Should I buy a regular acoustic piano, or will a keyboard do?

You are in the market for a piano. You are your child is looking to begin piano lessons, and so you start thinking about what instrument you will get. You suddenly find, it is such a large market you feel overwhelmed with choices. To start with, do you go for the upright or even a grand, or is it okay to buy a keyboard? What are you sacrificing if you buy a keyboard? Are you in fact giving up some things when you purchase a keyboard? I am here to say there is nothing wrong with beginning on a keyboard, in fact, there are only gains.

pianist hands on keyboard

A digital keyboard is the best way to start.

The consumer mindset says, we want to go for the best, because the best would contribute most to our progress and the quickest way, right? So the best would be a Steinway, right? Or at the very least a grand piano? Or at least an upright, which is a natural acoustic piano, and this way it has that ‘regular’ piano feel which would be best, right? Maybe.  When you’re starting out, start with a digital keyboard, there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, there is much to gain.
Perhaps it’s your child taking piano lessons for the first time, or perhaps you have decided to take up piano lessons again (which you haven’t done since childhood), a decent keyboard is the way to test the waters, what you are sacrificing are nuances that more seasoned pianists would recognize.

Weighted Keys

Not all keyboards are created equal, and even with keyboards, the price can really vary. One factor that I consider crucial for anyone, whether complete beginner or professional is that the piano have weighted keys. Fortunately, many keyboards even at the entry level have weighted keys, or at least semi-weighted keys. While a “real” piano still has a different feel, the keyboard feel has come a long way, and one with weighted keys have a similar feel to that of the “real thing”. This is paramount for a new beginner, and where a lot of the time and effort is spent in lessons.

Size & Weight

The portability of keyboards cannot be overstated. Keyboards have options to be placed on a collapsable stand, or some have “cabinets”, where they have sturdy legs going down the length of the keyboard as well as underneath. This helps a keyboard fit more aesthetically in a home, and some of these cabinets can unscrew from the keyboard, making it most versatile. On the contrary, thinking of where to put an acoustic piano, even if it’s an upright, takes a lot of thought – what wall will it go up against, will it be too loud for the others in the house, and so on.

Cost & Maintenance

Keyboards can get pricey themselves, but nothing like grand pianos, and there are many keyboards in the market for between $400-$800 as of this writing that are more than adequate. What’s more, these instruments stay perfectly in tune! An acoustic piano should be tuned at least once a year (I tune mine 3x a year), and even then they are temperamental. You may be thinking, “but what if we upgrade? What a waste to have purchased the keyboard.” $400 isn’t nothing, but I still think it is worth beginning this way, and using an upgrade as an incentive to keep practicing. I also still have the same keyboard I bought over a dozen years ago, even though I have since bought a baby grand piano. Having the digital piano provides me something to practice when others in the household are sleeping, or if I am just meaning to do simple warmups. It also is there should I need a portable instrument for some outside gig.


I recall a couple years back being in the market for a grand piano. I knew I wanted, not specifically in terms of the brand, but I knew the kind of sound I was looking for, I knew how I wanted it to feel, I knew what would benefit me most I knew the space I planned to put the piano in and so I had an idea of how the size of an instrument would sound in that space. I didn’t know this exactly of course, but experience has taught me what to expect from the size of instrument relative to size of room. Furnishings in the room also count, this too affects the sound – is it carpet or hardwood, are there wall hangings, is there furniture, this all plays on the acoustics and the overall sound of the instrument. In other words, it wasn’t because of marketing that I was leaning toward a particular instrument, but because of years of experience, I had and idea of the kinds of instruments I would be looking at, what would be good for me and my environment. When I was in the market, I recall going to a home where they were advertising a used grand piano; this type of piano was fairly well respected and not always easily found. The sound of the instrument was satisfying, though it was out of tune. After I tried it out and expressed interest, the owner said, “we will let you know – there is a family who was here a couple days ago, the father would like to purchase it for his 9 year old daughter who’s starting out on piano lessons.” That thought made me gag. By all means, get pianos in the home, I love that! But to buy such an instrument for someone who has never played before, this is more consumerism than generosity – often what ends up happening is the pianos get neglected, just as it seems this very one had been. A piano such as this is an investment, and it is more than appropriate to start out on a decent keyboard to see that the person takes to the piano in the first place. Yes, an instrument can draw someone in, but if the child is not responding to music lessons, don’t first blame the instrument for the lack of inspiration, there is more going on.

By the way, yes I saw myself as in the market for a piano, and I am a professional pianist, but I would say I too do not NEED this in my home; I have for many years had a keyboard that cost less than $1,000, this has been completely sufficient enough to practice on. Once life circumstances allowed for me to have a piano, then I went for it, but even here, it is not an absolute necessity. There are many professional pianists that have never had an acoustic piano in their home. If the person you decided to get the instrument for really takes to the piano, great! In time, you can discuss upgrading, but I would say again that many digital keyboards would serve a beginning pianist for a number of years. Once the student has developed a passion for it, or is at least consistent with playing the piano after a few years, then that would be a fine time to begin the discussion about upgrading.

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