of available left-hand accompaniments. Not only could I play chords and have the keyboard auto-translate them, but I could also choose how the keyboard auto-accompanied.
In my case, I tried an organ alongside a classical Indian accompaniment. I’m a sucker for Indian ragas and minimalism (call me a nerd, I know …) I liked the accompaniment, but wanted a sparser one.
I used the included software to tinker around with the included “Indian style” to better suit my preferences. The E-X50’s ability to cater to nuances like this showcases its unique place in the arranger keyboards market.
I found the E-X50 to be the most compatible keyboard of this list. You can plug a mic right into the system, jam with Bluetooth connections, and plug into a stereo system.
However, it’s worth noting the E-X50 doesn’t have a sequencer. Korg’s EK-50 does though. Looks like these models are going to be battling for years to come!
4. Yamaha PSRSX600
Yamaha’s keyboard arranger is officially intimidating! That’s not necessarily a bad thing, given its price point. If you’re looking for the most you can get out of a keyboard arranger, the PSRSX600 is a strong contender.
It goes without saying that the PSRSX600 has all the features you would expect from an expansive arranger: extensive sounds, sequencers, variable accompaniment patterns, versatile inputs and outputs etc. So, what did I find so interesting about this model?
Fundamentally, I appreciated the PSRSX600’s attention to the quirks of live music making. Music is, after all, a live art form.
For example, I loved the PSRSX600’s real-time knobs. The assignable knobs let me perform filter sweeps and modulation whenever I wanted, while retaining accompaniment and melody.
How about if you get off beat? Enter the ‘Style Section Reset!’ This snazzy button lets you return to beat one of a measure without missing a beat!
While they might not emphasize it, I consider Yamaha’s keyboard to be a lowkey mixer as well. I adjusted my sounds with EQ modifiers, and could change the volume of various sounds.
Yamaha’s attention to details makes the PSRSX600 a winner for anyone wanting to turn a solo performance into a full-sounding band, no matter their style. I found out I could even duplicate my voice and create a vocoder effect!
5. Roland E-A7
The Roland E-A7 probably has about as many buttons as the Yamaha PSRSX600, and there is still a steep learning curve you have to tackle before being able to fully play it.
However, I think the layout of the buttons makes the E-A7 easier to wrap your mind around. The more I played with it, the more I understood why Roland placed each thing where they did.
The most obvious feature of the E-A7, besides its buttons, is its double screens. At first, these probably seem excessive and intimidating. However, this isn’t really the case – you just gotta take a deep breath and jump in!
The left screen displays information about the accompaniment and its corresponding style. The right screen shows information on the current sound selection for the keyboard.
That way you’re always only a glance away from checking the information you need, instead of having to switch menus. There – that wasn’t so difficult, was it?
The rest of the buttons are laid out with equal intentionality. Ultimately this serves the purpose of being able to quickly check parameters.
There isn’t much more to say about features, since almost all of them are available with patience and determination. The biggest criticism I have with the E-A7 is that some of its features are a bit clunky to interact with.
Choosing an Arranger Keyboard
When looking at the five options above, or more if you do more research, it can be overwhelming to know what to look for. Below are some factors that should help you get started on your hunt for an arranger!
Factor 1: How Many Musical Styles are Included in the Arranger?
Some musicians work almost exclusively in a single genre, whereas others like to hop around from one genre to another.
Vladimir Horowitz, for example, played classical piano everywhere he went. Yo-Yo Ma, on the other hand, has played cello in classical, bluegrass, and tango settings. And Frank Zappa?
Think about your musical inspirations and the music you enjoy playing. Are you a professional gigging in diverse groups? Are you an intermediate jazz keyboardist? Do you want to sound like your favorite rock or electronic musicians?
Arranger keyboards are useful for practicing, as well as live performance. Sometimes they are even helpful for composing.
If you play gigs in multiple genres, you may want an arranger with many styles. If you just want something to practice playing over several beats, an arranger with fewer styles could work just fine.
Whatever you decide, don’t assume that an arranger won’t have lesser-known styles. With our increasingly connected and diverse world, music companies are always seeking to diversify their products.
As a result, many arrangers have specific genres from around the world alongside “bread and butter” styles like rock and jazz.
Factor 2: What Kind of Display Will You Want?
Displays are often overlooked, or outright ignored. Admittedly, they might not be the most important factor when deciding on an arranger keyboard.
However, there are two good reasons why you would want to consider an arranger’s display.
First, you want it to be easy on your eyes. This is probably pretty obvious. If you have a hard time reading the display, you will have a difficult time navigating your keyboard’s settings and features.
You don’t want to spend a lot of money on something that is a pain to use. Plus, an easy-to-understand screen makes your music more intuitive.
Second, consider what information the screen is used to display, versus what the keyboard’s buttons accomplish.
Some arrangers use less buttons and need more screen menus. Other arrangers use lots of buttons to minimize staring at a screen.
Some people get overwhelmed by lots of buttons, while others get bogged down with screen menus.
So, what am I trying to say? Just take a minute to think about how you want to interact with your arranger, and pick one with a screen catering to your workflow.
Factor 3: How Heavy is Your Arranger, and How Will You Be Using It?
Electric instruments have way more room for weight variation than acoustic instruments. All violins are going to weigh roughly the same, but not all digital keyboards have to weigh the same.
Take a moment to think about where you are going to use your arranger, and what you are going to be using it for.
If you are going to use it in a studio, then you can probably afford to get a pretty heavy one. If you are going to use it for gigging though, you will probably want a lighter one (and accessories like keyboard stands and music stands!)
A keyboard’s weight doesn’t have to be the end all be all, but it can definitely make your overall experience with it easier or more difficult.
Factor 4: How Much Will You Want to Customize Your Arranger’s Features?
Lastly, how customizable will you want your arranger keyboard to be? How will you be using it, and how many things will you need it to do?
A keyboard’s features are what make it unique and exciting. Have fun learning about what each one does, but don’t forget to consider how each feature will serve your end goals.
If you are a professional gigger, you might need the more expensive ones with the most customizable features. If you just want something to practice your chops on, several stock beats and accompaniment styles might be good enough.
One More Thing Before Concluding: What is a Workstation Keyboard?
Before ending this article, I wanted to briefly mention workstation keyboards. If you’ve done any research on arranger keyboards yourself, you’ve probably come across articles mentioning “workstation.”
At first glance, workstations and arrangers may seem almost identical. No one would blame you for thinking that either, as both have many features in common.
Both let you combine several instruments together into a full band sound. Both have built in effects, customizable drum beats, and sound-shaping parameters. Sometimes they both have sequencers.
However, both are used for different reasons. An arranger is used for live performance, with its features focusing on its auto-accompaniment capabilities. Think of that fancy guy at a wedding playing keys and singing all by himself, with a full-band sound behind him.
Sometimes, songwriters will use arrangers to test how their songs sound with instruments they don’t play. The arranger may not provide the final sound of the song, but will help guide the songwriter in the writing process.
Workstations, on the other hand, focus on composition and sound design. They will often have more effects and sound-shaping features.
I like to think of them as “hardware DAWs” for composition. They allow for experimentation with sounds and effects without having to rely on a computer or advanced music editing.
At the end of the day, you could use a workstation for live performance or an arranger for composing. However, because they are often designed for specific purposes, you will often find arrangers working better for live music workflows.
Arranger keyboards are a lesser-known member of the keyboard family, with digital keyboards and MIDI controllers taking center stage. However, in the right hands they can make a world of difference for the solo musician.
If you are a musician working alone most of the time, an arranger could be the perfect tool to get you on your feet! I hope my insight and advice helps you, whether you’re jamming at home or busking on a street corner downtown.
Whatever you choose, enjoy your search for the perfect arranger, and always have fun!