What Kind of Piano Should I Buy? Part 1
Updated: May 10, 2020
Is your child expressing an interest in piano lessons, and you are looking into purchasing an instrument? Or perhaps your child has been taking piano lessons for a few years and seems to be outgrowing the little keyboard he or she has been using to practice? Are you overwhelmed by all of the choices that spring up when you Google “buying a piano”?
This is a brief guide to the pros and cons of purchasing the various types of pianos. Hopefully we can answer some of your questions, put your mind at ease, and make you feel a little steadier on your feet as you take the next step in buying a beautiful instrument that won’t wear out quickly, won’t break the bank, and can give your child everything they need as they continue to flourish in their musical studies.
First, let’s consider the two largest categories of pianos: electronic keyboards and acoustic pianos (upright and grand). To make a long story short, an average-quality acoustic piano is always going to be a better choice for a music student than the highest quality keyboard, so if you have a choice between an electronic keyboard and “the real thing,” it’s always best to go for the actual piano. However, it is usually difficult to find a decently functioning acoustic piano for less than $500 or $600 (once you calculate moving and tuning expenses), so sometimes an electronic piano is a good choice for a beginning student, particularly one who may only take piano for a couple of years. On the other hand, if your child is already showing signs of wanting to take their pianistic abilities into the intermediate or advanced levels, it’s probably time to consider a real piano. The wide array of choices available for buyers of acoustic pianos will be addressed in the next blog post, and this post will cover the basics of purchasing an electronic keyboard.
Many of my young students own high quality keyboards, and they have been perfectly adequate for practicing and progressing in musical development. Keyboards require little or no maintenance. This gives them an advantage over acoustic pianos, which must be tuned and serviced around twice a year. Electronic keyboards often last for around 10 years, which places them at a disadvantage when compared with grand or upright pianos, which can last more than a lifetime! New advancements in keyboard technology have produced instruments which come very close to feeling like the real thing, but for advanced players there will always be a noticeable difference between keyboards and acoustic pianos. Keyboards can usually be purchased at a much lower cost than their quality equivalent in acoustic pianos, and they are also much easier to move, which makes them a very popular choice for beginning pianists.
When purchasing a keyboard, there are three features which you absolutely must keep on your list:
1. A sustain pedal
2. The full 88 keys
3. The weighted key feature
Even if your child isn’t using the sustain pedal yet, they most likely will begin using it within the first 6 months, and they will receive huge benefits from being able to experiment with it even when their lesson book doesn’t call for it.
Secondly, although it may not seem like it, practicing on a piano with less than 88 keys can result in a student being extremely disoriented if they ever have the opportunity to perform on a full 88 key piano. The middle of the piano is in a different place with a 46 or 76 key piano, and keeping track of the correct octaves is very difficult for a child when they are suddenly thrust into a recital situation in which they are meant to play on a grand piano.
Lastly, the weighted keys are absolutely essential for helping a student to form the correct muscular development which will enable them to play on grand or upright pianos. Keyboards without weighted keys require very little effort to play, and when a student practices frequently without weighted keys, they have significant problems transitioning to a grand or upright piano whether in performance or simply at a lesson on a new instrument.
It is my opinion that piano students should purchase keyboards that offer authentic sound and touch, rather than keyboards with bells and whistles such as a bank of 500 sounds, split keyboard functions, drum beats, or other common features!
I found this review of the best, most authentic, current keyboards to be very useful: https://digitalpianojudge.com/top-digital-piano-reviews/
If you start perusing the list on the website above, you will notice that these keyboards fall in the $600-$1,200 range. You should be prepared to pay at least $500 for a keyboard that will provide your musical student with a sufficiently realistic instrument. However, paying more than $1,000 is not usually prudent, as you could easily buy an acoustic upright piano for less than that, and it would be a much more durable, high-quality choice for a piano student at any level.
I must conclude this post by saying that my respect for high quality keyboards has recently gone up by a huge amount. I never liked playing keyboards before I was given a Yamaha P-150, an excellent keyboard which is worth about $1,000 and is known for its authentic sound and touch. Due to some major life changes, the Yamaha P-150 became my number one practicing instrument during the 4 months that I was preparing for my final doctoral recital. My program on the final recital was substantial, including two major works which are known to be among the most difficult in the piano repertoire. I was apprehensive about practicing these pieces on my keyboard, but I soon found that the keyboard was providing me with perfectly adequate practicing tools, and my frequent visits to nearby grand pianos proved that my keyboard was not developing the kinds of bad habits I had previously associated with keyboards. I successfully learned my final program and performed it on a 9-foot Steinway concert grand piano with very little difficulty. To be fair, I would have been much more comfortable practicing on an upright or grand piano, and I probably would have gotten better results. However, I have learned once and for all that it is possible to play the most difficult pieces in piano repertoire on a keyboard, and it did not seriously harm me as a musician.