A pianist will learn to play on the instrument on which they practise, not the one on which they take lessons.
Buying a piano is an exciting task, but it can also be overwhelming. All pianos are not “created equal”. Like most things in life, there are the good, the bad and the in-between.
A question often asked is whether a digital or acoustic piano should be purchased. As with most purchases, there are pros and cons with both options; both acoustic pianos and digital pianos have their strengths and weaknesses.
As with many things these days, there seems to be a growing thought that the digital version of anything is better. This is not the case. Take cameras, for example. Digital cameras are growing in popularity because they do a lot of the work for us and are increasingly affordable, but despite the huge file sizes now available, they are still not producing the same standard as a quality film camera.
An acoustic piano has around 10,000 working parts and one that is masterfully crafted has expressive qualities – tone, action and aesthetic appeal – to which an electronic imitation cannot hold a candle.
As good as digital pianos have become in simulating the sound and feel of an acoustic piano, there is nothing that can totally match the real thing. The majority of electronic instruments lack the tone and touch of an acoustic piano, as well as the feel and the ability to convey subtle emotion and feeling. An acoustic piano has strings and hammers, while a digital piano has none. Having actual strings means that there are thousands of things in an acoustic piano (such as sympathetically vibrating strings) that are difficult to reproduce convincingly on a digital piano.
I own both. I love both for different reasons. I regularly teach on the acoustic piano, but have occasionally needed to use the digital, which is not top of the line, but still a quality instrument from one of the top manufacturers. With the exception of a seven-year-old beginner, every student who has used it has commented how “it just doesn’t feel the same”.
However, digital pianos have their specific purpose as well and as technology continues to push itself forward, they will continue to improve. A good digital piano can actually have a better piano tone and touch than a poor quality new acoustic piano, or a used one in poor condition. You have to compare apples with apples.
Looking at a digital simply as a piano (without all the other bells and whistles), the most common reasons I find people go straight to the digital option are size and cost. It is often assumed that a digital piano will take up less space than an acoustic, but in most cases the space required is identical. Eighty-eight piano keys take up basically the same space, no matter what cabinet they are in. As for cost, while the initial cost of an acoustic piano could be a little more than the purchase of an electronic piano, this difference is usually marginal and the digitals don’t hold their value as well. This is frustrating, because you know you have an instrument that still plays beautifully, but like most new technology, the second a more advanced digital piano is released, the older one will become obsolete. An outdated keyboard is often difficult to sell.
Of course, digital pianos have a whole range of other options that make them useful and fun – they are the reasons I have one – but if the decision is being made regarding an instrument on which to learn, these extra features
The truth of the matter is, what you pay for with one option, you do not get with the other and vice versa. The easiest way to compare is to set out the pros and cons of each.
Whichever way you go, if the piano is incapable of delivering a good response to touch, the student will not improve.
If you are purchasing the instrument for your children, it is generally recommended that you purchase an acoustic piano. This is because children especially require the real touch and sound of a piano. Their sponge-like brains mean they quickly become accustomed to that with which they are presented. They will begin to expect the lightly weighted feel of an electronic piano, and when it comes time to complete examinations, they will have a very hard time adapting. The AMEB examine above Grade 4 on acoustic only, so that gives some indication of what the examiners are considering and assessing at this level.
If you are considering music lessons for your child or for yourself, please contact me to discuss the options. Piano lessons are conducted at my studio in Wallsend, NSW.