We believe that every student, from beginner on up, should have a piano that produces a beautiful, satisfying tone. If so, practice motivation is high, offering the greatest potential for success. More fundamentally, the purpose of studying a musical instrument is enjoyment, which a good piano provides.
Given the high prices of what we consider merely adequate acoustic pianos*, and the maintenance involved in keeping them sounding good, we assume that most parents will opt for an affordable digital as their child’s first piano.
The best digital in terms performance for the dollar that we know of is the Casio PX-870 portable keyboard (~$1000) with an attachable frame and three-pedal board.
Here’s a video:
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**. There is an option for an outboard subwoofer speaker, which according to our industry sources, improves the tone of the piano significantly.
The most affordable name-brand digital we’ve found thus far is the Korg B2SP bundle (~$650). It has important features like a built-in damper pedal with “half pedaling” functionality, and piano tone based on the legendary Austrian Bosendorfer concert piano. Like the Casio PX-870, the Korg B2SP bundle includes a portable keyboard, frame and three-pedal attachment.
Below is a video. Note that it’s the “B2” model, which has the same keyboard/sound unit as the B2SP, sitting on an “X” stand. They sound the same. However, we chose this video to illustrate one reason why we don’t recommend stand-alone portable keyboards, because it jiggles as it’s played.
In any event, 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.
**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.