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Selecting a Piano or Keyboard for a Beginning Piano Student

by Jennifer Weiss

When a child or adult begins learning piano, typically one their first questions is: where do I get a piano?  This is a great question!  In this post, I’ll try to explain the basics of pianos and keyboards.

Renting or Buying?

If you’re just starting piano, and you’re not sure if you’ll stay with it, renting is a great option.  In-home rentals start around $15/month for a digital piano and $30-$70/month for an acoustic upright piano (used or new). Piano rental stores like Hollywood Pianos in L.A. have a 6-month minimum rental period and a refundable security deposit (usually $150-200).  There may be a pick-up or delivery fee (usually $75-150).  The piano arrives already tuned, and that’s it!  There are also rent-to-own options, where you can apply your rental money towards an eventual purchase.

Now, whether you’re renting or buying, let’s take a look at your instrument options:

An ACOUSTIC PIANO.  Acoustic pianos come in three varieties:  a grand piano, a baby grand piano, and an upright piano.  Most beginners, if they are considering an acoustic piano, are thinking of an upright (or “spinnet”) piano.

A new upright typically costs $2,800-$10,000; a used upright starts around $500.  Prices vary according to brand. Good upright piano brands include Yamaha, Kawai, and Boston. If you’re considering a used piano (especially if it’s from Craigslist), ask a piano-wise friend (or your teacher) to test it out for you.

Pros of an Upright Acoustic Piano:

It’s a great learning instrument. It has 88 keys that are the right size (width), “weight” (heaviness), “action” (movement up and down), and “feel.” This all helps a beginning student develop finger strength, coordination, and piano spatial skills.

A good upright piano can last 30-40 years. It is appropriate for a beginner through a professional-level student.

A good upright piano has the nicest sound.

Cons of an Upright Piano:

It’s hard to make an upright piano quiet, which is a consideration if you live in an apartment, or only have time to practice at night.

Your upright piano will need tuning 1-2 times per year. Tuning usually costs about $100-$150 each time.

An upright piano is difficult to move. You’ll need 4 strong people to lift it.

A DIGITAL PIANO. A digital piano looks a lot like a keyboard, but it is actually much better than a keyboard for a beginner.

A new digital piano costs $500-$2,000. Used models start around $250.  In addition to the digital piano, you’ll need a stand (starts at $50).  Stands come in fold-up and cabinet varieties.

The best digital pianos are from Yamaha.  This includes the Yamaha P-series (P45, P115, P255), which range from $500-$1300, and the Yamaha Arius YDP-series (YDP 142, YDP 162, YDP 181, YDP V240) which range from $1000-$2000.  The Casio Privia PX series ranges from $500-$1100 and is also pretty good.  The Yamaha Arius YDP-series comes with a cabinet stand; for the Yamaha P-series and Casio Privia series, you need to buy the stand separately.  All of these models have good weighting, action, and “feel.”  As you go up in price, the “feel” improves slightly, the sound (speaker) improves a lot, and you get more bells and whistles (literally – along with fake harp sounds, echo effects, etc.).

Pros of a Digital Piano:

Moderately economical: good options start at $500.

Digital pianos have good “feel” (good weighting and action). They have keys that are the right size (width). They also have all 88 keys, and will help a beginner develop good muscle control, coordination, and spatial sense.

A good digital piano will last 8-10 years. It is good for a beginner through a moderately advanced student.

Can be used with headphones – ideal for an apartment or for late-night practice.

Easy to move (1-2 people can do it).

Does not need tuning.

Cons of a Digital Piano:

The “feel” is very good, but not quite as good as an acoustic piano.

The sound is not quite as good as a well-tuned acoustic piano (but better than an old out-of-tune acoustic piano).

The pedals sometimes wear out and need replacing (cost $20 each).

A KEYBOARD.  A keyboard looks a lot like a digital piano, but it is usually a few hundred dollars less.  The difference in price is primarily in the weighting, action, feel, sound, and number of keys.  In addition to the keyboard itself, you may need a stand to get the keyboard at the correct height (stand: $50-$100).

Pros of a Keyboard:

The most affordable option ($75-250).

A reasonable starter instrument for an adult, especially if you are not sure if you will continue with piano.

Can be used with headphones.

Very easy to move (1 person can do it).

Does not need tuning.

Cons of a Keyboard:

Most students will “grow out” of a keyboard within 1-2 years of piano study, and will want to consider a digital piano or acoustic piano.

Most keyboards do not have fully weighted keys and action. (If the box or specs don’t mention weighting, it means the keys are unweighted). Beginning students (especially children) who learn on unweighted keyboards can struggle with hand strength and coordination.

Many keyboards have narrower-than-normal keys, which results in lots of wrong notes and makes it hard to transition to other pianos.

Many keyboards have fewer than 88 keys, and sometimes come with no pedal. This makes it hard to play intermediate or advanced-level music.

Keyboards can be physically difficult to play. This may discourage a beginning student.

If you need further assistance when deciding on a piano or keyboard, send us an email or give us a call - we're always happy to help!

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