So, you are new and want to buy a digital piano

This is only about digital pianos or keyboards…

Let’s assume that by reading this you do not want to buy an acoustic piano, a so called “real” piano. But you don’t know what you need, and you don’t know what you want.

What is a digital keyboard?

It’s something you plug in. It doesn’t have hammers and strings like an acoustic piano. It’s always in tune, and you pretty much use it until it dies someday. Sometimes you can get it repaired, but if it works for a few years, most likely by the time it is having problems you will want a newer and cooler one. It’s a lot like a computer, or a cell phone, or consul that plays video games.

How much money will you need?

The upper end has no limits. You can spend thousands of dollars for a great keyboard and setup, and I mean LOTS of thousands of dollars. And if you have a ton of money and know you are going to play the rest of your life, why not? For that reason, if money is not an issue, why not buy a Steinway grand that costs $100,000? You can put it in a music room in your mansion, flesh it out with a recording studio, then hire a piano technician to keep your beauty in perfect condition. You will also want to keep the temperature at the same degree every day, and the same humidity.

What about people who are not rich and are starting out?

Well, first of all you are like me, and my family, and all my friends. None of us are rich. We have to make choices, and we have to know that what we spend money on is going to be used, and appreciated, and that we can afford the cost. I assume that’s why you are here.

What’s the first step?

If you want to play the piano, you have to have a keyboard. That means knowing what to buy, educating yourself, then making a purchase.

What you do want to keep in mind …

At the minimum you want at least a 61 key, touch sensitive keyboard. Touch sensitivity is important. Be aware that there are 61 key keyboards without it and  they are cheaper, but you will find yourself buying another keyboard in a few months that has it. Also, be sure there is a place to connect a sustain pedal to the keyboard you are buying. 

Read on to know more about the keyboard size, touch sensitivity and sustain pedals

How many keys?

Most keyboards now come in three sizes. The smallest that are practical for piano lessons  have 61 keys.   There are also two other sizes: 76 and 88. 

61 keys…

This is the smallest size that works. I’m not a fan of these smaller keyboards, but probably more than 1/2 my students start out with them, and it’s understandable why parents, or even adult beginners, don’t want to pay more money before they know this is something they are going to continue.

76 keys…

This is midsize. Most people who start out with 61 keys move to 88, because 76 keys is not enough to play all the notes in more advanced music. But some of my beginners start out with 76 key keyboards. 

88 keys…

This is the standard size of a full keyboard, and it’s also the standard size for a nine foot Steinway concert grand. If you are serious, you want 88 keys. Often they are called a digital grand or digital piano because  they  are more than touch sensitive -the keys are weighted like an acoustic piano.

(Many 88 key digital pianos also offer a pedal box which contains the soft, sostenuto, and sustain pedals just like what you would find on an acoustic piano.)

Touch sensitivity, what is it?

It is the most important thing that makes an electronic keyboard sound and play like a piano. If you are a decent player or want to be one, you have to have it. This is what makes the sound change when you play a key hard or soft. You can make a very soft sound or a very loud one. This does NOT require a volume control. I’m repeating. DO NOT BUY A KEYBOARD THAT DOES NOT HAVE TOUCH SENSITIVITY! I know typing in all caps sounds like shouting, but this point is worth shouting out. Avoid keyboards that leave this important feature out. So if someone tries to sell you a keyboard without touch sensitivity, just say no. 

What is the sustain pedal?

It’s something you plug into your keyboard that make the sound continue after you release the keys. That is what “sustain” means. Your new keyboard may not come with a sustain pedal but make sure it has a place to plug one in that you can purchase separately. This is one of many reasons to avoid those inexpensive ones – they often will not have a place for one. Most all of the 61 key keyboards with sustain offer one of those flat pedals, that look like a small box. Your keyboard may come with one or it may be a separate add on purchase. If you have a choice get a better pedal that will  work with your keyboard.

Summing up: when you buy a keyboard, you must have a place to connect a sustain pedal.  Either buy the pedal when you get your keyboard, or make sure your keyboard has a place to connect a sustain pedal. One that looks similar to this picture is a good choice. just make sure it works with the keyboard you are buying.

Once again, the most important things…

  • 61 keys minimum. 88 is best, if you can afford one. 76 is OK to start with, maybe better than 61, but you will never want to replace 61 keys with 76, as a step-up. It’s missing too many keys. Those extra 12 keys are in all kinds of music. So if you don’t want to shop again for a keyboard any time soon, go for a name brand 88.
  • Sustain Pedal. Make sure to buy a keyboard that has a place for a sustain pedal. We will be using it by the second month of lessons for sure and if you are a quick learner, we will be using it in your first month of lessons.
  •  Choose a name brand keyboard that you can get repaired locally if needed. 
  • Touch sensitivity is a must. All good keyboard and piano players use touch to add musical expression when playing, and we will be learning how and when to use it in your lessons.
  • Weighted keys are always the best, but they cost more. Most 88 key keyboards have weighted keys, and you can feel the difference. They are stiffer to press down. All advanced players who perform use weighted keys.  

What is a good brand to buy?

I’ll start out with a few that I am familiar with, but not in order of quality or sound. These are all good.

  • Yamaha
  • Kawaii
  • Roland

I know great keyboards by these three companies, and I’ll add more names to the list if someone reminds me of a company I have overlooked. Will you hate something you buy from another company? I can’t say that. You may get lucky. Shop carefully.

Where do you go to buy these keyboards?

If you ask me, I’ll recommend a place that I trust. But I really don’t care where you buy your keyboard as long as it has all the features we have talked about. However,  if you purchase something online do check the return and repair policy. Besides, buying an instrument from a store in your community keeps your local economy going.

One thought on “So, you are new and want to buy a digital piano

  1. Big fan of Roland. I find the actions (the feel of the keys) are the most realistic, at any given pricepoint. My own roland is 13 years old, and I know someone who has a 30+ year old model from the 1980’s. They build ’em right. Mine was made in Hammamatsu, Japan, at their main plant. They have a unique philosophy — one person makes the entire piano, from case to action. In todays mass-market assembly-line world, this fact stands alone, that Roland has one person make one instrument. That’s the old way. And I think it’s still the best way.

    I have struggled, as a beginning student years ago, with terrible instruments. They are harmful to development. They can be harmful to the body, too. Please, parents — do what you can to get your child the most piano you can get them. If it means sacrifice a few dinners out, it’s worth it. When I bought mine I went over budget and had to do the old ramen cup noodle thing for a while because I already knew I needed the most piano I could get.

    No regrets.

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