Buying a digital piano can be extremely overwhelming when you consider how many options there are available. And we know that there are a variety of reputable companies to choose from—such as Yamaha, Kawai, and Casio—all of which are pumping out excellent digital pianos and keyboards in a very competitive marketplace.
As a beginner, it’s easy to go for the cheapest model of any company, but this could be a mistake. Just because you’re saving money doesn’t necessarily mean that your digital piano is the best for your budget.
When you’re looking for a digital piano, you want to make sure that you are buying an instrument that has features that you can take advantage of. You don’t want to overpay for something that you won’t use, but you also want something that will grow with your skill level.
Even though there are a variety of pianos to choose from, I believe that everyone looks for something different—something that will ultimately make the difference of whether to buy or walk away.
This digital piano walkthrough guide will inform you about all you need to know in order for you to buy the right instrument. Read ahead to see our best picks based on budget, features, and one’s individual skill level.
And below, please take a look at our interactive table below to compare some of the top digital pianos on the market against one another:
|Alesis Prestige Artist|
Terminology You Should Know
Even if you don’t know what your preferences are, you want to know basic features that digital pianos can and should have. When you walk into a music store or piano retailer, you want to be the authority—or at least be fluent in the language of piano.
Being uninformed is the number one way to ensure that you will overspend, along with not being satisfied when you get home. Seeing as how most quality digital pianos are over $400, you want to make sure this purchase is the right one and avoid any buyer’s remorse.
Therefore, here are some words you’d benefit from knowing and fully understanding (in case you aren’t completely familiar with them):
- Hammer action
- Voices or sounds
- Learning tools
- Touch sensitivity
Below, please take a moment to view some of our favorite digital pianos–and ones that are some of the best-selling pianos currently available online:
|1) Yamaha P-515|
|2) Casio PX-S3100|
|3) Casio PX-870|
|4) Roland FP-E50|
|5) Roland FP-30X|
Polyphony, or maximum polyphony, indicates how many notes the digital piano can play at once. The higher the polyphony, the more notes the digital piano will sustain at once. The richest sounding pianos will have a higher polyphony, while lower-grade digital pianos will cut-off the notes or drop them, which has a lesser effect.
Digital pianos offer as little as 36-note polyphony to as much as over 250. If you’re a beginner, you don’t need anything above 64-128 polyphony. Even if you’re not a beginner, if you’ll be playing pieces that use only one voice or less complicated pieces, there’s no need for a higher polyphony.
If you’ve ever seen a grand piano, or any piano with visible strings, you’ll notice that the strings are struck by a small hammer, which ultimately is responsible for the notes you hear when someone plays. Hammer action refers to the small hammers that trigger notes, the way an acoustic piano does.
The weighted keys are what make a digital piano have a realistic feel. Graded hammer action refers to the additional weight on the lower register (lower octaves heard at the leftmost location of the piano) keys. The weight is distributed gradually. The farther to the left, the heavier, while the higher you go (right) the lighter the keys are. Lower-grade pianos will exhibit plastic, slippery keys that will produce a “clacking” type noise. They’ll be very light when depressed, so it’s safe to say you won’t be playing too vigorously on those keys.
One great feature about digital pianos is the various voices or sounds you can try out. As opposed to an acoustic piano that has the sound it naturally produces, digital keyboards can offer organ, harpsichords, and even orchestra sounds for added accompaniment.
Basic digital pianos will normally offer around 8 voices that include a variety of acoustic pianos, electric pianos, organs, and harpsichords. More advanced pianos will offer flutes, violins, and electric guitars.
Learning tools is a general term for features that will facilitate teaching. These tools can include anything from the ability to light up keys to follow along to a song or “dual mode” that allows for two players to use the instrument. Learning tools can also refer to the piano’s ability to use an app from a mobile device or tablet, virtually eliminating the need for an in-person instructor.
Touch sensitivity measure the responsiveness to the player. In reference to digital pianos, this is the piano’s ability to respond to your pressure and movements. Normally these keys are not as weighted. If you’re playing pizzicato (the light, jumping movement), the keys will respond quickly as opposed to playing fortissimo (loud, elongated, heavy pressing), the keys will sustain longer for added depth.
What Determines a Piano’s Quality?
Now that you know what terminology you need in order to scour the market like an expert, let’s talk about putting it into practice. At the end of the day, you want to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth. However, what makes a digital piano better than its competitor?
Even if you have a tight budget, there are features that every digital piano should have. It is your right as a pianist, even a beginner, to have a good quality piano even if you can’t buy the most expensive one on the market.
Here are few things that I feel make the difference between a low-grade piano and a great one.
- Number of voices
- Sound quality
- Key action
There is no fun in playing a digital piano if you don’t have enough voices to find the one that suits you. It’s all about expression. Even the cheapest piano should offer at least two acoustic pianos, an electric, an organ, and perhaps a harpsichord.
However, good quality pianos will have a varied selection. I am personally in favor of orchestra accompaniment, so it’s hard for me to consider a digital piano that doesn’t offer a few strings. With more voices, you should expect a higher polyphony as well to have accurate sound with multiple accompaniments.
And of course, sound quality is so important. Stay away from pianos that are not crisp and don’t blend notes well. If you have an untrained ear, here’s what not to do: If even at the lowest registers, the notes are sounding like they’re at a high frequency and you can’t play chords without hearing every individual note, this is not a good quality piano.
When you hear yourself (or someone else) play, the notes should have a quality that sounds unified, rather than choppy. Listen to how the piano sounds when you’re making transitions from chords through a song.
Can you hear gaps in sound?
Can you pick out every note you’re playing?
Does the sound come out with static or feedback in the background?
Make sure to test out a few voices before making the final decision.
If you know little to nothing about sound quality and you don’t care for voices, the least you can do is go for a piano that feels like a real one. Stay away from “clackity” type keys that make a sound every time you move. It’s distracting and it feels like the keys will break under the weight of your fingers. You don’t need the heaviest keys in the world, but you don’t want keys that feel like they’re made out of plastic spoons, either.
How do your hands feel on the keys of your prospective digital piano? Are the keys sturdy and capable of performing under a multi-layered piece? Pick a moderate level song when you’re trying out pianos for easy comparison.
What’s Important to You
- Light up keys
- App integration or accompaniment
- Recording capabilities, microphone jack
There are a few reasons why you’re probably looking to buy a digital piano. You’re either a beginner who is looking for a starter piano, or you’re someone who’s looking to replace your starter piano with something a little more advanced.
Whoever you are, think about the main purpose of your piano.
Are you looking for a digital piano that will play along with you and take on the role of your instructor? Those looking to take advantage of app accompaniment for in-depth lessons and access to music should look for a piano that can accommodate iOS or Android apps.
If you’re a performer, or you like to sing along while you play, you might want your digital piano to record your practices. However, make sure it has a microphone jack for you to sing along. Portability is very important for beginners who have to tote their piano to and from practice. You’ll want to look for something that is light, compact, and can withstand a commute.
WHAT PIANO IS BEST FOR YOU?
I’ve listed at least one piano for each of the main functions listed above. These pianos vary in price range, but keep in mind this only a short list. In the end, you’ll know what feels best and will ultimately meet your needs.
ONE Light Keyboard: A relatively new piano on the market, this $300 keyboard is the ultimate learner’s keyboard. It’s a compact, sleek digital piano, which makes it portable, but it also has LED-light guiding function that makes it fun to learn.
ONE Smart Piano: From the same creators of the ONE Light Keyboard, this $1,500 piano has full app integration that makes the possibilities quite endless. It’s a higher quality learner’s piano and not portable, but it’s the number one iOS and Android accompanied piano out on the market right now. The piano also doubles as an entertainment system with the ability to become your new surround sound system.
The Yamaha P-115 is an affordable digital piano with all the features to meet the needs of a performer. It’s a slightly more advanced piano than for a beginner, however those who are looking to grow in their experience can transition right to this one.
It has great quality sound and special features that make it one of the best pianos on the market (it’s actually been a best seller on Amazon for quite some time now). One key feature is the ability to make the piano cut through instruments to give it a presence during a performance, along with the ability to remove feedback when singing.
HOW TO MAKE THE FINAL DECISION
Decide on a budget and get a feel for what you should expect in your price range. There are a lot of great digital pianos that cost less than $1K—ones that will meet the needs of most beginner and intermediate piano players.
As a beginner, you don’t need hi-tech features for performing, nor do you need a piano that is used for professionals. Ultimately, you want a piano that will fit your experience level, but also something that will improve as you do so you don’t need to replace it in the near future.
So we’d recommend you rank your needs in order of importance, and then refer back to this article whenever you need a little bit of help or guidance.
- If you’re still interested in learning how to play piano or keyboard, get your copy of Piano for All today, which features 10 eBooks, 200 video piano lessons and 500 audio piano lessons!
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