Simple Guide to Buying a Digital Piano
Updated: May 10
The world of pianos has gone digital. Will acoustic pianos disappear? Never. They are the real thing. Unfortunately or fortunately a less expensive, viable option is now part of the piano world and it is allowing more people to take piano lessons because they can afford a piano. For this reason I will focus on purchasing a digital piano.
- the sound is produced with metal strings being struck by a felt hammer. The entire instrument vibrates including strings, soundboard and the case itself giving it soul and the true piano sound.
- produces sounds digitally through sound samples from quality acoustic pianos using amplifiers and speakers.
Why wouldn't you buy an acoustic piano? Primarily cost and maintenance. Also portability and headphones.
- digital pianos run from $250 - $10,000 (for the grand piano shape with high-end speakers). You can get a good one for $500 - $1,000.
- acoustic pianos run from Free - $230,000 (Fazioli grand). But you can get a good upright acoustic for $5,000 - $10,000. Never accept a free piano unless a piano tuner has looked at it first. You don't want a very heavy problem in your home.
- acoustic pianos require about $150 - $300 a year for tuning maintenance depending on how much the piano is used. They also require voicing and regulation every 5 or so years (around $300).
- digital pianos - $0. They are maintenance free (unless a gerbil chews the chords or someone spills a drink on the keys).
- digital pianos can be moved so the Christmas tree can go up or the roll-away can come out and Aunt Martha can spend the night.
- acoustic pianos... have you every tried to budge one? They are HEAVY.
You and/or your child are going to (hopefully) be playing lots of piano. Learning piano requires skills like scales and repetition of tough spots. This repetition can be very difficult for the non-playing people in the house to hear. Think nails on a chalk board. The prime reason that my children learned on digital pianos was, as a piano teacher, I couldn't keep my mouth shut. I couldn't just let my kids practice. Headphones on a digital piano solved that. As many of you know my daughter now owns her own music school so learning on a digital piano wasn't a detriment. My son became an engineer and I believe learning to play the piano helped him too.
- digital pianos all have headphone jacks
- acoustic pianos do not
- hybrid pianos do but that's another blog
Now you are thinking a digital piano would be a great addition to our household you will be faced with another decision ... Digital Piano or Keyboard?
If you are looking for a piano for your home a digital piano is best. The case looks nice and it's very stable. Keyboards on X stands are often wobbly. Digital pianos often have very few voices and the piano sound is excellent. They are the closest to an acoustic piano.
Keyboards come in all shapes and sizes and are meant for portability. If you need to move your piano a lot (not just for the Christmas tree), you need a keyboard. I teach on acoustic and digital pianos but I have a keyboard that I take to gigs with my band.
If you would rather have a keyboard in your home here are some things to look for:
a) Weighted keys
- acoustic piano keys have weight to them. Many keyboards keys have no weight and they feel entirely different than a piano. They are inexpensive and light. Unless you are 3 years old or elderly with severe arthritis, avoid these as they can muck up learning the piano. Sort of like learning to run with slippers.
b) Semi-Weighted Keys
- really? Either go weighted on no weight. This is just confusing!
c) 88 Keys
- acoustic pianos have 88 keys. Many keyboards have 76 or 61 keys. These have their purpose but not if you are looking for a piano for lessons.
- many keyboards have very small speakers to save weight and this also produces a thin, uninspiring sound. Listen to the sound the keyboard makes before buying. Also listen to the sound through some really nice headphones. Music is all about sound. You have to love it!
e) Voices and Styles
- digital pianos can have one or two piano sounds or hundreds of instrumental voices and rhythms or styles. I love all the bells and whistles and use them in my piano lessons. Pick out a cello sound and play one line of a Bach fugue with that voice. Choose a Latin style and use it's rhythm to accompany a Christopher Norton tune. If you aren't going to use all the bells and whistles or you think they may be distracting, go for simplicity.
- there is a place for an inexpensive 61-key keyboard at home or in the teaching studio. They are very portable and using the rhythms and styles produces better results than a metronome. Using the auto accompaniment (future blog) is inspiring and a valuable teaching moment. They don't replace digital pianos but they are a great addition.
Buying online vs in a piano store
We think nothing of tipping a waiter in a restaurant yet saving $20 on an online purchase seems to be a big deal. Buying online is not the best choice when you are buying a digital piano.
You need to go into a piano store and listen to the sound of the digital piano you will be purchasing. Yes, you can get a demo from the salesperson and then go and buy the exact piano online and save $20 or you could think of it as a tip. Value earned for their demonstration and advice. Also, you will create a relationship with your piano dealer so that when you or your child has progressed and wants to be rewarded with a better digital piano or maybe the ultimate, a grand piano, you have someone who knows a bit about your piano history and is invested in your musical happiness.
I came across an extensive article about purchasing a digital piano which inspired me to write a more brief blog that addresses the nuts and bolts I learned from owning my own piano stores. My husband and I spent hours with customers and were part of many families music making experience. It was very rewarding.
We sold our stores a while ago to pursue music making and teaching :-) I am using my extra time to develop teacher training courses for pop, lead sheets and improvisation. Email me if you are interested and would like a free sample of what's to come.
Click here to contact me today, I'm always happy to answer any questions you may have!