A beginning piano student needs a good instrument. Think about it. If you wanted your child to play soccer, would you send your child out on the field in a pair of cheap flip-flops, or would you make sure your child had a good pair of shoes? Shoes, of course! On the other hand, does your child need professional-quality £100 soccer shoes? Maybe not on the first day.
As a parent, you want to make sure your beginning piano student has a good experience while learning to play, but you’re probably not ready to go out and buy a baby grand. That’s fine. To help you decide what will be best for your child and your budget, let’s talk about the options.
A Keyboard Instrument for Your Home
There are three basic categories of keyboard instruments available. The largest and most expensive, and also the best when it comes to developing piano skills, are the acoustic pianos. There are also many good digital pianos, which are smaller, less expensive, and do a decent job of mimicking the sound and feel of an acoustic instrument. A third category, the electronic keyboard, is the least expensive option, but an electronic keyboard may not have the right touch to develop hand strength for a beginning pianist, or enough keys to play a wide range of music.
The sooner a student has the opportunity to practice on an acoustic piano, the better.
A quality acoustic instrument that produces sound from real strings and real wood offers a level of responsiveness and a range of dynamics and tone color than even the nicest digital piano cannot match. The sooner a student has the opportunity to practice on an acoustic instrument with that kind of nuanced musical responsiveness, the better. True, acoustic pianos are expensive. The typical price range for a quality acoustic upright (also called “vertical”) piano is £1,500 to £7,000.
Not sure about buying? Many piano stores have affordable acoustic piano rental programs from £30 a month.
If you already have a piano, or plan to purchase or rent a used instrument, be sure it is in tune and the keys are in good working order. An acoustic piano in poor condition will only cause frustration and hinder the progress a beginning student.
While it’s impossible to entirely simulate the experience of playing on an acoustic piano, there’s nothing wrong with starting a beginning student on a digital piano.
Digital pianos are designed to sound and feel as much like an acoustic piano as possible. Keys are weighted to provide the right resistance to touch, and are sensitive to speed and pressure to give a range of dynamics (loud and soft). Some of them come installed in a cabinet-style console, and are smaller and less expensive than an upright piano, usually £1,000 - £2,000. A cheaper option is the one without the cabinet called "stage piano", usually £500 - £1200, but you will also need a keyboard stand and a bench.
While it’s impossible to entirely simulate the experience of playing on an acoustic piano, there’s nothing wrong with starting a beginning student on a digital piano. In fact, a quality digital piano would be much better than an old out-of-tune acoustic piano with sticky or broken keys!
Electronic keyboards are the most affordable way to get started, but learning piano on a non-weighted non-full-size keyboard is less than ideal and could even be discouraging. I recommend upgrading to at least a digital piano as soon as possible.
If you’re not ready to spend several hundred to a few thousand pounds on an instrument, your beginning student can get started with an electronic keyboard. Electronic keyboards come in many sizes and prices. Rather than trying to mimic the experience of playing on a real piano, they are designed to be mini synthesizers, and many come with lots of different instrument sounds and even pre-recorded rhythm tracks. What’s most important for a new piano student will be the number of keys and whether or not the keys are weighted.
Remember that learning on a keyboard with 88 weighted keys gives a student a big advantage. The weighted keys build hand strength and respond more like the keys of an acoustic piano, making it easier for an advancing student to move on. Most electronic keyboards do not have weighted keys.
If a keyboard with 88 weighted keys is still out of your price range, we recommend that students use a keyboard with at least 61 keys in order to be able to do all the basic piano exercises.
When buying an electronic keyboard make sure to also purchase a bench and a keyboard stand. A keyboard set on a table will probably not be at the correct height for a young student seated in a chair. Ideally, the keyboard and bench should be set at the right height so that the player’s arm from wrist to elbow is parallel to the floor.
Acoustic vs. Digital or Electronic
There are certain advantages to having a digital piano or electronic keyboard over an acoustic piano, such as the ability to plug in headphones so that a child can practice without disturbing anyone. Many digital or electronic instruments can also be connected to a computer with a usb or midi cable and used with all kinds of educational and music production software. They’re more portable, and, unlike acoustic pianos, digital pianos and electronic keyboards never need to be tuned. A beginning student can get a good start on learning the piano with one of these instruments.
Still, nothing can compare with an acoustic piano. If your family has space in your home and your budget for an acoustic piano, I encourage you to go with this option. An acoustic piano adds so much to your home, and makes a clear statement of commitment to making music a part of your family’s life. If a beginning student has access to a quality acoustic piano, they will have the opportunity to develop better musicianship from day one.