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  • Writer's picturedianeumile

Choosing Your Instrument

Updated: Jan 22



It is very important for piano students to have the best instrument possible to play on. A good quality instrument is more enjoyable to play and the student will be much more motivated to practice.

An acoustic ("real") piano is preferrable; it is the best investment. A good one will last many years. Electronics break down sooner and also become obsolete more quickly. A good acoustic will have beautiful tone and consistent action which will help with the student's auditory development as well as technical skills.

If you are interested in a pre-owned acoustic, it is difficult to tell if the inner workings are in good condition. You might consider having a piano technician (tuner) evaluate it. If you buy from a music store instead of privately, there usually will be some sort of warranty, and they often will deliver, tune, and repair it.

Is it time to have your acoustic piano tuned? You will know if some of the notes sound "sour" or "clashing", or if you play along with a recording and the notes sound "off". Try playing two Cs together, or two Gs. They should sound good together. A student learning on an out-of-tune piano will not know if the notes they are playing are correct. It's like a small child learning to speak their native language when everyone around them doesn't speak it correctly. It will also hinder their pitch recognition development.

If you have an electric piano or keyboard, please consider whether it is suiting your learner's needs. A digital piano is the best type of electric piano. The term "digital" is kind of vague, but it will have the full 88-key keyboard and weighted keys, which means the player can play all the notes of a piano, and will develop the proper finger and arm strength. The sound is also much closer to that of an acoustic piano. A digital is also a better investment than a keyboard.

If you have an electronic (non-digital) keyboard, some are better than others. Bigger is usually better - meaning the number of keys. It will not have 88 keys, but 76 keys is better than 61. Be sure the keys themselves are full-sized. It should have a decent piano sound. If your student sounds like they are playing one note repeatedly, that is because the keys are too light (easy to play) which causes the player to make more mistakes or the notes to repeat, and this is very frustrating to the player. Light keys also hinder proper strength development. Playing an unweighted keyboard is like learning to play baseball with a wiffle ball. A small keyboard is okay to start with, but as students progress, it's best if they can eventually upgrade to a higher quality instrument to play at home.

Also, keyboards with light-up keys and/or letters or numbers on the keys should be avoided. They are basically toys. The fewer the "bells and whistles", or fancy sounds that the instrument makes, the better - just a few good piano sounds and a few other instrument sounds are best. Excess sounds and lights are a distraction from learning.

Be careful with pre-owned electrics - it is difficult to know if they need repairs or even can be repaired. Some of the best brands are Yamaha, Kawai, Korg, Roland, and Casio. Some to avoid would be Williams and Donner.

If you are looking to upgrade from a basic keyboard, you may be able to trade it in for a better instrument.

I recommend purchasing from a locally-owned store, if possible. They will give you personalized service.

It's ideal to try out an instrument in person rather than ordering online. You can also try out in a store and then later order online.

Choose a furniture-style stand rather than an X shaped one, as they are sturdier and have more leg room. Be sure the pedal is a piano-style pedal and not a cheap square one. Here is a recent article with a comparison of several digital pianos: https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/reviews/best-budget-digital-piano-for-beginners/

If you are thinking about purchasing or upgrading to a better instrument but the price is holding you back, consider delaying lessons for a few months, save the amount you would have paid in tuition, and put that towards a better instrument. The difference between a small, unweighted keyboard and a good digital or pre-owned acoustic is actually only a couple hundred dollars, around the amount of two months of lesson tuition. You will find it an investment worth waiting for. After all, most parents wouldn't keep their children in the same soccer cleats, ballet attire, or martial arts uniform for several years. But investing in a high quality instrument will give you and your child years of musical enjoyment. Happy piano hunting!


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