So, you’re ready to start learning how to play the piano. How exciting! The only problem is that you don’t own a piano….yet. After spending hours researching online, you’re more confused than when you started. There are so many choices. Too many choices can be overwhelming! Do I buy new or used? Acoustic or electronic? Full size or a 64 key? Weighted or not? What are those metal things at the bottom that you step on? (They’re pedals). Why does one piano have three and another have one?
If you’ve ever had these questions, this is the resource for you. Here are the most important things to consider when purchasing your first instrument.
New Versus Used
Let’s take a look at new versus used instruments. You have lots of choices when it comes to where you’ll buy your first piano. You can buy an acoustic grand piano from a local dealer. You can buy an electronic instrument online. You can buy an acoustic upright piano from your neighbor who’s moving next month. You can buy an electronic Yamaha keyboard from a stranger on Facebook Marketplace. The biggest difference in purchasing new versus used is the warranty factor. New instruments come with a warranty which can cover parts (and even labor.) There can be a BIG difference in what’s covered and whether you’ll be able to repair it should something happen. There’s a difference in what’s covered in acoustic and electronic instruments as well. Be sure to check out your warranty before purchasing a new instrument.
But, there are plenty of excellent used instruments out there. Be aware that these don’t come with a warranty. If you’re planning to buy an electronic instrument, make sure you try it first. You don’t want to get home and realize it doesn’t play! If you’re buying a used acoustic instrument, I highly recommend hiring a piano technician. Have them check out the instrument before seeing it yourself. The more money you plan on spending, the more important this becomes. If you want the Steinway grand from that local estate auction, get a piano technician to take a look first. Otherwise, stay away. Purchasing an expensive instrument without a technician on your side is a bad idea. It’s like purchasing a classic sports car without looking under the hood first. You don’t know what you’re buying and it’s not worth the risk.
Acoustic Versus Electronic
Next, you’ll want to decide between acoustic and an electronic instrument. An acoustic piano is a wooden instrument. It has strings tuned by using a special tool on the piano’s pin block. It has an “action” which plays a big part in the playing of the piano. There are over 1,000 small parts in the action of a piano. There’s nothing quite like the mechanics of an acoustic piano!
An acoustic piano is special but requires special attention and care. Depending on your environment, you might need to invest in a special humidifier. They can extend the life of your piano. You will need to have your piano tuned at least once to twice a year. Full size uprights and grand pianos are the most desirable acoustic instruments. This is a very general observation I made as a tuner’s apprentice year ago. It is an expense to have a piano moved from place to place and is usually in the range of several hundred dollars. Acoustic pianos are extremely heavy.
Insured, professional movers are the only ones who should move your piano. Every time an acoustic piano moves from place to place it will go out of tune. It is necessary to have the piano tuned at its final destination. But there’s good news. If the power should ever go out where you live, you can still play your acoustic piano!
Electronic pianos (or electronic keyboards) have come a long way in past decades. They are more like acoustic pianos in sound and touch than they have ever been. They can never feel or sound exactly like an acoustic piano, but they can be very close! There are many advantages to owning an electronic instrument. A keyboard plugs into an electrical outlet and most are now quite energy efficient. You’ll never have to tune an electronic instrument! They usually include special features as well. Such features include volume control, metronome, instrumental sounds, backing tracks, and record feature. One popular selling point of electronic instruments is the built in headphone jack. Many enjoy playing over headset so no one can hear them play.
Electronic instruments have a lot of pros and make great beginner instruments. Be aware that electronic instruments do not last as long as an acoustic instrument. Remember that electronic instruments are a piece of technology. Depending on the brand and the use, they last approximately 10 years. Most electronic instruments begin developing problems around that time. Electronic instruments can be wonderful instruments! Just be sure to note the differences compared to their acoustic family members.
More On Electronic Piano Keys
Here are a few more things to consider when purchasing an electronic piano. An acoustic instrument comes with 88 weighted keys. I recommend looking for both in an electronic instrument. It’s important to search for “fully weighted” keys when purchasing a keyboard. Some brands will say “semi-weighted” or just “weighted”. But the most desirable keys are fully weighted keys. It will feel more like an acoustic piano and you will want that natural resistance when you’re playing. Some of my students begin with smaller size keyboards, such as a 61 or 76 key keyboard. This is only if they already own those instruments. Most upgrade their instruments to an 88 key within a year or less. I generally recommend staying away from synthesizers, midi/controllers, and workstation style keyboards. One of the most important features is to make sure the size of your piano keys is the same as an acoustic piano. There are exceptions, and it generally depends on the goal of the student.
What Do The Pedals Do?
The other thing you want to look for in a digital keyboard is a damper pedal. Most higher end keyboards include a two or three pedal attachment, which is great. The most important, most used pedal is the one to the far right. That’s the damper or sustain pedal. Most modern electronic instruments have a damper pedal attachment option. If your keyboard does not come with a built in pedal, make sure there’s a built in damper pedal jack on your instrument. You can find universal damper pedal attachments online.
What do the other pedals do? They are the soft or una corda pedal and the sostenuto pedal. The soft pedal does exactly what it sounds like. The sound is softer when you depress this leftmost pedal. The middle sostenuto pedal is rarely used. It allows for simultaneous sustained (without dampers) and unsustained (with dampers) sounds. The only pedal I deem essential for beginners is the damper pedal. In fact, many enjoy playing through the intermediate level with only this pedal. There are always exceptions, but those are few and far between.
What Else Do I Need?
There are several more things to consider when purchasing your first instrument. If possible, I recommend purchasing an adjustable bench. Your bench height is dependent on several factors and is unique to the individual. If you’re purchasing an electronic instrument you’ll need a keyboard stand (if yours doesn’t come with one). A permanent stand is highly recommended. This is especially true if you have children in your household. Less expensive “X” stands can topple over. I only recommend these for no children households. You’ll also need a music stand if your electronic instrument does not have one. A comfortable set of headphones is a nice purchase for keyboards as well, if you think you will play with them!
There are other things, but these are the essentials. Have questions? Did I miss something? Get in touch! I’d love to hear from you.