So you want to buy a keyboard or a digital piano. Maybe your nine-year-old wants to play. Maybe YOU want to play! Maybe you compose music and would like a quality instrument that allows you some latitude when it comes to technology or software used for composing.
Or maybe you just like the idea of having a piano in your home. All kinds of reasons exist to purchase a keyboard instrument. You don’t have to justify any of them. It’s okay to buy a piano or keyboard just because you want to!
However, you aren’t sure what you should purchase. Should you pick up a new keyboard, or maybe a secondhand digital piano? Maybe a new digital piano would be better for you, rather than a secondhand instrument. Here are some questions you should ask yourself before you buy any kind of keyboard instrument:
- Who will use it?
- How will it be used?
- How important is portability?
- Features needed
Below, please use our interactive guide to quickly compare some of the top pianos and keyboards in 2019 against one another.
Who Will Use the Instrument?
This is an important question to ask yourself before you buy any keyboard instrument. If you want to buy a keyboard or piano for yourself because you’ve always wanted to learn to play the piano, and if you are certain that you will practice and improve your skills, it makes sense to buy the best keyboard or piano you can afford.
In fact, I would suggest you buy a digital piano rather than a keyboard. A portable keyboard may not have the key action, touch, or sound that you may want if you are a serious beginning student. Even a full 88-key keyboard of lesser quality may disappoint. For any serious student, especially an adult, I recommend a carefully chosen digital piano with 88 weighted keys. More on this later.
If your nine-year-old child (or any other age child) decides that they want to play piano, spending a boatload of money on a beautiful Schimmel nine-foot concert grand piano would also not be a good idea. But a 61-key portable keyboard might be just the ticket, especially if you are in any way doubtful that this overwhelming desire to play will evaporate in, say, a month or two.
Below, take a moment to view some of the best selling digital pianos online, and see how well they stack up to the instruments we’ll discuss today.
|1) Casio PX-770|
|2) Yamaha YDP-145|
|3) Roland RP-701|
|4) Yamaha YDP-165|
|5) Casio PX-870|
How will it be used?
If you already play piano and want to experiment with composition or arranging, a keyboard may be just the thing for you. Keyboards tend to be portable. With a portable instrument, good headphones and a laptop, you can play and/or work almost anywhere, even in a library! Lugging a digital piano cabinet into your local library is probably NOT a good idea.
Perhaps you already play piano and want to delve a bit deeper into the classics. Frankly, playing Mozart or Bach or any of the other Dead White Guys (as described by one of my music professors more than twenty years ago) on a keyboard is rather ridiculous. Classical music utilizes such delicate subtleties and such powerful passages that a keyboard simply will not be sufficient to master these elements.
At the very least, this music demands a much more responsive instrument than a portable keyboard. To master any of the works of the classical genre requires an instrument with highly reactive keys and a pedal mechanism capable of the many shadings of pedaling. If your intent is to study and master the classics, you should certainly purchase the best digital piano you can afford.
If you want a keyboard or piano that you can let your kids plunk around on, you might consider a low-end digital piano or durable keyboard. Some keyboards are not the most durable when it comes to “child experiences.”
How important is portability?
I’ve already mentioned one example when portability might be highly desirable. Working on music composition or arranging can be a hassle on a digital piano with an integrated cabinet, unless you have the facilities to do so in your home. But unless you have a dedicated room or space to compose/arrange music, then moving the piano and computer around–setting them up, tearing them down– can become quite onerous.
If you live in an apartment like me, you may not have room for a full-size digital piano with integrated cabinet. When you have limited space, a portable keyboard may be the perfect solution. Set it on a table, plug in all the accessories (especially headphones; you want to be considerate of your neighbors in an apartment!) and play at any time, day or night. Then, when you finish, unplug all the accessories and store the keyboard under a bed, on its end between a sofa and a wall, or wherever you decide.
I met a man who worked at my local Yamaha Grand authorized dealership who plays music in a band. He purchased TWO of the Yamaha digital keyboards sold at his store, the same model, both portable, for use in his band. These keyboards sound like an acoustic grand piano, but they also have lots of the features needed for a small combo to sound like a large group.
People often like all the bells and whistles that 21st century keyboards and digital pianos possess. If you’re one of those people, a high-end digital piano or keyboard maybe suit your purposes. Maybe you love the sound of synthesized strings, or bass guitar, or cathedral organ. Maybe you think all those SFX sounds like rain, wind, or other interesting sounds will make your piece of music just perfect.
Many of the modern keyboards and digital pianos offer a recording option and overdubbing technology. Maybe you want to make a recording of your favorite song and lay down some dubbed instruments. The more instruments your keyboard or piano offers, the more flexibility you have to do just that. You should also make sure your instrument has the polyphony to accommodate thick overdubbing textures.
Some lower-end digital pianos may only offer 5-10 voices; some of the lower-end keyboards may not offer recording options. Figure out what features YOU want, then shop for those features as you do your due diligence.
Last but not least, consider your budget. If you have an $800 budget for an instrument, don’t let anyone talk you into a $4,000 instrument by convincing you that you need all the bells and whistles! Figure out how much you can spend, and then buy the best instrument you can afford. You can get a really decent digital keyboard for about $300. It won’t have 1000 voices and 475 accompaniment styles, but it could be exactly what you need that fits neatly into your budget.
Shop around. Your local chain guitar store may have just what you’re looking for in a keyboard. Your local piano dealer may have a secondhand digital piano that suits your needs and doesn’t break the bank. Your local classifieds could have dozens, or even hundreds, of digital pianos and keyboards listed. CAUTION: NEVER go into a stranger’s home alone to look at an instrument, and ALWAYS take someone knowledgeable with you who can spot a clunker before you let money change hands.
Overall, my recommendation would be to purchase a digital piano rather than a keyboard, unless your circumstances fit into the needs I’ve mentioned above. So, which models of digital pianos would be good beginner digital pianos?
Here are a few I would recommend:
Williams Rhapsody 2
For a relatively low price, the Williams Rhapsody II is an excellent value. My daughter recently purchased one of these digital pianos, and she really loves it. She’s a composer and wanted a digital piano to interface with her computers for notation purchases, but she’s also an accomplished musician. I played her piano a few days ago. The high ends sounded clear and bright, although the bass ends were a little boom-y for my taste.
This console piano retails for less than $600, which makes it an outstanding value for the money. This piano is a good way to begin playing piano. The keys respond well and have a natural touch. The Rhapsody II is pictured below.
Yamaha CVP 709
The Yamaha Clavinova series of digital pianos is my favorite of all the digital pianos I’ve ever played. Whether you go with a less expensive CLP series instrument, retailing at about $2,000 and up, or go all the way to the ‘big boy’ of Clavinovas, the CVP-709GP, that retails in the $21,000 range, you can never go wrong with a Yamaha Clavinova.
I owned one of the earliest Clavinova models for over 25 years. If I ever buy another digital piano, the Clavinova is the one I would choose.
Yamaha Clavinova CSP 150
In fact, right now, my favorite Clavinova is the CSP-150 model, a mid-range Clavinova with beautiful, clean lines and no obvious “bells and whistles.” Through interface with an iPad (sold separately), this piano allows the beginner to access all of the built-in “bells and whistles” that keep a beginning student active and engaged in learning to play the piano.
At about $4,000, it is probably the best $4,000 you’ll ever spend on a musical instrument. As a piano teacher, I would love to use this piano with aspiring musicians to show them the possibilities of learning to play the piano. As a musician, I believe I could sit at this instrument for hours at a time, experimenting with overdub options and all of the software built into this piano. Below is the Yamaha CSP-150.
Kawai Digital Pianos
Kawai makes a beautiful selection of digital pianos. From the beautiful Novus NV10, which is actually a hybrid piano, to the lowest portable keyboard, Kawai digital pianos and keyboards offer quality and value.
My favorite class of the Kawai digital pianos is the Concert Artist series. This class of digital pianos offers instruments priced from around $2,000 to around $6,200, depending upon which model and which cabinet finish you select.
I love the CA98 digital piano. Kawai introduced the Grand Feel II wooden-keyboard action that truly simulates the feel of a grand piano. For serious musicians, this touch is an important factor when choosing any keyboard instrument. The cabinetry of this piano is truly beautiful as well.
It resembles a spinet acoustic piano, the most common acoustic piano style sold. The CA98 comes in three finishes: polished ebony, satin black and premium rosewood. I’ve always loved a polished ebony finish, but the premium rosewood finish calls to me. Here are both of them, so you decide:
Not an easy choice, is it?
Whichever piano you choose—digital or portable keyboard, polished ebony or some other color, Williams, Clavinova, or Kawai Concert Artist series—any of these pianos would be excellent choices for a beginning piano student to learn the fine art of making music. Just be sure to get the best instrument you can afford.
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