Do I need a “real” piano?

When I grew up taking piano lessons, digital instruments were rare. Now there are instruments of all shapes and sizes; electronic keyboards, digital pianos, hybrid pianos and 7/8 size acoustic instruments, among other options. As a result of advances in technology most people can afford to have some sort of keyboard instrument in their home. Digital pianos have become popular because they are cheap, take up less space, require little to no maintenance and can be easily transported. However, these aren’t the only factors to consider when looking for an appropriate instrument for study. Quality of touch, sound and expressive capability are key ingredients of a well-crafted instrument, more consistently found in acoustic pianos.

An acoustic instrument is a living thing; when you depress a key a hammer is striking strings that vibrate to create different tones. The tone can be altered by the point in which you strike the keys, whether or not you hold on to the keys, whether you are also depressing one of the 3 expressive pedals, etc. A digital piano can be made to feel and sound very similar to a piano but it cannot produce the nuance of an acoustic instrument. I prefer acoustic pianos for this reason. However, that isn’t to say that other types of instruments can’t be used for piano study.

Here are some tips when searching for the right instrument:

  • Determine your budget and take into consideration leasing opions, payment plans, instrument insurance, cost of moving and tuning
  • Determine where it will be placed in your home and measure the space
  • Consider whether or not you plan to stay in your current home and what it would take to move your instrument if you choose to move to a new home
  • Bear in mind that an acoustic piano will last longer and depreciate in value slower than a digital piano
  • Take time to explore all options: craigslist, Facebook for-sale pages, estate sales, local auctions, family and friends who may not be using their instrument, local music stores, online stores, ebay, etc.
  • Make sure digital instruments have all 88 keys, pedals and are weighted and touch sensitive with a scaled hammer action
  • Adjustable benches are valuable for young students. However, you can always use seat cushions to raise the height of a bench that is too low.
  • Play the instrument or have your teacher play the instrument to make sure there are no sticking keys, buzzing or rattling sounds. Be sure to play it loudly and softly to see how it reacts. Pay attention to the feel of the keys-shallow and light keys will not be good for developing piano technique. Try each pedal to make sure it works.
  • Always have a piano technician evaluate an acoustic instrument before purchasing

– Jennifer Stadler, NCTM Piano Teacher Oklahoma City, Oklahoma