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Pianos vs. Digital Pianos vs. Keyboards: How to Choose the Right Instrument For You

August 6, 2014

Pianos-Digital-Pianos-vs-KeyboardsAs a piano teacher of beginning students, one of the most common questions from my new students is: “Should I get a piano or a keyboard?” This is a great question since the answer not only helps the student determine what type of instrument they should buy, but also the correct recommendation can affect the student’s technique, motivation levels, and how much effort and money they invest into their music learning.

The answer to this question depends on many factors, including the student’s budget, goals (casual vs. serious learner), space in the home, and other factors.  To help the student assess which choice is correct for them, I put together a brief compilation of the advantages and disadvantages of each of the following types of keyboard instruments: grand piano (acoustic), upright piano (acoustic), digital piano, and electronic keyboard.

 

Grand Piano (Acoustic)

About $10,000 and up

The goods:

  • Can help develop a student’s technique the correct way from the very start
  • Allows for more musical expression – full, balanced tone, range of dynamics, and three pedals help produce a full range of sounds
  • Weighted keys are sensitive to the pianist’s touch
  • Adds ambiance in the home and can act as a piece of furniture or art
  • Retains their value longer than upright pianos or digital keyboards

The bads:

  • Most expensive option
  • Difficult to move (requires at least 2 professional movers)
  • Takes up the most space out of all options
  • Costs money to maintain and tune

Recommended for those who:

  • Can afford a grand piano
  • Wish to take piano study seriously
  • Are willing to make a long-term investment
  • Have space in their home for a grand piano

Upright Piano (Acoustic)

About $2,000 – $10,000

The goods:

  • Less expensive than a grand piano
  • Still has an acoustic piano action (hammers and strings), so allows for varied tone and touch (although to a lesser extent than a grand piano)
  • Takes up less space than a grand piano
  • Some offer “mute” or “practice-rail” pedals so as not to disturb roommates/neighbors

The bads:

  • Slower action than a grand piano (since the strings are vertical and gravity does not work in its favor)
  • Can lose their value quicker than grand pianos
  • Difficult to move (requires professional movers)
  • Costs money to maintain and tune

Recommended for those who:

  • Do not have space for a grand piano
  • Wish to take piano study seriously
  • Desire an acoustic piano action but something more affordable than a grand piano

Digital Piano

About $1,000 – $5,000

The goods:

  • Less expensive than acoustic pianos
  • Looks like an upright piano (with a base and bench) and sounds like a real piano
  • Has full range of keys (88 keys) and a damper pedal
  • Lighter and easier to move
  • Does not need to be tuned
  • Recording/MIDI capability and some have various instrument sounds
  • Can use earphones

The bads:

  • Lose their value fairly quickly
  • Can be difficult to repair
  • Although keys are weighted, it still does not feel exactly like a acoustic piano
  • Students who learn on digital pianos sometimes do not develop as strong technique as those who learned on acoustic pianos

Recommended for those who:

  • Wish to have a key action similar to an acoustic piano
  • Want a more affordable option than an acoustic piano
  • Have small living quarters
  • Are casual learners (beginner or intermediate)

Electronic Keyboard

About $200 – $1,000

The goods:

  • Least expensive
  • Light, portable, and easy to transport
  • Takes up less space
  • Does not need to be tuned
  • Recording/MIDI capability and most come with various instrument sounds and accompanying beats
  • Can use earphones

The bads:

  • Keyboard, stand, bench and pedal need to be purchased separately
  • Can be difficult to repair
  • Some have less than 88 keys (smaller keyboards with 61 or 76 keys are common since they are more affordable)
  • Some have smaller size keys
  • Not recommended for intermediate or advanced students
  • Students who learn on keyboards often do not develop as strong technique as those who learned on acoustic pianos

Recommended for those who:

  • Wish to “test” out learning the piano without breaking the bank
  • Want a more affordable option than a digital or acoustic piano
  • Have small living quarters
  • Are casual learners (beginners)

 

In the end, the best choice is to get the highest option that is still within your budget and learning needs.  A piano teacher will usually prefer an acoustic piano as this allows the student to start on an acoustic instrument from the very start, which will help develop the most ideal technique from the very beginning.  However, it is understood that a grand or upright piano is not always within the budget of the student.

A digital piano or electronic keyboard is certainly still acceptable, but if you go this route, I would recommend to ensure:

  • Keys are touch sensitive and weighted.  This means that a pressing a key with more strength will produce a louder sound, and pressing a key with lighter strength will produce a softer sound.  (Keyboards with “graded hammer-action,” also known as “scaled hammer-action,” take the realistic feel a step further by giving the bass octaves a heavier touch than treble notes.)
  • There are 88 keys.
  • The keys are standard size.

Hopefully with these recommendations, you will be on your way to choosing the right instrument for you.  By considering your budget, learning goals, space constraints, and other factors mentioned above, you will be informed in your instrument purchase.

 

To download a free handy comparison chart, please click below.

Pianos-vs-Keyboards-Comparison-Chart

 

 

 

 

 

Download Pianos vs. Digital Pianos vs. Keyboards Comparison Chart PDF file.

 

 About the Author

Theresa Chen is based in the Los Angeles, CA area and is the owner of one of California’s premiere music schools, Opus Music School.  She has a full studio of private piano students and also trains new piano teachers.  Theresa has a Masters degree in Piano Pedagogy from California State University Fullerton and a Bachelors degree from UCLA.

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