So, you're about to start lessons or are interested in upgrading your current instrument, but where do you start? Choosing an instrument can be overwhelming. There are so many options out there. What are the most important features? What does all the lingo mean? Do I need to buy acoustic? We'll breakdown some of those questions and hopefully help you make a confident decision.
Digital versus Acoustic
There are a lot of factors to consider here. Acoustic pianos can often be significantly higher quality but also more expensive than digital. Acoustics tend to allow for better technical development as well as better control over dynamic changes. A good acoustic will last you a long time with proper maintenance and well into the advanced levels. Not to mention; they are a beautiful addition to your home! If you’re on a budget, a digital piano may be the best place to start out. It doesn’t mean that you’ll need to sacrifice quality entirely. Today’s top digital alternatives have graded hammer-action keys that feel remarkably similar to a real piano. Advancements in modern speakers as well as modern sound sampling have also contributed to an experience that sounds and feels almost like the real deal, even going further to include additional tools, sounds and functionalities. Space and volume control can also play a role in your decision making.
Digital Piano versus Electric Keyboard
Until now, you may not have known that there was a difference between digital pianos and electric keyboards, but the biggest difference would have to be the feel of the keys. Digital pianos tend to have a more realistic weight to the keys; they have a lever-weighted graded action that creates a more realistic resistance in contrast to the mild and springy resistance you’d find on an electric keyboard. On the other hand, typically with electric keyboards you’ll more often find a greater array of sounds and effects to play around with.
Size and Feel
Another difference includes touch sensitivity. Traditionally, if you strike a key on an acoustic piano the volume and tone of the resulting sound will reflect the amount of force used. Most digital pianos can simulate this feature, but you’ll only find this on a select few electric keyboards.
Digital pianos usually come with a full sized 88-key keyboard whereas electric keyboards most often are found with 49 or 61 keys, which can severely limit your ability to perform more advanced pieces. However, if portability is one of your main concerns, a full-sized piano can often be significantly less portable if not immobile altogether and if you live in a condo apartment available space may be a limiting factor. The best portable digital pianos are lightweight and easy to carry without sacrificing the high-end features. This is particularly important for traveling musicians.
Overall, digital pianos seem like the superior choice right? So why bother looking at the electric pianos then? Well, if you’re just testing the waters in learning how to play, a digital piano might still be on the expensive side. Prices usually start at around $100 for electric keyboards and over $600 for digital pianos brand new. If you’re determined to make good progress though, it's often better to skip the electric keyboards altogether to opt in for a digital or acoustic piano. Not only will it be more encouraging to practice on, but it will also last you much longer on your musical journey. If you decide to start with a 61 or 76-key keyboard, students will need to upgrade within the first couple of years because they will need access to more notes, more control and more serious technical development.
Today’s sampling technology is fantastic. Some brands even feature sampled instruments from high quality vintage pianos, but beyond that there still are other factors to be considered. The magic in creating a high quality digital piano is how well it can recreate all nuances the minute details of its acoustic counterpart. A keyboard’s polyphony represents how many simultaneous sounds it can output at one time to allow for more complex and realistic experience. The best keyboards factor in the sounds of the keys and pedals being played and released, string and pedal resonance, as well as different timbres depending on the way you strike the keys.
Another thing to consider is how many sound samples have multiple layers of voicings within them. Dedicated digital pianos tend to only have a few realistic high quality piano samples, whereas more advanced stage pianos may have a wider selection of quality samples and controls to play around with.
The Bottom Line
As a beginner pianist, it's important to set yourself up for success. Whether you choose acoustic or digital, we recommend 88 weighted keys with at least one pedal. This will help you develop a solid understanding of keyboard geography. It will also allow you to begin developing proper technique and ability to play and hear dynamics.
Digital Piano Recommendations
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