Choosing the Correct Keyboard Instrument


 Several students and families have asked about selecting a piano or digital keyboard. Here are my suggestions to help you. 

Specific brands or models are not recommended as you can easily research those on the internet. As for price, a good, usable instrument (either a real piano or a keyboard) will probably cost from $300 used up to $4,000 or more new, depending on what you want.

A real piano is often preferred because of the tone (sound) and the feel of the keys. The higher priced the electronic keyboard, the more it will be like a real piano. However, a real piano is very heavy and takes up a large amount of room and requires tuning at least once a year. For many families the only viable option will be an electronic keyboard.

Digital RequirementsBe sure any digital keyboard you consider has the following…

  • A full keyboard of 88 keys (7 octaves) is preferred
  • A touch sensitive keyboard (See Piano Action below)
  • Has a damper floor pedal
  • A firm base so the keyboard is unlikely to tip over
  • The top of the keys should be 28 inches above the floor
  • A built–in music rack at a height suitable for the student
  • A piano bench or seat suitable for the student

Try Used

There are often a number of used real pianos and used digital keyboards for sale in the local newspapers, on Craig’s List, eBay or at local piano and music stores. Check these before you buy a new instrument.

A good used piano, even one requiring some work from a piano tuner, can be a great investment. If in doubt about a real piano, ask a qualified Piano Tuner to check it out before you buy it. Contact me for the name of a recommended piano tuner.

Do not buy a used digital keyboard that doesn’t work properly. They are often very expensive to fix, if they can be fixed. Often they can’t. Also, some music stores provide rent–to–buy programs that include return options and warranties.

Keyboard Size

A regular piano has a total of 88 black and white keys — 7 octaves of 12 keys each plus 1 extra C at the top and 3 extra keys at the bottom.

Piano Action

If you are going digital, at the very least, a touch sensitive keyboard is a must have, even for beginners. A keyboard that works only like a computer keyboard does not allow the student to learn how to control finger pressure to obtain different volumes from the keys.

Touch sensitive keys have sensors on each key that measures the velocity (speed) at which you push down. The faster or harder you press the key, the louder the tone.

Piano and Instrument Sounds

Obviously, the quality of the sound of the keyboard is very important. Many digital pianos offer other instrument sounds in addition to piano. While this can be a lot of fun at first, don't base your decision on this alone.

If you plan on playing mostly solo piano, the ‘cool factor’ of having a zillion sounds at your fingertips will wear off quickly. Also the attraction and complexity of learning how to use all these sounds can actually get in the way of learning how to play.

How Much Money to Invest?

As the old adage goes, you usually get what you pay for, and investing a bit of extra cash into a good quality instrument will always pay itself back tenfold. This is especially true for beginners.

Music teachers everywhere can tell the story about the parent who buys an inexpensive small keyboard for their child to learn on, planning to invest in a better quality instrument if the child improves and continues to show an interest. 

Unfortunately most people, especially children, will have a harder time learning to play music on a poor quality instrument, and end up quitting before they give themselves a chance. A good quality instrument gives the student a decent chance at succeeding.

Location for Your Instrument

Any real piano should not be placed on an outside wall as the temperature changes will be hard on the piano. Also, during the winter be sure you have a humidifier so that the wood does not dry out. These are not necessary with a digital keyboard.

Find a location where the student is easily observed by a parent during practice.

If using a digital keyboard with headphones, periodically verify what is actually being played.