How to Choose a Piano for the Beginning Student
So, you finally decided to buy a piano. How important is sound quality to you? Where will you place the piano in your home? How much space do you have? How much will you have to spend to get a good piano? What’s the best piano for you and your family? These are some questions you should ask yourself when choosing your piano.
A beginning piano student needs a good instrument.
Think about it. If you want your child to play soccer, would you send them out on the field in a pair of cheap flip-flops? Or would you make sure your child had a good pair of shoes? Shoes, of course! On the other hand, does your child need professional-quality $100 soccer cleats? Maybe not on the first day.
As a parent you want to make sure your child has what they need to learn, grow & enjoy learning the piano. However, you’re probably not ready to go out and buy a grand piano. Most parents find themselves battling to strike a balance between the best instrument to buy to start a child’s musical education and how much they’ll have to spend to do that. We will show you how to choose a piano that’s right for you. We hope this article will help you feel confident moving forward with a piano instrument of your choice.
To help you choose the best piano for your child (and your budget!) let’s talk about how to choose a piano for a beginning student.
The Three Types of Keyboard Instruments:
There are three basic categories of keyboard instruments. The largest and most expensive, (and also the best when it comes to developing piano skills,) are the Acoustic pianos. There are also many good Digital and Hybrid pianos, which are smaller and less expensive that do a decent job of mimicking the sound and feel of an acoustic instrument. A third category, the electronic Keyboard, is the least expensive option, but may not have the right touch to develop playing ability and finger strength for a beginning pianist, or enough keys to play a wide range of music. (Most level 1B books begin to use the upper and lower octaves as well as introduce pedaling at which point they have already outgrown the use of their keyboard.)
How to Choose a Piano – Acoustic Pianos:
The sooner a student has the opportunity to practice on an acoustic piano, the better.
Quality acoustic pianos produce sounds from natural materials offering the highest level of responsiveness, resistance and a range of dynamics. Subsequently, the beautiful tone & color created by an acoustic piano not even the nicest digital pianos can match. The sooner a student has the opportunity to practice on an acoustic instrument with a nuanced musical responsiveness, the more musically they can play. True, acoustic pianos are expensive. The typical price range for a quality acoustic upright (also called “vertical”) piano is $4,000 to $8,000. If you want a grand or baby grand piano, expect to pay $6,000 to $10,000 or more.
***Buyers Note: The Hallet and Davis, Baldwin, Kawai or Seiler lines are a few favorites within the musical community. There are other good brands such as Yamaha, Samick, & Young Chang.
Where should I buy a Piano?
Not only should you know how to choose a piano. You must also make sure you shop with a reputable piano store. These piano stores can offer you follow up support and warranty services which private sellers cannot. A private seller says a piano “just needs a tuning” when in fact the piano is not suitable. An acoustic piano in poor condition isn’t always easy to spot! This will only cause frustration and hinder the progress of a beginning student.
A private seller is not qualified to make the determination of what a piano needs or determine condition. Often Buyers bring home a piano only to be told by the tuner that it cannot be tuned! In most cases it will need major repairs to critical components to even function! The poor customers are left with no recourse, unable to recoup their time and money. This is a common and disappointing situation to find yourself in. If you don’t know your jewels, know your Jeweler!
How to Choose a Piano of the Digital Or Hybrid variety?
Digital pianos can closely simulate the playing experience of an acoustic piano pretty well, especially as technology improves. They feature an imitation hammer action and some imitation wooden keys. This gives you a more realistic feeling that closely simulates playing an acoustic piano. Digital pianos don’t require tuning and offer the convenience and flexibility of headphones for silent practicing.
Sound is either synthetic or sampled (sampled being preferred). These sounds will offer an array of piano and instrumental sounds in addition to recorded songs. Digital pianos always have a full 88key keyboard, three pedals, and a substantial case for stability while playing. (unlike X-stands which wobble). Consequently you won’t be limited to what music you can play on a full digital piano.
How to choose a piano of the digital variety? You must find the one that most closely mimics the acoustic piano. Hybrids are closest to acoustic pianos. This is due to authentic hammer actions (vs. semi hammer in digitals,) true wooden keys and upgraded speakers. Hybrid pianos offer a playing experience that’s virtually indistinguishable from acoustic pianos. It’s a substantial upgrade from a digital.
***Buyers Note: The Kawai and Casio-Bechstein Celviano hybrids are the most well respected options in digitals within the musical community. These are the choice instruments of teachers and composers whose musical needs include exceptional response and playability.
The quality and ease of midi and computer integration plus bluetooth capabilities also make them a favorite. Yamaha was once a widely popular digital/hybrid brand, however, in recent years Kawai has been preferred in most professional comparisons. Digitals start around 2,000 while Hybrids start around 4,000 and up. (Some dealers offer a one year trade up policy should you decide to upgrade to an acoustic in the future. Be sure to ask and select these dealers!)
Should I buy a Keyboard?
A full-size keyboard has 88 keys, spanning seven octaves and three extra notes. If you want an enjoyable keyboard experience, don’t go for less than this. Anything less than 88 keys you will find yourself regularly hitting upper or lower limits unable to play most music.
***Buyers Note: We recommend The Privia PSX1000 ($750.00) with its 88 keys, optional case and full pedals. This is one of the most affordable keyboards still suitable for learning purposes. See videos online!
As we learned above, Acoustic pianos are preferred. They are the most desirable option but also the most expensive. When an acoustic piano is not possible, you may consider other keyboard instruments such as Hybrids, Digitals and Keyboards. Hybrids are preferred as they use exactly the same moving parts as a grand piano. Thus, they create a nearly indistinguishable playing experience to an acoustic grand.
Digitals don’t have the same physical parts as a real piano or a hybrid. They use various techniques to recreate the heavier touch and responsiveness with imitation components. Keyboards simulate key responsiveness without the use of any action components. Therefore they are the least desirable for learning purposes but they do offer the most compact and affordable solution.
What is a Piano Action?
Hammer action- The highest quality and most expensive. Each key moves a mechanical hammer, giving an almost identical feel to an acoustic piano.
Weighted- Weights built into keys, similar feel to a real piano. Ok for first instrument.
Semi-weighted- Combines spring-loaded action with weights attached to the keys. Some dynamic range lost. Not ideal for first instrument.
Unweighted- (aka “synth action”) Typically molded plastic keys creating resistance with springs. The cheapest option. Least desirable for learning.
Article by Aislyn Magrys