Choosing your Piano

Choosing your Piano

Congratulations! You’ve signed up for piano lessons and are dedicated to getting the most out of your experience. But, How to pick your first piano or keyboard?

Choosing your first piano might be a difficult choice. After all, buying a musical instrument isn’t an everyday errand. Consider it a long term investment; and, keep in mind that generally, you get what you pay for (though happily, a budget keyboard can be enough to some beginners to get started). Luckily for you, Cardon Studios has assembled valuable teacher input to give you some insight so you can make your decision-making process easier!

First thing’s first: Digital or Acoustic?

While a classic acoustic piano has some obvious advantages in sound quality (there’s nothing like the real thing!) and gives your home a special ambience, digital pianos today are pretty excellent instruments, too, and offer perks like the ability to practice with headphones (you’re welcome, neighbors!) and recording. In either case, we strongly recommend you test out your chosen instrument in person before purchasing. Personal preferences are absolutely part of this decision and different people may weight different elements differently. Let’s break it all down:
Acoustic Pianos
  • Priced $0-$10,000s
  • Best possible Sound Quality with regard to Overtone Series and Harmonic Structure(digital pianos feature recorded sounds from real acoustic pianos)
  • Generally quite loud: Piano blankets can muffle some noise for the sake of neighbors and roommates, but not much. Sound vibrations may travel through walls and floors.
  • Requires maintenance: Should generally be tuned 2x per year (this may vary based on frequency of use and factors such as humidity in your environment). Tuning cost will vary regionally; for reference, in the DC metro area, a piano tuning will run around $150.
  • Buyer Beware: Keep in mind the costs of moving, cleaning, tuning, and- god forbid- any repairs. A warped soundboard could render the whole thing useless, so be especially careful if buying used! Older pianos can be a great value if you find the right instrument and know what you’re getting into. However, if you don’t know what kind of care a used piano has had, hire a piano tuner or repair person to come along and inspect it before you commit!

Digital Pianos

  • Priced $80-10,000s
  • Sound Quality varies widely: Luxury models from brands such as Yamaha, Kawaii, or Roland feature excellent sound sampling from live acoustic instruments. Lesser priced models will generally have low quality speakers, so even great sound samples may not sound great. If you only plan to play with headphones on, perhaps this won’t matter to you.
  • Silent Playing: All basic keyboards up through luxury digital pianos will include a headphone jack for silent playing. Cheaper models may have “clacky” keys.
  • No maintenance ever! With the exception of high-end hybrid models which are mostly digital but have some strings to enhance the acoustic-type sound.
  • Buyer beware: Choose a reputable brand for the best odds of keeping your digital piano or keyboard for many years. Yamaha is the go-to for schools because they have a reputation for lasting forever and maintenance is generally available if something goes wrong and needs repair.
For the purpose of this article, we’re lumping keyboard (usually smaller with only 66 keys) in with digital pianos (a full 88 key instrument). For lessons, if your budget requires selecting a smaller 66 key keyboard, that is enough to get you started. But, for more experienced players or if you plan to become a life-long player (which we hope you do!), the full 88 key piano is a worthwhile investment. Digital pianos (88 keys) tend to have much better touch (feel more like a real acoustic piano) as well.
Here are some tips about what to look for in a digital piano:
  • “Weighted” keys (sometimes “harmonically weighted”): this means that the higher keys have a lighter touch and the lower keys take more pressure to depress, making the digital piano feel more like an acoustic piano.
  • Pedals: Whether one pedal or the more standard set of three, having access to a damper pedal at all will be a great benefit.
  • Polyphony is a commonly advertised feature, but for young pianists won’t make much difference in the playing experience (only very advanced pianists would notice the difference).
  • Respected brands to look out for (best audio sampling, longevity): Yamaha, Roland, Kawaii.
Here are some specific options at a variety of price points (note that stand, bench, and pedals may be additional purchases, especially common in the lower priced options):
  • Budget-friendly Entry KeyboardCasio CTK-3500 — only 61 keys, but “piano style” keys which are touch sensitive
  • Mid-Range Keyboard/Digital piano:  Williams Legato —  full 88 keys, partially weighted, has nice “cabinet” looks, but not known for great longevity
  • *Our top choice for most families* Digital PianoYamaha P-125 — fully weighted keys for a more piano-like feel, three pedal unit available as an add-on (optional)
  • Top of the line digital piano: Yamaha Arius or Clavinova – would easily last a child beginning lessons through their school years; furniture casing, pedals, and benches all standard and included.

In closing, starting to play is more important than having the perfect instrument– don’t let cost hold you back. Choose whatever gets you started toward your goals now! You can always upgrade in time (and perhaps you’ll even have a better sense later on of which features matter most to you so you can more easily make a better decision).

Ready to learn more? Schedule your free intro session with Cardon Studios to meet a teacher, and learn more about how we can help you meet your goals!