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Learning the piano is exciting for kids and adults alike. However, when you’re first starting out you might be a bit timid on whether you should invest in an acoustic piano. For that very reason, most new pianists start off with a digital piano to test the waters. But are digital pianos really that good to learn on? I did some research to help answer that question for you.
So, are digital pianos good to learn on? Yes. Digital pianos offer an affordable way to play the piano. Digital pianos take up very little space, are cost-effective to own, require no tuning, and mimick acoustic pianos in touch. More advanced pianists should invest in an acoustic piano for a truly authentic playing experience to accommodate a more difficult repertoire.
While my belief is that acoustic pianos are always better, digital pianos are quite fine to use as a beginner or intermediate pianist. In this article, I’ll dive into some of the ways digital pianos can be beneficial to pianists. I’ll cover topics such as weighted action, creative features, pricing, and which repertoire works best for these types of pianos.
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Are Acoustic Pianos Better Than Digital Pianos
There’s long been a debate about the quality of digital pianos compared to acoustic pianos. But are acoustic pianos really better than digital pianos?
The short answer to that question is yes. Digital pianos and acoustic pianos have many differences which you can read about here.
Acoustic pianos provide an authentic feel that many digital pianos come close to replicating, but can never exactly get right. Acoustic pianos allow pianists to get the most natural sound projection and feel of hammer action. Upright pianos are great, but grand pianos really expand the horizon for serious pianists.
The biggest benefit a pianist can get from an acoustic piano is the ability to play expressively in the most natural way. While digital pianos cannot do exactly what grand pianos can, many of the most expensive models come very close to it! To get the most authentic feel and touch a pianist will need to invest a significant amount into something like a Yamaha Clavinova, or a console system like the YDP184R Arius.
Digital pianos like that utilize cutting edge technology to create room ambiance and responsive keys to mimic an acoustic piano. The YDP184R Arius, for example, uses a unique ivory keytop to simulate the feel of a piano so that the fingers won’t slip off the keys! There are many electric pianos like this on the market, but that’s an idea of the investment necessary to produce the feel of a real piano at home.
Acoustic pianos are a little more aesthetically pleasing than digital instruments. Pianos are made with all sorts of customizable wood casings and finishes. From the shine of the cast iron plate to the reflection of the strings underneath the lid, there’s almost nothing compared to an authentic grand piano.
For serious pianists, an acoustic piano is always going to be better. There are certain types of repertoire that work better on these types of pianos. To develop the right muscles, finger dexterity, and endurance to play difficult music is much easier to do with acoustic pianos. We’ll talk more about repertoire in a later section but that is something to keep in mind.
The reality is that a good digital piano is always going to outperform a bad acoustic piano. Acoustic pianos that are in terrible shape will often suffer from the following issues:
- Poor tuning stability
- Broken keys
- Non-functioning pedals
- Wear and tear from old age
Besides, the money needed to invest to repair an old acoustic piano and get it up to playing standards would be better spent on a brand new digital piano.
Benefits Of Digital Pianos
Although the consensus is that acoustic pianos are better, there are still plenty of benefits when it comes to digital pianos. We’ll jump into those specifics below!
Digital Pianos Are Cost-Effective
When compared to acoustic pianos, digital pianos are definitely more cost-effective. You can see the average cost of a piano here. Digital pianos are mostly affordable, and it really depends on what tier of digital piano you purchase.
Higher-end models that feature authentic touch, special materials and tons of features cost more, oftentimes as much as a low-end acoustic piano. There are other reasons why digital pianos can be expensive which you can learn about here.
For the most part, beginner to intermediate pianist will be fine with entry-level or second-tier digital pianos like the ones mentioned in this article. Those pianos are fairly inexpensive and offer many of the same features you can find on high-end models.
When deciding how much to spend on a digital piano you should consider the following:
- How many sounds does the piano have
- Does is have weighted or hammer action keys
- Will the piano rest on a music stand or is it console style
- Quality of the materials
- Self-teaching lesson features
Authentic Hammer Action
The way a piano feels when you touch the keys has a big impact on performance and playing enjoyment. This is why digital pianos are such a great choice because they can truly mimic upright and grand pianos.
Instrument manufacturers spend a great deal of time studying acoustic pianos and use the latest technologies to simulate hammer action. Pianos with weighted or hammer action keys descend and rise naturally. They are balanced so that when a pianist presses the keys with a certain amount of force, that it will react just as naturally as a real piano.
Piano companies are also building in special wood materials into the keys along with plastic hammers on the inside to really make the touch feel like the real thing. There are even some digital pianos that have ivory keytops so that the keys don’t feel like slippery plastic.
To get a better idea of how hammer and weighted action works, read this article. It breaks down all the specifics about how weights and springs are used in the keys to create resistance.
Digital Pianos Save On Space
Most people who purchase digital pianos do so to save on space. Because digital pianos rest on music stands, you can set them directly against a wall with ease.
Grand pianos, for instance, are not that easy to work with. They are large and take up several feet both wide and long. Even for a small acoustic piano, you may need up to 10 feet of space just to place it in a room.
If storage is important to you, then a digital piano is definitely the way to go. You could also go with a small upright piano too although the sound quality will not be very good. Digital pianos allow you to keep a small instrument in the home without having to sacrifice on the big sound you want when playing. Ultimately they are more convenient options compared to acoustic pianos.
You can’t necessarily hide any of the sounds an acoustic piano makes, but digital pianos offer you that capability. Simply plug in a pair of headphones and you can practice for as long as you want without disturbing anyone. Even if you don’t use headphones, digital pianos have dial knobs that allow pianists to instantly control the volume output.
If you live in an apartment this makes digital pianos an appealing option (most apartment complexes don’t allow acoustic pianos!).
Can You Play Classical Music On A Digital Piano
A big concern serious pianists have with digital pianos is based around what kind of repertoire works well on them. You certainly can play classical music on a digital piano, however, the quality of the digital piano plays a big part in how tough it will be to play those pieces.
Here are a few things that can happen when a pianist tries to play difficult classical music on a digital piano:
- Pianists experience increased fatigue
- Certain technical passages are too hard/easy to play
- Dynamics may be different than on an acoustic piano
- The digital piano may not have enough keys for the music
- Pedal depth is misleading compared to a real piano pedal
In my experience, digital pianos are great substitutes for beginner to intermediate classical music. This does not mean that you cannot perform complex Chopin nocturnes on a digital piano, however, you may need to change your approach to playing it to get it to sound and feel right.
Beginner kids or adult pianists will do just fine playing classical style music on a digital piano. In fact, you can play just about any style with them. Many of them have built-in metronomes and page-turning features to make it the perfect practice instrument.
What Are The Best Digital Pianos
A simple Google search for digital pianos yields tons of results. Because of that, it can be difficult to know which ones are actually worth your investment. To save you some time on having to sort through every search results, I’ve put together a shortlist here of the best digital pianos you can find.
Best digital pianos for serious/advanced pianists are:
- Kawai Mp11SE
- Yamaha Arius
- Yamaha Clavinova
I highly recommend those three pianos for many reasons. First and foremost they all produce some of the most authentic hammer-action touches you can find on the market. I’m especially impressed with the Kawai Mp11SE as it’s a great piano to play even the most technical piano etudes on if you desired to.
The Yamaha Arius and Clavinova pianos are favorites of mine as well. Yamaha has spent a great deal of time polishing the sound samples on this piano which actually come from their CFX piano models. These are considered high-end digital pianos, so don’t expect them to be cheap!
If you’re in search of a great beginner digital piano you’ll want to check out the following models:
- Alesis Recital Pro
- Casio Privia PX-160
- ONE Smart Piano
The pianos listed above offer much of what the high-end models do, but without the hefty price. The ONE Smart Piano is easily one of my favorites because of the smart app features it has. Pianists can actually download sheet music and play along with it at the piano. This is a major feature that helps inspire young pianists especially to practice more diligently!
You can learn more about these piano models and other great options in this post.