Choosing a piano to learn on is one of the first hurdles a learner has to deal with.

I’m no piano expert. What follows is my experience of choosing a keyboard good enough to begin my learning.

If it helps you, then my work is done.


N E W S F L A S H

Just come to my attention, and picking up great reviews all over the place . . . the “Alesis Recital

Described as a “Beginner Digital Piano“, with Full-Size Semi-Weighted Keys.

Currently an “Amazon Exclusive”, available for under £190 ($210) – search for code B01DZXE9NC on any Amazon site (.com or .co.uk)

I’ve not tried it personally, and I don’t get paid to promote it. I’ve just read the reviews.

From what I’ve read, if I were starting again from scratch, and faced with the issue of choosing a piano, then this is what I’d be rushing out to buy.


Before Choosing A Piano

While you are finding out about what to buy, get started right now by installing “Perfect Piano” on your tablet.

It’s free.

It’s available for both Android tablets and iPads .

It will start you thinking along the right lines.

You can use it right this very second to start following my training.

Here is a review of Perfect Piano – described as One of the Best Free Music Apps Available

And here is just one of the many YouTube demo’s

Now you can take your time to make a more leisurely decision about the actual real keyboard to buy

Basic Advice

When I started out to learn piano I didn’t know if I would stick at it, or if I would be any good at it.

So one of my considerations when choosing a piano was that I wanted a “reasonably priced” one to begin with. One that I could later “trade in” for a better one (if I outgrew it), or that I could afford to give away if music was “not my scene”.

I did a lot of research of piano reviews, specifically “pianos for beginners”, and the predominant advice was spectacularly useless. They all said things like “buy the best you can afford” and “visit the dealer and try out some keyboards”.

Rubbish Advice Tip #1 “Buy The Best You Can Afford”

What kind of dumb advice is that?

I’m here, asking about choosing a piano, because I don’t know anything about pianos. How do I know what constitutes “best”? Sure I can see that one is more expensive than the other but is it “better”? What makes piano one “better” than piano two?

And, even if I had that information, let’s say I win the lottery and can now afford “better” golf clubs than Tiger Woods can. Will I be able to to win his trophies away from him because I have “better” golf clubs? I doubt it.

We all know of youngsters who have suddenly come into money and splash out on something like a Ferrari. Did that choice of a “better” car than “just” a Ford, really lead to them becoming better safer more responsible drivers? Or did they end up in a wreck?

The quality of the piano, and the spending potential of the player, have zero relevance to the player’s skill level or ability.

Rubbish Advice Tip #2 “Try Out Some”

Excuse me? Try out?

How? Looking for what, exactly?

I don’t know how to play.

That’s like telling someone who can’t drive to go road test some cars they’d like to drive.

Duh!

They can’t drive! How are they going to “road test” anything?

I can’t play piano. Sure you can stand me in front of a sales room full of keyboards. That’s all well and good. But then do what with them?

I’d have better success being a judge at a dog show or a wedding dress catwalk.

And as for reading the specs, they might just as well be written in Ancient Babylonian. Lots of words, but meaning what?

The Real Factors To Consider

So here’s the logic I used when I began to learn.

First – I can’t play. I will produce exactly the same results from a child’s toy as from a top end model costing more than my car.

Second – in a month or two I will either outgrow the toy one, or I’ll be utterly frustrated by the failure of the top end one to deliver half-decent results. Either choice will become a candidate for the skip.

Third – every year new models come out and old models become obsolete. My “upgrade potential” is a myth. A fantasy.

However – that third factor is a hidden gem, and it has served me well. Music shops need to ditch the “obsolete”, so bargains are to be had.

I don’t need today’s “bees knees”. Yesterday’s “bees knees” is well able to address my current needs.

The Simple Choice

Sound Quality

The most important aspect of choosing a piano is the sound you want to make. That falls into two camps.

  1. Orchestral sounds. It’s a breeze, with modern electronics, to mimic trumpets, violins, drums, etc. The keyboard simply enables you to choose the sequence of notes. You can also select accompaniments of different rhythms.
  2. Real piano sounds. This enables you to play some notes louder or softer than other depending on how much pressure you apply, or how sharply you whack the key down. These also use electronics. The sound produced is usually a recording of a real piano.

The former is generally cheaper than the latter, but the real choice is like choosing driving lessons by whether you want a licence for an automatic or a manual car. Learn to drive an automatic and you cannot drive a manual. Learn to drive a manual and you can drive either.

Physical Size

The second most important aspect of choosing a piano is size. Will it fit in your house? Most normal people have no room for a full size concert grand. But modern keyboards come in various sizes. You might also want to consider how easy it is to move it from place to place (eg move it from one room to another, or to take it to parties).

  1. A “Full size” keyboard has 88-keys covering 7 octaves. This is all the piano notes in existence. During your first couple of years learning you will not use more than half of that range, and 99% of modern music never gets near the extreme highs and lows.
  2. A “5-octave” keyboard has 61 keys. This will almost certainly serve you perfectly well for your first 5 years if not longer
  3. A “3-octave” keyboard has 37 keys. This is a bit cramped but if you plan to travel with your piano then this is supremely portable.
    • One very portable option is a “double” keyboard. Each is only “3-octave”, but one is for your left hand and one is for your right hand

NOTE: The smaller keyboards are often designed with children in mind, so they could have smaller keys for smaller hands. Look for the term “full-size keys“. This is not the same as “full-size keyboard“, which means 88-keys regardless of the size of the individual keys.

My Final Choice

My original “starter” keyboard was the 61-key Yamaha YPT-230 which I bought second-hand on eBay for £50 ($75). It served me very well for my first year and I learned a lot about music. It’s very well commented on in various reviews. It’s not touch sensitive but, at that time, I would not have known the difference. A year later, when I realised that I needed a touch sensitive keyboard, I upgraded.

Choosing a piano, the Casio CDP-120My current keyboard is “full size” (88-key) Casio CDP-120 which cost me £220 ($330). I don’t need the extra 27 keys but most “touch sensitive” pianos are 88-key. It’s compact enough to fit my room. It’s light enough to move between rooms, or to take to parties (with a little planning and effort). If I want it to sound like a violin then it has a MIDI output to PC where I can convert the sound without limit. I cannot envisage a situation where I will need to upgrade it.

Your Choice

When choosing a piano you may have other criteria that I’ve not mentioned, but take a look at the spec for the Casio CDP-120 and, if there is something you’d like to understand better, drop me a question in the comments box and I’ll do my best to answer.

Above all else, have fun. That is, after all, the whole point, no?

2 thoughts on “Choosing A Piano To Learn On

  • very well explained for all of us who want to learn… I have you kids and I bought them each a casio keyboard, bought 5 years ago ..paid $128 each, a Christmas gift not sure of the model.. but i do say it makes good music.. it as a music it the memory that teaches the kids and was really worth it. I wish i had this info about 5 years ago

  • Hi Morna,

    Glad you stopped by, and your comment is appreciated.

    There are some lovely keyboards out there, with superb features. Casio have moved themselves well out of the toy market and into “real” instruments. There are also some absolutely stonking apps – and for free. It’s amazing.

    And I wish I’d had this information 5 years ago, too.

    Regards

    Chris

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