Digital pianos are great to learn on as long as you purchase one with 88 weighted keys. If you don’t buy one with weighted keys, you risk a very difficult transition to the acoustic piano.
As a piano student, you might be intimidated by the large acoustic pianos and the complications that come with them. On the other hand, digital pianos make the perfect substitutes for standard ones. They are nice to learn on because they’re easier to use and low-maintenance.
Still, digital pianos might not be as well-equipped as the acoustic ones. Their acoustic counterparts include various features and aspects that they have a hard time competing against. Beginners and learners might be left scratching their heads over which one to choose.
Before you can choose between a digital and an acoustic piano, it is better to learn what a digital piano is.
A digital piano is actually a modern and more tech version of an acoustic piano. Where the acoustic version produces sound using steel strings and hammers, the digital version produces it digitally. This means that when a key is pressed, it plays the corresponding note back through the speakers. No strings or hammers are being hit.
In simpler words, it contains a recording of the notes as played on an acoustic version. These recordings are high-quality and you can barely tell the difference.
Generally, there are three different types of digital pianos.
This digital piano has a better-quality sound system than others. It also includes more natural key movements. The only drawback is its cost and availability. While it is expensive, it is often much cheaper than an acoustic grand piano.
Because of the expense and the high-quality hammer key features, the digital grand is better suited to those who know they’ll continue learning the piano for many years to come. The added bonus is that it makes for great décor in modern and traditional homes, as it is often made to look and feel exactly like an acoustic grand. It’s also perfect for concerts as it adds an element of drama the others fail at.
The digital upright piano is quite like the acoustic version, complete with a cabinet. The largest difference is that it weighs less. Those who wish for a functional yet sturdy piano should get an upright. Similar to the digital grand, the upright is a great addition to any home décor.
Depending on the product, it can either include a normal range (88) or a limited range (76) of keys. It includes many modern piano technologies.
This piano is the travel-friendly version. It includes a stand and can easily be transported from one place to the next. In addition, it weighs the least when compared to the upright and the grand.
Because it is less costly than others, beginners can easily start on it and transition to something bigger. It gives them a chance to test out the waters and find out what they like.
For more on pianos please see our full guide on the different types of pianos
If you intend to buy a digital piano or just need to compare the pros and cons of buying a digital piano against an acoustic one, here are the main factors you need to consider:
With acoustic pianos, the harder you hit they keys, the louder the sound. Most digital pianos can also replicate the effect. However, you might come across some that don’t. Another possibility is that different digital pianos might replicate the effects differently.
The varying response may be off-putting for some students. They might practice their track one way on their own piano, only to find out that a different piano does not produce the same results. Acoustic pianos respond more consistently to the natural touch.
For students, this can be a make-or-break moment. On the other hand, most instructors believe that students should first get the basics down and then move on to advanced topics such as varying their touch. In the end, a light and portable digital might be the best for a beginner who just wants to play simple tunes.
Some digital pianos might include weighted keys while others may not. For beginners, it is crucial that they choose one with weighted keys as it helps them easily transition into an acoustic piano when they’re ready. Weighted keys have realistic resistance to help them experience the same dynamics of an acoustic piano.
Furthermore, the resistance helps in building the finger strength and enhances your technique. On the other hand, they add unnecessary weight. So, for those who want a portable piano, the extra weight isn’t too welcome. Plus, the weighted keys add to the expense.
Digital pianos vary with the number of keys. They can include 61, 76 or 88 keys. The number of keys you want depends on the notes you want to play. For beginners, a 61-key digital piano might suffice as it offers them a chance to play with notes without being too overwhelmed. They also take up less space and are more convenient to play because of that. Keep in mind that many advanced classical pieces of music require the full set of 88 keys.
The feel of an acoustic piano is very heavy and high-quality. Portable, non-weighted key pianos have a tendency feel like cheap plastic, and they don't produce the most accurate sound.
Contrary to what most beginners believe, the feel of can affect the ability to play. Digital models that use weighted keys also include textures so that your fingers don’t slip off and you can apply the proper pressure on the keys. You can easily find high-quality digital pianos that mimic the feel and texture of acoustic pianos at an affordable price.
Being a learner, you don’t want to invest in a high-quality acoustic piano just yet. The main reason is that you need to first get a feel of pianos and then educate yourself about what suits you best. Thus, for learning purposes, a budget digital option is much better. Although you should note that the cheaper versions might not have all the features such as touch response or weighted keys. This would make it more difficult to transition to an acoustic piano.
Choosing a digital piano can help you save a ton of money and allow you to learn the piano anyway. The best part? Since it is less costly, you can change your piano more often in search of better features.
Apart from the upfront price, it can help you save cash in the long run. It doesn’t involve any tuning or maintenance costs. Where an acoustic piano might be damaged due to temperature fluctuations, the digital piano does not. Where an acoustic piano needs to be tuned every 6 months to a year, a digital piano does not. All you need to do is ensure that it remains free of water and dust and you’re good to go.
Another important factor is the build and the design. Digital pianos are much lighter than the acoustic ones. They are smaller as well. This allows learners to easily move them around and carry them from one place to the next with ease. The best part is that you can fit them in small rooms and tighter spaces.
On the other hand, acoustic pianos are much heavier and they tend to be harder to move. They take up a lot of space, as well. For those beginners who don’t want to commit to a space just yet, these can be perfect.
One of the most important aspects of any piano is the quality of the sound it produces. As it might be already evident, the sound quality from an acoustic piano is higher. Digital pianos merely playback a recording of an acoustic piano. They replicate the sound.
All in all, it boils down to what you think suits you best. Generally, digital pianos are great for beginners. They're also a great option for kids. They’re a less costly option, so if you decide to quit, it’s not going to hit your wallet too hard. They’ll allow you to learn all of the basics you need. And when you feel ready, you can move up to an acoustic when you become more committed and more “in-touch” with your style.
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