In this article, I’m going to help you decide what the best piano or keyboard for beginners is, so you can start practicing and playing the as soon as possible. We’ll discuss your overall needs when it comes to your potential new instrument, what features are important, and overall what you can expect from certain products on the market.
Also, if you’re a parent, this article is for you too. Because if your child is the piano player or student, and is too young to make these decisions on his or her own, then this article is aimed at you too.
And to better help you decide, we’ve included an interactive table below that contains some of the most popular digital pianos and keyboards on the market.
Photo Model Features
Casio PX-S1100 192-note polyphony; 18 built-in tones
Casio CDP-S360 128 Notes of Polyphony
Yamaha P-45 64 Note Polyphony
Yamaha NP12 Uses Six AA Batteries
Yamaha P-515 40 Voices, 18 Drum/FX Kits, 480 XG Voices
Yamaha NP32 Graded Soft Touch (GST) Keyboard
Korg LP-380 U Now features USB Audio/MIDI
Yamaha DGX 670 601 Voices, 29 Drums, SFX Kits
Now, let’s get started.
What to Do When Buying a Piano or Keyboard
The first instrument you buy has a profound impact on your development as a student. Buying a bad keyboard doesn’t mean you won’t have a chance at being a good player. Buying a great piano doesn’t mean you’ll be a star musician, either. They don’t play themselves and you have to put the work in to make progress.
First and foremost, always be aware of what you’re looking to achieve with the piano or keyboard you’re interested in. Meaning, if you expect to one day graduate to an acoustic piano, or even if you simply know you’ll be taking playing the piano very seriously, it makes a lot of sense to get a full-size keyboard that has touch sensitive and weighted keys.
And, if you plan to play a lot of complex pieces, you’ll likely want a piano with a higher number of polyphony, as well.
- You may want to also read: Which Digital Piano Has the Best Action?
A Full Menu Of Choices
Let’s get into the meat of this guide and give you more specifics to chew on. There are basic-but-essential things that apply to both acoustic and electronic keyboards. There are also more complex features involved in selecting a digital or electronic piano.
You have many options to choose from, and in this section we’ll look at what those choices are, what they mean for you and how to make the right ones for your situation.
And before we move on, please take a look (below) at some of the best selling digital pianos currently available online:
|1) Casio PX-S3100|
|2) Casio PX-870|
|3) Roland RP-102|
|4) Yamaha P-515|
|5) Roland FP-90X|
Acoustic Pianos are made under two umbrella types: Vertical and Grand. Both types use hammers that strike strings inside their bodies to make sounds.
When you push a key on an acoustic piano, it triggers a hammer (layered with a felt head) to strike a string as hard or as softly as you press the key. The harder you press a key, the louder the piano will sound.
Think of someone playing a xylophone or a marimba. Keys are being struck with a mallet to makes sounds, and the harder they hit the instrument, the louder it rings out. So yes, it’s kind of like having 88 tiny marimba players inside your piano striking each string as you press the relative key.
Acoustic pianos also have wooden soundboards, off of which the sound reverberates. The quality and volume of that sound is dependent not only on how well the instrument is made and what type of wood is used, but where in your home it is placed. A full size/professional upright in an 8X10 room is going to sound quite loud, especially with an open lid. A spinet in the corner of a finished basement is not going to have much throwing power. And, a concert grand isn’t even going to fit in a standard 8X10 room.
Here are lists of models made for each acoustic piano type:
• Full Size/Professional
• Living Room/Parlor/Medium
• Square (oddball option)
The most popular or commonly purchased models in each type are the studio and baby grand. The studio pianos have the biggest sound projection before crossing into the full size price range. Baby grands are popular for how they look; they add a touch of class to a home. They are also a lot more affordable than the larger grand models.
It stands to reason that the larger the piano is, the heavier its keys will be. Keys on all acoustic models are weighted and heavier than most digital piano keys.
When considering buying an acoustic piano, know that your fingers will get a workout. And, that you will have to keep it in tune and in a healthy environment.
I fall right into the middle and think students should ideally have both an acoustic piano and a digital one to work on. This is of course not practical in 99% of household situations.
But practicing on a high quality, acoustic piano is going to make you a better, stronger player. That being said; there are now digital piano models out there that have better action and tonal control than do many acoustic spinets.
Acoustic pianos give you nuanced control over volume and tone that digital ones can never give. Digital pianos give you headphones, the ability to practice and any time of the day and other sounds to explore.
Let’s take a more in-depth look at the digital options next.
What to Look For in a Digital Piano
The biggest selling points of digital pianos are convenience and the accuracy of their acoustic piano emulation. There are no strings or tuning issues to worry about, and you can use headphones when practicing. They don’t weight as much as acoustic pianos do and are easier to transport and maintain.
When you push a key on a digital piano, it’s sending an electronic signal to make the sound. You’re basically playing “samples” of real pianos, or synthesized replicas of a pianos sound when playing a digital keyboard. It’s honestly not much different (conceptually) than pressing a key on your laptop and getting a result on your screen.
The Yamaha Clavinova wore the crown in the digital piano market for a long, long time. Now there is plenty of competition out there, which is a good thing for students and consumers alike.
Digital pianos are generally 88 keys like the acoustic models they emulate. The biggest difference outside being plugged-in or not plugged-in is the action.
The cheaper the model you buy, the less likely it is to feel or sound like a real piano. That doesn’t mean the most expensive model is the best or most accurate, either.
And, different players have different ears, needs and finger strengths. Korg makes a SP250 and SP280 model, for example, that is popular among younger students and parents alike because of its midland price point and built-in speakers.
When shopping for a digital piano you really want to get one with 88-key, graded hammer action. Acoustic pianos have a slope to the weight of their keys. The lower the key, the heavier it is, etc. This is because the strings in the lower sections are bigger and require strong/larger hammers to strike them to get the bass-range sound. So yes, acoustic pianos are gradually lighter to play the higher you play them.
The best piano-based digital keyboards out there focus on emulating that action and the quality of their samples above all else.
High quality, bare-bones units will have great action and piano sounds but not a lot of additional features. More expensive models will provide extra sounds and features like drums, strings, clavinets, the ability to record your performances and more.
Amount Of Keys
Acoustic pianos have 88 keys unless they’re made as a specialty model. Digital or electric keyboards can have 25 or less keys all the way back up to the standard, acoustic-sized 88.
If you’re buying an acoustic piano, you’re choosing 88 keys no matter what.
If you’re buying a digital piano that emulates an acoustic one, you’re also getting 88 keys there.
Buying a keyboard with less than 88 keys means you will not get a fully weighted instrument. You’ll get more synthesizer features, such as pre-programmed drum rhythms/patterns, and large sound banks that include strings, guitars, horns, sound effects and much more.
There are people out there that say it’s acceptable to start on a keyboard with less than 88 keys. If your goal is to be a piano player, then I say it is not acceptable at all. Pianos don’t have training wheels and if your goal is to be the best piano player you can be, buy a fully weighted 88-key instrument.
Now, if your goal is more along the lines of music production, writing and recording, then getting a synth with less keys is often what you have to do.
Choosing the amount of keys you need is directly based on your goals as a musician. Don’t expect to get into college for piano performance if you grew up practicing on a 61 key digital piano. But if your passion is electronic music and not piano technique, a synth with 61 keys is fine.
Parents and students alike: You can always resell these instruments. It’s hard to predict what will happen once lessons start, I know. Acoustic pianos a large commitment but digital keyboards are easier to deal with both front and back.
If you’re going to buy a digital piano, buy an 88 key weighted digital piano model to start. They are affordable and give students the best chance at being the best players they can be.
If you start and spend years practicing on a 61 key, un-weighted keyboard and then decide you want to be a piano player, you will have done yourself and your potential a great disservice. Resale prices on higher end digital models are fairly solid.
And, there is always the option to rent a digital piano for a few months before purchasing.
Weighted Or Non-Weighted Keys
This choice has been covered above to some degree. It’s worth repeating the core of its premise, however. Weighted keys give a student the best chance of success as a piano player, plain and simple.
Unless you are an adult student who knows full well that you don’t need 88 keys and real, piano weight, then go for the 88-key, graded hammer action models.
Piano-Based Or Synth/Keyboard-Based Goals
Knowing your goals is an important part of selecting your first keyboard. Many kids love modern music but don’t think that by taking piano lessons they can learn to play and even write it.
Synthesizers can sound amazing and are a lot of fun. They can also have an overwhelming amount of features for a new student. Yamaha was really the 1st company to bridge the gap between professional and practical by providing hip-sounding instrument emulations and rhythm patterns in their portable keyboards. Casio also did this but to a lesser quality (at least originally).
The Casio Privia and Yamaha Clavinova models attempt to give students the best of both worlds by including lots of sounds and features in an 88-key piano-looking instrument.
Again, it comes down to this: If your goal is to be a great piano player, buy a model that puts its money into action and sound above its other features. If your goal is to be a producer or composer for video game or other electronic music, you can get an entry-level synthesizer that suits your needs and won’t overwhelm you with programming nightmares.
Home-Based Or Professional Model
If you are choosing to buy a digital piano that emulates an acoustic piano, you will have the option of home-based and professional models.
Home-based models will come with stands that look nice and fit right into your home décor. They will look a good bit like spinets but some pricier units are shaped like baby-baby-grands. That means, “Honey, I shrunk the piano.”
Home-based units will also have built-in speakers.
Professional models will be more sleek and portable while having the same action and sounds as the home versions. More time than not the pro models will not include built-in speakers. Speakers in these unites are designed for home, not stage. In a normal-sized room in your home, they’ll have plenty of volume.
But on stage the sound will get lost. Also, if you sing, the sound from built-in speakers will bleed into your stage microphone and potentially cause feedback issues.
So, bottom line: Home models look nicer and have built-in speakers and professional models keep the same sonic and action quality but lose the “living room” look.
This is a topic that can go on for ages. There is a lot of competition out there these days. Still, some of the tried-and-true companies from decades ago still lead the “best of” lists around the world.
For acoustic pianos, Yamaha, Steinway, Baldwin, Boston and Akai are solid companies.
For digital pianos, Yamaha, Casio, Korg, Roland, Nord and Alesis are big names. Williams is a relatively newer and popular brand as well.
For my tastes and purposes, I like Baldwin and Yamaha acoustic pianos, and prefer higher-end Yamaha digital keyboards for piano-based purchases.
This is all subjective, of course. So your mileage may vary. Whatever you buy, try and purchase from a retailer that has a good return policy—just in case you aren’t happy with the brand or model you selected and want to get a refund.
- You might want to read our article: The Best Piano or Keyboard Brands on the Market
When I buy a car I look at gas mileage and safety above all else.
When it comes to acoustic pianos or digital keyboards that emulate pianos, I’m the same way. I want an instrument that feels and sounds great, and allows me to be as expressive as possible. Your instrument shouldn’t hold you back – it should set you free.
When it comes to synthesizers or digital keyboards that don’t focus on piano, I (conversely) want it all. That doesn’t mean I need it all, however. I just like having it because I like to explore.
The list of features a keyboard or digital piano can have is virtually endless. Different companies have different “engines” they use to create their signature sounds and styles. Price point is also a factor in what’s included, or overlooked.
The main thing to consider when looking at additional features is whether or not they’re worth the price bump for your needs. Also, you need to consider what had to be left out in order to add in the extras. Is action or sound quality compromised in order to add more effects?
This is something that takes a good deal of research per model. I’ll give you some basic feature highlights to look into based on what you’ll want for several different goal types.
Home Based Recording
• As many sounds/patches as possible
• Ease of use
• Quality of signal path (as little noise/hum as possible when plugged in)
• Compatibility with your computer or recording devices
• How well it can be integrated into your sound/style
• Whether or not is has the ability to record music without being connected to a computer
• Action and sound quality are top priority
• Built-in metronome and speakers
• Amount of additional, useful sounds
• The ability to record your performances or not
• Quality of overall patches (sounds)
• Specific sounds that become part of your library/stage and studio setup
Let’s move onto budget.
Ultimately, all the information I just gave you has to be filtered through what you can and cannot afford. The Nord Stage 3 73 and 88 key units sells for between $4,000 and $5,000 dollars, but it’s a great sounding board used by many top professionals.
The latest Casio Privia PX series models retail between $700 and $900. Williams Rhapsody models retail around $500. The Yamaha P71 88-key model lists around $400 and is highly popular among students and parents.
And the new Yamaha P-125 goes for approximately $500.
Older, similar versions of these models sell for less and don’t offer many less features. There are plenty of online market places that sell used products as well.
Buying a used digital piano is fine provided you play and check it out thoroughly before buying. Buying a used acoustic piano is a tougher sell. Unless you buy it from a gallery where it’s been tuned up and refurbished, expect tuning issues and repair costs to come with the instrument
You can get great deals out there if you put the time into finding them. If budget vs. commitment is a concern, renting a high-quality digital or acoustic piano is always a sensible option to start.
My choice for the best 88 key digital piano is the Yamaha CLP645 Clavinova. But, that comes with the caveat that you have the space for such a large upright digital piano in your home. And, more importantly, you have the money available to purchase this digital piano.
With that said, the Clavinova line has great action and will help develop fingers, skills and strength faster. They look great and have headphone jacks for private practicing.
To swing the budget pendulum the other way, I’d go with
The Yamaha P-125 for those on a smaller budget. It’s the newest entry into the P-series line (“P” standing for portable), and features improved sound and a really awesome ability to connect your piano to an iOs device (like an iPhone or iPad).
In the middle, working back up in price I’d go for the Casio PX-870 or the Yamaha YDP-144. The Casio Privia series offer weighted and touch-sensitive options that can do well for students learning piano just as a hobby.
For a starter synth I love the Yamaha MX series. They have stunningly good sounds applicable to today’s market and easy to use features.
Acoustic pianos are harder to gauge. I am always a fan of Yamaha’s pianos but I also love Baldwin and Kawai. Get a studio or baby grand size, and play them repeatedly before buying to be sure it’s what you love.
Most students don’t know what their final goal is for taking lessons when they first start out. Some kids who were forced to take lessons thought they’d hate it but end up being professional musicians.
Some students truly want to learn piano and be successful musicians but discover they don’t have the work ethic or drive to do what it takes to make it happen. Or, as is also sometimes the case, peer or familial pressure cause them to change course and leave piano playing in their past.
Other times, learning the piano just isn’t what a student thought it was going to be.
Parents tend to be inclined to focus on budget and the possibility of their child student quitting sooner-than-later. Sometimes that’s not the case, but either way it’s not a blame-game situation. Artistic discipline is simply different than domestic.
No matter the reasoning, finding the right digital piano or keyboard is the first step in what will hopefully be a fun, music-filled journey for you.
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