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Buying a piano or keyboard: What do I need?

There are so many choices when it comes to buying a keyboard instrument, and it's very easy

to get lost in the variety. You should always ask your piano teacher for guidance on choosing

an instrument, as studios have different requirements depending on the style of music and the

tastes of your teacher. This guide should help you navigate all the options and help you

decide the type of instrument you should be looking for.

Acoustic Pianos

For anyone playing primarily classical music, this should be your first choice. An electric

piano and keyboard just cannot match the sensitivity of a true acoustic piano, and this is what

all advanced players should be using for practice. That said, beginners don't have to start

here since an acoustic piano is not a small investment.

Do I need a grand piano?

No, you don't. As a matter of fact, many teachers dislike baby grand pianos, and insist on a

"full-size" grand piano at the upper levels. But if you're just starting, an upright will service

you fantastically, and could suit you for the rest of your life. The thing to keep in mind is the

quality of the manufacturer. You definitely get what you pay for. I would much rather see my

students playing on an upright Yamaha or Kawaii than a cheap baby-grand piano.

So what types of acoustic pianos are there?

Spinet: 36-39" (NO, don't do it!) Inferior drop action below keys, resulting in less key touch

sensitivity, lower sound quality.

Console: 40-44" Normal action, but not as quick as a grand piano. Smaller hammers.

Studio: 45"-49" (Recommended) Normal action, increased key touch sensitivity. Normal

hammers. Longer soundboard & strings.

Upright: 50-60" as above. Increase in size of piano positively affects sound quality. Tone

quality comparable to a baby grand.

Petite Grand: 4'5"-4'10" All types of grands feature horizontal strings and allow for greater

expression through key touch sensitivity. The bigger the sound board, the more resonance

and tonality. Overtones are more noticeable on the smaller sound boards.

Baby Grand: 4'11"- 5'6"

Medium Grand: 5'7"+

Parlor Grand: 5'9"- 6'1"

Ballroom Grand: 6'2"- 6'7"

Concert Grand: 9'

Used or new?

If you are buying your piano from a reputable piano dealer, used is fine. They will not sell you

a piano that was not well taken care of. Beware any used pianos where the person tells you it

"just needs to be tuned". Depending on the age of the piano, it may take you several tunings

over several years to stabilize it, and it may still not maintain it's tuning. It's like buying a

beater car and thinking you can fix it up to a Rolls Royce.

Which brands?

My preference is Yamaha and Kawaii. I like the bright sound from these pianos, I think

because I am partial to the higher tone colors of instruments like flute. Baldwin is a good

name for older pianos. Boston is also ok, but I find the tone color too mellow for my taste.

And of course, if the world is your oyster, you can't go wrong with Steinway or Bosendorfer.

There other great names out there, but these are the most common. Generally, if the piano

you're looking at is cheaper than these brands, I don't recommend them.

Electric Pianos

This is what many of my students decide to purchase to get started with piano, in lieu of an

acoustic piano. Although you sacrifice the more artistic expression available on a real piano,

there are many advantages to the electric piano.


#1 No need to tune, ever.

#2 Lightweight comparatively, and movable.

#3 Many different sound options, useful for imitating early instruments or some modern non-

keyed instruments.

#4 Ability to record music to thumb drive or through midi port.

#5 May be able to line in to a virtual teacher through midi port and a computer.


#1 Repair technicians extremely hard to find and are not cheap.

#2 Key sensors and buttons degrade with time. But better brands will take over a decade for

that to happen.

#3 Key touch sensitivity varies by brand, there is not a unified technology standard.

#4 An electric will never have the same expressive capabilities as an acoustic in regards to

dynamics and tone color changes.

#5 Technology is constantly changing, so does not hold it's resale value as well as an

acoustic piano.

Which brands?

Yamaha, Clavinova, Kawaii, Casio, and Roland are all good choices.

Electric Keyboards

This option is good for those who want a portable keyboard that can be brought to gigs, or if

you foresee yourself playing more rock and pop than anything else. If you are studying with a

piano teacher, make sure that you choose a weighted 88-keyboard that comes with a damper

pedal. If you buy Johnny a 66 non-weighted keyboard, he will outgrow that thing in 6 weeks

and you just wasted $200 or more.


#1 Portable

#2 Hundreds if not thousands of sounds, with the possibility for more if you're computer savvy

and want to explore Virtual Studio Technology and the virtual instruments sounds available.

#3 Many are bluetooth capable and can be controlled through an app.

#4 Lots of options available such as transposition, recording, sampling, split keyboard, dual

keyboard, midi outs for virtual lessons, pitch-bend wheel, etc.


#1 You can't play with too much force, the keyboard stand will shake.

#2 Again, repair tech issues and sensor degradation.

#3 An electric will never have the same expressive capabilities as an acoustic in regards to

dynamics and tone color changes.

#4 Does not retain value as well as an acoustic.

Which Brands

First, MAKE SURE THE KEYS ARE WEIGHTED. And that there's 88 of them if you're not

just testing out initial interest. If you can afford anything, stage pianos have lots of bells and

whistles to have fun with.

Roland, Casio, or Yamaha are my favorites.

Where can I find them?

If you're in the Bucks County area, there's Grafton Piano in Souderton and they have both

acoustic and electric pianos, and a couple of keyboards.

In Doylestown, Music & Arts has a very small selection.

In Coopersburg, there's Like New Pianos with a big selection of Used pianos. But stick to the

brand names I mentioned.

In Philadelphia, check out Jacobs Music for acoustic pianos.

In King of Prussia, check out Cunningham Piano Company.

Also in King of Prussia or Northeast Philadelphia, try Sam Ash for electric keyboards and

electric pianos.

Online, look into Sweetwater, Guitar Center, and Musicians Friend.

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