Last updated: September 25, 2019
Choosing the Right Piano Instrument
When you make the decision to learn the piano, you embark on a fulfilling musical journey that will benefit your life in many ways, and the actual piano itself is key in this journey.
This is why it is very important for beginners to select a piano that will allow them to have fun with the learning process.
With all of the different pianos that are available, beginners will likely have many questions about choosing one.
- Which piano is best for a beginner?
- How much does a good piano cost?
- Which is better? Acoustic, digital piano or keyboard
- How many keys should a piano have for beginners?
- Do I even need to own a piano in order to learn?
Not only is owning a piano absolutely necessary for learning, but it turns out that the PERFECT beginner piano will be different for everybody.
While there are many references and guides online that give you tips and advices before buying a piano, some can be very technical.
Know Your Budget
Pianos can be extremely expensive, but they can also be conveniently affordable.
Knowing which pianos are within your budget will narrow down your options and make the whole buying process less overwhelming, saving you a lot of time and hassle.
In general, pianos can be grouped into:
Acoustic pianos are the best of the best when it comes to sound quality and responsiveness.
Acoustic pianos have real hammers and strings that provide a rich and resonant sound, fully weighted keys, and the highest possible dynamic range. Practicing on the authentic keys of an acoustic piano will always grant the most benefits to a learner.
There are 2 types of acoustic pianos, which are the grand pianos (horizontal-positioned) and the uprights (vertical-positioned).
While acoustic pianos are definitely the best type of piano available, they are also the most expensive. In addition to the initial price, acoustic pianos must be regularly tuned, maintained, repaired, and possibly even moved, which further raises the cost of owning one. Furthermore, they take up a large amount of space in the home.
Buying an acoustic piano will be a significant long-term investment that many beginners may not be prepared to make right away.
- Authentic sound and excellent touch sensitivity
- Ideal instrument for piano learning
- Most durable. Longest lifespan
- Most Expensive. Above $4000
- Large size, very hard to move around
- Need regular maintenance e.g tuning
Digital pianos utilize synthesized or sampled piano sounds and can be weighted keys to recreate the sound and feel of an acoustic piano.
Digital pianos do not require tuning or serious maintenance, are much cheaper than acoustic pianos, and have adjustable volume that can also be played through headphones. They can also be connected to external devices through MIDI.
Digital pianos come in many varieties, with the differences often being in the total number of keys and whether or not the keys are weighted. A full-sized piano has 88 keys, and most digital pianos replicate this size, but cheaper variations are available with 61 or 76 keys.
Weighted keys provide varying levels of volume depending on how hard the key is pressed, simulating a realistic playing experience.
A major downside to digital pianos is that they do not last for nearly as long as acoustic pianos. Whereas acoustic pianos can last up to 50 years with regular maintenance, digital pianos typically only last for 5-10 years.
- Synthesize tone
- 61, 76 and 88 keys (both weighted and non-weighed) variations
- No regular maintenance. Repair or replacement of parts (if any)
- Easier to relocate than acoustic pianos
- Comes with many features e.g silent, recording/payback
- Moderate cost, but can be expensive depending on brand, specifications. Range between $500-$4000
- Need electricity to power-up
- Poor portability. Not for travelling
Electronic keyboards are the cheapest option when it comes to buying a piano, but they can also be surprisingly versatile.
Like digital pianos, keyboards use sampled or synthesized sounds played through a speaker or headphones, and often contain many different instrument sounds to spice up the playing experience.
Keyboards are also highly portable, and can be connected to USB devices via a MIDI connection, which lets you use it with piano learning apps or music production.
The cheapest piano keyboards usually have less than 88 keys, with common variants having 49 or 61 keys, but many still come in the full size.
While keyboards are the most affordable type of pianos available, they are likely to just be a short-term investment. Keyboards only last three to five years, and their smaller size and lack of weighted keys will limit how much you are able to develop your skills with them.
Furthermore, the sound quality and playing experience will be inferior to that of acoustic and digital pianos. Regardless of whether it breaks, or if you outgrow it, the electronic keyboard will eventually be replaced.
- Synthesize tone like digital pianos.
- 49, 61, and 88 keys variations. With or without weighted keys
- No regular maintenance. Repair or replacement of parts (if any)
- Great portablility. Easy to carry around
- Cheapest. Great for budget owners. Range between $80-$200
- Comes with many features e.g silent, other instrument sounds, recording/payback etc
- Need electricity to power-up
- Shortest lifespan. Within 3-5 years
- Poor dynamic range (touch sensitivity)
- Quality materials can be an issue
Do I Need the Full 88 Keys?
While it is still possible to learn on a smaller keyboard, you will have to upgrade frequently as your skills increase to accommodate more advanced playing techniques.
Hence, it is better to buy an affordable 88-key that will be useful for the entire learning journey.
Great Alternative Options
You don’t need to spend a ridiculous amount of money to get the piano you want. When it comes to financing, there are a couple of alternative options that are available to you.
- Buy a used acoustic piano can be significantly cheaper than new ones. However, you should make sure that used pianos are in good playing condition before you decide to purchase one.
- In addition, you can also choose to rent a piano instead of buying one at full price. Basically all kinds of pianos can be rented, from acoustic pianos to keyboards, and you will save a lot of money by doing so.
Remember that, at the end of the day, you’re getting a piano to practice with, so you should find an option that is the most cost-effective and works best for you.
Depending on your goals and personal situation, a particular piano model may be better suited for you. Hence, you need to clearly define your purpose of buying a piano.
Playing for Leisure vs Playing for Certification
If you are learning the piano as a hobby or for leisure, then any type of piano that falls into your budget will suffice. Whether you buy a cheap plastic keyboard or an extravagant grand piano, you will still be able to reap all the benefits of learning and playing the piano.
On the other hand, if you are serious about learning the piano, and aim to take certification exams, then you should better off invest in an upright piano. An upright piano will provide you with the full 88 keys, the necessary dynamic range that you need to develop your skills to the fullest.
For people with a very mobile lifestyle, or for those who travel a lot, being able to practice anywhere at anytime will be a huge factor in what piano they buy.
Given how large and heavy acoustic pianos are, they will not be very portable at all. Although digital pianos are much easier to move around, but due to a decent amount of weight and bulkiness, it tend to limits their portability.
Keyboards is the most portability by far, as they can be easily transported (carry around) from one location to another. A keyboard would be the ideal choice for someone who is a frequent traveler.
Do you need MIDI Feature?
Piano apps are very useful learning devices that can only be accessed through a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) connection.
MIDI connectivity is available with most digital pianos and keyboards, but it is not included in acoustic pianos. If you plan on utilizing an app to learn the piano, then a MIDI-enabled digital piano or keyboard will allow you to make the most out of it.
Is Space an issue for you?
While some people would love to have a grand piano in their living room, and could certainly afford one, a lack of available space will prevents it.
Adequate space will be necessary to play a piano properly and with comfort, so it’s important to only select a piano that you can accommodate in your living space.
Grand pianos are very large and bulky, so it will be hard for most people to fit in their homes. On the other hand, upright pianos and digital pianos can fit neatly against a wall, so it will be easier for people to find the space for them.
Keyboards take up the least amount of space, and can be played wherever one decides. An added bonus is that a keyboard can be stored in a convenient location until they are used, making it a perfect option for those who are really short on free space.
The piano itself is essential to learn how to play, but many adults need additional features to help them learn effectively.
In particular, one issue that adults face is that they only have time to practice late at night. Digital pianos provide Silent solution to this problem, as they can be played with headphones, allowing people to practice at night without disturbing neighbours or family.
In addition, many digital pianos and keyboards have Recording and Playback features that can be used for learning feedback, as well as built-in backing tracks and metronomes that can help learners maintain tempo and rhythm.
Acoustic pianos are always superior in quality, but they don’t have any of these features that may be useful to a beginner.
The Sound & Feel of a Piano
Although every piano will have its own unique sound and feel, there are some defining characteristics that are different between the three main piano types. Knowing these characteristics will help you choose a piano that you delight in playing for hours on end, both due to its pleasant sound and feel.
Key Action Type
The way a piano feels is determined by its key action type, or how a sound is produced after the key is pressed. The action type is also responsible for the keys’ weight, making them softer or heavier to press.
When a key on an acoustic piano is pressed, it causes a hammer to strike a string, which creates the piano's signature sound. You can feel this action mechanism with every key press. The keys will always have a noticeable amount of weight to them, all depends on the piano's scale design.
The keys on a digital piano are weighted to simulate the feel of an acoustic piano, but it is impossible to fully replicate the responsiveness of these complex mechanisms.
Non-weighted keyboards can be pressed without any real resistance. For starters, playing on light keys allows the fingers to adjust more easily.
Tone and Dynamic Range
In addition to different key action types, pianos have varying tones and dynamic range, or how loud or soft an individual note can be played.
Since the hammers in acoustic pianos are connected to the keys, hitting a key with more force will produce a louder sound. In addition, since acoustic pianos have actual strings, playing one key will cause the neighbouring strings to vibrate, creating a richer, fuller sound. There’s nothing like the authentic sound of real strings resonating throughout the piano’s body.
Weighted digital pianos aim to replicate the sound and resonance of an acoustic piano, but they can only do so to a certain extent.
On the other hand, keyboards are usually the most lacking in sound quality. The sound will often inauthentic compared to other pianos. In addition, most keyboards have no dynamic range, so a note will have the same volume no matter how hard it’s pressed.
Factor in Maintenance
Like all instruments, a piano is going to require some form of maintenance, whether it be repairs, tuning, or even flat out replacement.
Knowing how much care you’re going to have to give your piano, as well as how long you should expect it to last will spare you a lot of headaches down the line.
Acoustic pianos require the most regular maintenance. The strings have to be tuned, the inner mechanisms have to be regulated, and wear and tear parts might have to be replaced, which can be very expensive.
However, acoustic pianos are extremely durable and long-lasting, made with high-quality materials and expert workmanship. If acoustic pianos are regularly maintained, they can last for up to 50 years or more, which is well worth it for a quality piano.
Digital pianos don’t contain any physical strings or hammers, so no tuning or extensive cleaning needs to be performed on them.
However, digital pianos might need to be repaired, and finding the correct parts can be costly and difficult. Since newer digital pianos are constantly emerging, the older parts tend to become obsolete. While they can last for up to 10 years, trying to extend a digital piano’s lifespan beyond that could be a real hassle.
Lastly, keyboards require the least amount of maintenance, but they are also the least durable.
Keyboards are often made with cheap plastic and other electronic materials that can break easily; a typical keyboard only lasts for three to five years.
When a keyboard does fail, it is much, much easier to just get it replaced entirely, rather than trying to repair it. Not only will you save time by not looking for spare parts, but you’ll also save a lot of money.
It’s only natural that an instrument as timeless as the piano will have several different variations for a beginner to choose from.
Based on all of the options available, it would seem that the best piano for beginners is an 88-key digital piano with weighted or semi-weighted keys.
Digital pianos are the closest thing you can get to an acoustic piano without breaking the bank, and allow you to make use of a wealth of convenient learning resources and features. With a digital piano, you get the perfect balance of sound quality, utility, and affordability.
Finding the perfect beginner’s piano is only the first step in a lifelong journey. Now that you're in a position to select your ideal instrument, you can discover even more about all the wonderful things the piano has to offer.