When students enroll in piano lessons at our music school, many of them ask about our instrument requirements. A common question is how to choose between a real piano or an electric keyboard (digital piano).
Until recently, many piano teachers would require a real (acoustic) piano at home for piano lessons. Would you like to know why? When the first electric keyboard appeared on the market, they were meant to be used as synthesizers rather than acoustic piano substitutes. With limited computing power, the sound quality of the piano notes was extremely poor, there was often no touch sensitivity (the player couldn’t play louder or softer by pressing the keys harder or lighter), and the range of the keyboards was much smaller than the expected 88 keys of the acoustic pianos. The overall experience of playing classical music on an electric keyboard could be compared to riding a tricycle during a Formula 1 race.
Acoustic pianos, meanwhile, have been developed and perfected for over the last 300 hundred years! 2020 was actually the year we celebrated the three hundredth anniversary since the first piano was made! The first piano was made by Bartolome Cristofori in 1720. You can see this piano in person not too far from our music school in NYC. It’s on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Arts in NYC (at least celebrating something in 2020!). Everything from mechanics to materials to the exact dimensions of every part of the piano is designed to produce the most colorful and rich sound and the most pleasant and comfortable experience for the pianist.
Acoustic pianos are still better than keyboards – but keyboards are better than nothing! Keyboards have also actually really come quite a long way.
It is just the reality of today’s life that many students / parents are not able to invest in a real piano, and that is OK. We had a series of zoom recitals last summer and this past January, and we saw that a large portion of the students who take piano lessons have electric keyboards at home. We understand that for many people this is a more practical solution than a keyboard. An electric keyboard definitely allows for consistent practicing between taking lessons on acoustic pianos, which allows the student to move forward in their musical progress! Many students eventually upgrade to real pianos, so digital pianos can be excellent vessels in bringing students to a level where they can fully appreciate the awesomeness of real acoustic pianos.
If you choose to get a digital piano, then look for a full size (88 keys) and fully touch sensitive model. Unless you are planning to do complicated recording or audio mixing projects you don’t need a million extra feature buttons or displays on it. The keyboards that we have in our studios at Riverside Music Studios are Yamaha P125s. They are helping us a lot during the pandemic. Our piano teachers can use them while sitting safely far apart from the students who play on acoustic pianos. By the way, it should never be the other way around. If you are taking your in-person piano lessons on a digital piano then you have been duped, sorry. Find another place.
If you choose to get an acoustic piano, then to ease the financial burden, you can consider renting one or using the “rent-to-buy” programs that many piano stores have. Renting a piano is actually much cheaper than most people think. Feel free to reach out to us for advice if you are located in NYC. There are many excellent and very affordable options that we will be able to recommend. In the end you will be able to work on such important aspects of piano playing as dynamics, touch, articulation, pedaling without running into the limitations or shriller sound of digital pianos.
Yes, absolutely. They will get you started on the great journey of piano playing! Are they as good as acoustic pianos? No. Will they ever be? No. There are acoustic and mechanical reasons to why digital pianos, no matter how advanced, will never be able to replace actual pianos.