What Piano Should I Buy?

Many of our customers ask us about digital pianos they found on the Internet. In nearly all cases, we have never evaluated their selections, and can’t recommend them.

At worst, they are low-quality, off-brand instruments. As far as digital pianos are concerned, they may be prone to electronic failures. Since off brands are unlikely to have local support, as is the case with name brands, the repair or return process may be costly and inconvenient.

At best, these pianos lack the realism of key response and tone of those we recommend. As a result, they limit the student’s technical and artistic development once they advance beyond the early beginner stage.

To help our customers avoid these situations, we’ve spent many hours evaluating instruments available locally, and have listed our top pick for beginners below. Their success, and practice-motivating musical satisfaction, requires a home instrument that rises to an reasonable standard of quality,

DIGITAL PIANOS

Our minimum recommendation is a Casio PX-870 digital piano (~$1000) with an attachable frame and pedals.

It’s realism of tone and key response are extraordinary considering the price, and it’s vastly preferable to an old, inexpensive vertical. It also has a half and full damper pedal functions*.

If you don’t want to buy the Casio PX-870, when shopping for another model, note that the terms “starter” or “beginner” digital piano are used to market cheap instruments that delay or impede development of important keyboard skills.

A digital piano that’s acceptable for productive lessons must have:

  • 88 full-sized keys. Why? The most common alternative is 61 keys, making it impossible to play piano compositions that use any of the 17 missing keys. In addition, the student’s keyboard spatial orientation will be thrown off when they finally use an 88-key piano.
  • Velocity-sensistive keys that allow changing the volume of individual notes. Why? No meaningful study or performance of music can occur if the student can’t play at different volume levels.
  • Weighted keys*, which have weights on the far end.  Why? Unweighted keys typically move too easily. In turn, control of velocity/volume with these “fly-away” keys is difficult. In contrast, acoustic piano keys are like seesaws with weight on both ends, and a fulcrum or tipping point near the middle.  Thus, weighted digital keys bring pianists one step closer to the feel of acoustic keys compared to unweighted.
  • A built-in, fixed damper pedal** (not a wired “gas pedal” type). Why? A wired pedal moves about the floor while the student plays, and responds much differently than a fixed pedal in terms foot technique. In turn, the student will have difficulty controlling the fixed pedal of normal pianos at school, friends homes, recital halls, etc.
  • A “soft” (una corda) pedal. Why? Use of this pedal, which mellows tone and reduces volume, is indicated in some piano music.
  • A built-in or attachable frame with vertical legs (not an “X” stand). Why? This feature is needed to support fixed pedals. It also keeps the keyboard from shaking when the student plays, which often occurs with “X” stands. In addition, keyboards on these stands can easily topple and injure the student or a curious toddler in the home.
  • A music desk. Why? In order to easily read printed music, it must be vertically centered in front of the student.

*Often, the keys are “progressively weighted” or heavier moving from right to left. This helps simulate the key feel of an acoustic piano, which has progressively larger/heavier hammers on the left side vs. the right.

You can also get “hammer action” digital keys that have small metal hammers on the far ends (inside the piano), adding to key-feel realism.

The final step up in realism is “escapement” in the keys. This produces a slight bump of resistance in the down-stroke just before the note sounds, as is the case with an acoustic key. On acoustic, the escapement bump syncs with the hammer flying free of the key/wippen(1) assembly inside the piano. Immediately afterwards, the hammer strikes the strings for the note. For digital pianists, this means notes can be produced with shorter key down-strokes. In turn, they can conserve muscular energy in long passages, can play faster riffs, and repeat notes more quickly, as needed for trills (e.g. D-C-D-C-D-C-D-C played very rapidly.)

(1) We use the grand piano action model in our studio to explain what a “wippen” is.

**Damper pedaling allows blending the sound of multiple notes that can’t be sustained by the fingers alone, and makes the piano sound louder and more resonant. In the case of the half pedal feature, the intensity of the resonance effect can be decreased by limiting how far the pedal is moved downward. This is similar to how an acoustic damper pedal works.

ACOUSTIC/HYBRID PIANOS

An acoustic piano or digital with an acoustic action (hybrid) is are better than basic digitals, regardless of the student’s level.

Click here for more information.

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