When first starting out many students are just testing the waters. They are understandably
hesitant to spend a lot on an instrument until they are confident that they or their child is
going to stick with lessons. In order to learn how to play students do need to practice regularly
and need to have access to some type of keyboard. At a bare minimum a beginning keyboard
should have full size keys, at least 4 octaves or 49 keys, and a realistic piano sound. Below I
have provided an overview of acoustic and electronic pianos that would be recommended for
long term study.
In order to learn how to play a piano with all the subtleties of tone and dynamics that are
characteristic of the instrument, it is essential to have a quality instrument that is properly
tuned and well maintained. Acoustic pianos can vary in price from $100's to $100,000's, from the
cheapest used economy grade uprights to performance quality concert grands. No matter what your
budget it can easily be one of your biggest purchases. There are literally dozens of brands, many
with dozens of models. A piano is also a very complex, and precisely engineered musical
instrument. For the average lay person it can be an overwhelming task to enter the market place
with any sense of confidence.
Well don't despair. Larry Fine has written a wonderful book (The Piano Book). He explains in
simple, clear and easily understandable language all the in and outs of pianos, from all the
technical details of how a piano is constructed, to what makes one brand better or worse than
another, to an exhaustive table of fair market values for almost every piano in existence.
The Piano Book will pay for itself many times over when shopping for a piano.
The Piano Book
Buying and Owning a New or Used Piano
By Larry Fine
Annual Supplement to the Piano Book
On-line buying guide;
The Piano Buyer
Edited by Larry Fine, Alden Skinner
There are many fine dealers of new and used pianos in the greater Bay Area. Consult your
local yellow pages or the web for listings.
Though there are many high quality electronic pianos on the market today it is nearly impossible
to fully reproduce the sound of an acoustic piano. See page 102 of "The Piano Buyer" for an in depth
introduction to Digital Pianos.
One of the major limitations of electronic pianos is in the sustain pedal action. When the sustain pedal
is depressed on an acoustic piano all the string's mechanical dampers are released and the entire
instrument resonates with every note played. The only effect on an electronic piano is to allow the
individual played note or notes to sustain. Also on the electronic piano the pedal is simply an on/off
switch and does not have the feel of an acoustics pedal. It is not possible to create the subtleties of
pedaling that are characteristic of the instrument. This difference has a dramatic effect on the sound
of the instrument.
Mastering the technique of expressive playing requires one to train one's self in the intricate task
of moving one's body (arm, hand and fingers) within the framework of the physical 'feel' of the
piano. Both in terms of the physicsl size and weight of the keys. One can only acquire this fine
technique and musical expression by practicing on an instrument that has the dimensions and feel
of an acoustic piano. Whereas it is certainly preferable to have an acoustic piano, an electronic
piano can serve as a starter instrument until whenever one is ready to move up to an acoustic piano.
These are essential requirements when looking for an electronic piano:
-Piano feel, keys are fully weighted
-Full size keys
-Full size keyboard, 88 keys (the price premium for a full 88 keys is minimal)
-Grand piano sound
-Ability to connect a sustain pedal if one is not included
Most electronic pianos come with many other bells and whistles. They are irrelevant, the above
five are essential.
There are many electronic pianos that fulfill these requirements in the $600-$800 range. One
can find more information at such websites as the Guitar Center, Musician's Friend and the