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3 Tips on Buying Your Child's First Piano

Buying your first piano can be a daunting task, especially if you are not a pianist or musician yourself. It can be difficult to determine which piano to buy or whether you should invest in purchasing a piano at all.

Some of the most asked questions I get asked by parents who end wondering aimlessly in the piano shop are:

  1. Should I buy my child an acoustic piano or digital piano? What’s the difference?

  2. What does “Buy a piano with full size, weighted keys” mean?

  3. I don’t know if my child will continue playing. He/she may give up in 6 months. Should I just buy a small keyboard first?

The questions above are reasonable & valid questions. I hope it will clear up some of the questions that you may have before purchasing your child’s first piano.


1. Should I buy my child an acoustic piano, digital piano or keyboard? What’s the difference?



Some teachers are adamant that their students should buy and play on acoustic pianos. This may have been the case 10-15 years ago when the digital technology was not as advanced and the ability to recreate the tone and touch of the piano in the digital realm was not as accurate. But the technology has come so far since then, and the difference between acoustic and high-quality digital pianos is barely evident. No matter what instrument you play, it is important to play an instrument that sounds and feels pleasing.


If you sound good, you naturally want to play more – and the more you play, the better you will become! Just because the piano is acoustic, it does not necessarily mean that they sound or feel better. Acoustic pianos can be very beautiful to play and touch, but unlike digital pianos, they need regular maintenance to ensure their playability.


Before you buy an acoustic piano, you need to think of your investment and ongoing maintenance costs.


Tuning

Tuning is required on a regular basis if you want your piano to stay in tune. A couple of piano tuners I’ve met in the past recommended tuning every 6-12 months. Acoustic pianos can go out of tune simply from playing it. They can also go out of tune due to the climate (especially in humid areas – the wooden soundboard will expand and shrink in humidity, detuning the strings in the process) or if you move the piano. Tuning can cost around $150 at a time (more for grand pianos) – if you calculate the cost over 10 years, that’s $1,500 just for tuning! As the acoustic pianos age, the sound quality will deteriorate without regular maintenance.  


Digital pianos on the other hand, never require tuning and the tone doesn’t deteriorate over time.  A digital piano will stay in tune regardless of weather/climate fluctuations, moving or excessive playing.


2. What does a "full size piano" & "weighted keys" mean?



A full size piano or full set of keys refers to a piano (acoustic or digital) with 88 notes. Many piano teachers will recommend the fully-weighted 88 note pianos because a majority of music examination boards will set these specifications as minimal requirements to take their exams.


Smaller keyboards generally have 61 notes or 76 notes, mostly without weighted keys. Beginners start off using only a few notes to begin with when they start learning the piano or keyboard but as your child progresses, the range of notes they use will inevitably extend. Having fewer keys mean that your child will eventually run out of keys to play and they won’t be able to play music that contains top end or low end notes – because the keys just simply aren’t there!


Weighted Keys

Have you ever played on a portable, light-weighted keyboard and then immediately played a piano? If you haven’t, I recommend that you try it next time you are at a music shop. You should feel a significant difference in the weight and response of the keys.


The keys on acoustic pianos feel heavier to play compared to portable keyboards. This is because when a piano key is pressed down, it triggers the hammer action to lift in order to hit the strings to create the sound.


Conversely, portable (non-weighted action) keyboards generally have ON-OFF sensors under the keys to trigger the sounds. You might also find that the length of the keys are much shorter compared to acoustic or digital pianos.


When the keys are pressed on the piano, the hammer is lifted in order to hit the strings. The weight of the keys is dependent on several factors – such as hammers, action parts and how they are assembled.


Most digital pianos with weighted keys simulate this hammer action very well and the weighting of the keys never change.


The weighted action helps your child to build their finger strength. For a child who practices on a digital piano with a weighted action rather than a non-weighted keyboard, the transition to acoustic piano is very smooth. If the child is used to playing non-weighted keys at home, they will find the weighted keys much heavier to play and may struggle until they get used to the heavier keys.

3. I don’t know if my child will continue playing. He/she may give up in 6 months. Should I just buy a small keyboard first?


As I mentioned above about building finger strength, I personally think that all beginners should start on a fully weighted 88-note piano. If you are worried that your child might not continue with the piano due to other commitments or lack of interest, there is always the option to rent a piano first to test the water.


Choosing to purchase budget priced instruments can often mean that they are inferior in quality and learning on them can have devastating effects on a child’s musical development.


The quality of the instrument can impact on the person’s enthusiasm to play. It’s just like driving a nice, brand-new vehicle versus an old vehicle with no power-steering and no air conditioner. If you have a nice instrument you will want to play it more… and show it off!

Everyone has their own opinions about acoustic pianos vs digital pianos. I don’t believe that there is a right or wrong answer here. It's better to play on a good quality 88-note weighted digital piano than an acoustic piano that is out of tune.  Just because the piano is acoustic, it does not mean that it is a better piano. When you are learning the piano, you need to build your aural skills. How can a child learn the correct pitch if the piano is out of tune?


I hope this article will help you in choosing the suitable instrument for yourself or your child. A good instrument will be enjoyable to play for many years to come! Please don't hesitate to contact me if you're interested in hiring me for a Piano Purchasing Consultation and Accompaniment, this service includes a detailed piano consultation and inspection at the purchasing location of your choice. Buying your first piano can seem overwhelming, but it doesn't have to be. I will be there to help answer all your questions and guide you in choosing the best piano suited for your family needs.



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