The most important decision you’ll ever make…
OK, so that headline might seem like a bold statement, but it is true. The first instrument that you buy can dictate whether you stick with it or leave it to gather dust. There are so many options to choose from ranging from the affordable to eye-wateringly expensive, with brands incorporating similar features but using different names to describe them, it can be overwhelming: which is best when it comes to choosing between keyboard vs piano?
Whether you’re purchasing an instrument for yourself or a loved one, having a clear understanding of what your needs are and how to identify which instrument best suits your needs is the top priority.
Are you picking up an instrument for the first time? Do you already have some experience in music from playing other instruments and fancy trying something different? Will others be using the instrument i.e. in a student/teacher capacity? Do you want something to play on for fun or will you need something that you can grow with through intermediate to advanced playing?
There are many things to consider but hopefully we can clear everything up for you.
Keyboard vs Digital Piano vs Acoustic Piano
Initially, the question as to whether you pick a keyboard or a piano can seem odd, as surely there are vast differences between the two? Of course, there’s a huge difference between a concert grand piano and a children’s toy keyboard, but with so many options in between including acoustic and digital pianos, beginner’s keyboards with weighted and non-weighted keys, digital stage pianos, auto-accompaniment features, built-in song recording, music theory software, etc., it can be a minefield.
Looking back at the initial questions asked above, “are you picking up an instrument for the first time?”, we’ll assume that the instrument is for a child.
For youngsters from around 8 years old who are just starting out on the instrument, we often recommend something like Yamaha’s YPT-260 (pictured above) or PSR-F51 portable keyboards. The reasons for this are that they both offer a wide range of features specifically designed to make learning enjoyable, such as backing styles to play along to, metronome function for improving timing, and a wide selection of internal sounds covering a vast array of instruments from piano to percussion.
The YPT-260 has the additional “Yamaha Education Suite” to aid beginners by teaching them how to play songs in a structured format, as well as an interesting auto-accompaniment features that provides real-time back tracks based on the chords that you play for inspiring jams sessions and developing improvisation.
Both the YPT-260 and PSR-51 have 61 full-size keys to enable children to develop correct technique without overreaching at either end of the scale. The non-weighted keys make it easier for those with smaller hands to hone their dexterity without becoming discouraged.
As you can see, manufacturers make many considerations when it comes to the features that are best suited to the player’s level, skill set and playing abilities.
Our highly popular Best Beginner Keyboard article is definitely worth a look if you’ve got your heart set on one.
For those who want something less feature packed and with greater emphasis on matching the playability of an acoustic piano – but not necessarily the footprint -, there are many digital and stage pianos. Taking another example from Yamaha with their P-45 Stage Piano, the keyboard extends to 88 keys rather than 61, and most notably, they are Graded Hammer Standard (GHS) keys.
What does this mean?
In short, weighted keys on a digital piano aim to mirror the response of an acoustic piano. Each manufacturer uses proprietary technology to achieve this, using many different names in the process (Graded Hammer Standard, Hammer Action, etc.). The idea behind it is that on an acoustic piano a hammer hits the string at the stroke of a key, which then vibrates and creates the piano sound. Keys feel heavier as you move from right to left on an acoustic piano keyboard, hence the term graded hammer action.
So, a digital piano like the P-45 may not have 100s of sounds to choose from along with a myriad of accompaniment styles. However, it does boast a playing feel that is significantly closer to that of an acoustic piano, and includes features such as Duo Mode, which allows the keyboard to split into two sections. Therefore, student and teacher can sit side-by-side in lessons making it much easier for the student to follow and copy the teacher’s hands perfectly.
Digital pianos offer more with regard to live performance, including features such as transpose functions for accompanying singers, as well as recording with USB outputs for easy connection to your computer or audio interface.
To help you out we’ve put together an article on the Beginner’s Guide to Stage Pianos, which has plenty of useful information to get you up and running.
Whether you’re opting for a modest upright or a grand piano, choosing an acoustic piano is a much bolder statement of intent. You need an appropriate amount of space, forgiving neighbours, and good deep pockets. However, here is a reason why people elect to stump up for an acoustic piano, they are the standard that all digital pianos aim for.
Plus, performing on finely tuned, high quality acoustic piano is the stuff of dreams. The feel, the sound, the connection between you and the instrument. It is indescribable.
Budget, budget, budget
We appreciate that as much as anything else, budget is going to be near to if not at the top of the list. For those with youngsters then something that will inspire creativity and fun need not cost the earth. We offer a wide range to choose from in our Portable Keyboards section, ranging from single instruments to beginner packs such as the Mirage KB-61P Beginner Keyboard Pack, which includes a portable 61-note keyboard with stand, bench, music stand for sheet music, a microphone and a pair of headphones.
When it comes to digital pianos there are offerings from a wide range of manufacturers such as Casio, Kawai, Roland and Yamaha. You can spend anywhere from hundreds to thousands of pounds, but the crucial questions that you need to ask yourself are still the same:
- What are your aims with regard to playing the piano?
- Do you want lots of features or a more realistic playing feel?
- Do you want a fixed stand or something more portable – will you use it to gig with?
- Will you eventually upgrade, or will you keep it forever?
The truth is, thanks to huge advances in technology, you don’t have to spend a small fortune to get a solidly built, joyful to play instrument that produces heavenly sounds. However, as with an acoustic piano, the more money that you do drop does buy you a better instrument.
Remember, as your skill set progresses, so will your desire for bigger and better. But for those who are just starting out, we would encourage you to go and try a few out in your local store. Ask your piano teacher for advice. And don’t be afraid to ask questions, there’s no such thing as a stupid question!
Get in touch
For those who want to dive straight in and check out our selection online, head to our Keyboards & Pianos section on the Dawsons Website.
For those who’d prefer to try some out in person, then head to your nearest Dawsons Store where our in-store specialists will be more than happy to help you out.
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If you want to know what the experts think about upright pianos, then check out our article, “Get the Expert’s View: The Best Upright Piano“.
Not quite ready for an upright but still want to get started on the keys, check out our guide “Best Beginner Keyboard” and our top 5 picks.
Fancy something between keys and an all-out upright? Our “Beginners Guide to Stage Piano” provides further info to equip yourself with.
Jon is a multi-instrumentalist with a passion for inspiring others to get involved in making music. After spending many years playing venues here, there and – pretty much – everywhere, he joined the Dawsons’ Music Web Team before progressing into his current role managing the Dawsons Blog.