It seems like only yesterday that I was sitting in front of my old Heintzman upright piano, playing one of my first pieces from the Leila Fletcher beginner’s piano book. That old piano seemed as a big as a house to me, and I remember having to really push the keys hard to make it sound. I also remember the E above middle C was so out of tune, I would cringe every time my music said to play that key.

It’s now 50 years later, and I have been a piano teacher, musician and also involved in the music industry from wholesale to retail to music publishing. Music has been my life and has a lot changed in the last 50 years!

One of the most common questions I get asked by parents today is:
“Should I start my child on a digital piano or acoustic piano for beginner piano lessons?”

Well, there are a few things to consider when answering this question.

First, it used to be that “electric pianos” didn’t really feel or sound at all like a real piano.

The keys were often smaller, much lighter to push than an acoustic piano and they really didn’t sound like a piano. The reason was the manufactures used “synthesized” technologies to try and imitate the piano. While there were some excellent instruments like the Wurlitzer EP200 used by bands like The Carpenters in the 70s and the old Fender Rhodes piano which so popular with many bands as well, the “piano” sound did not compare at all to a traditional acoustic piano. So people opted for a traditional acoustic piano when starting their children in music lessons – and often went for used – which is where my old Heintzman came into my life.

But technology has changed in today’s market!

Nowadays, we don’t try and “synthesize” the sound anymore.
We actually digitally record the sound of a real piano.

For example, Kawai records the sound from their 9 foot Shigeru concert grand piano which sells for over $200,000! and then stores that digital recording in memory so when you push a key on a Kawai digital piano – it recalls that sound from the 9’ Concert grand!

Shigeru Concert Grand Piano

Not only that, but the computer inside the Kawai piano recognizes how hard the key was played, which creates not only a louder sound, but a brighter sound as well. This is because the timbre of the sound changes depending on volume. When I am in the piano showroom, I marvel that sometimes it is so difficult it is to tell when someone is playing a digital piano or an acoustic piano – when I cannot see what is being played. I will ask someone else “Are they playing an acoustic or a digital?” and often the response is “I’m really not sure”.

Also, the pedals will function the same as a traditional acoustic piano. The one your child will use the most is the right pedal – more commonly know as the damper pedal. What it will do is when the pedal is pushed down, any notes that are played will sustain and blend together giving a smooth transition from note to note.

Combine that with the fact that manufacturers like Kawai have worked so hard on creating the “piano feel” (often called the “action”) on digital pianos, so the force required to push a key is the same as the grand piano and the overall feel almost mirrors the traditional piano. That is ideal for a beginner student because that helps develop the individual finger strength and dexterity and when they go to play an acoustic piano – the technique required is almost identical.

Also, there is a very good reason why digital pianos outsell acoustic pianos 2 to 1 in today’s market.

Digital Piano

It is not only because of this evolution that now makes them an ideal choice for a beginner student – but also because they are less expensive, do not require any upkeep at all (like tuning) can create many other sounds besides piano, like orchestral strings, organ, guitar, vibraphone and drums.
They are lighter to move and the student can use headphones to practice quietly and the sound they will hear with the headphones is nothing short of amazing.

You can also connect the digital pianos to your computer, to interface with software, play sheet music or digital record and/or playback songs!

So in summary, if you are a parent and are wondering if it is acceptable to start your child with a digital piano, the answer is resounding yes!

If the digital piano meets the conditions I mentioned above, such as the Kawai digital pianos, then you can be rest assured that you have made a good choice for your student.
As they progress and get better, then in 5 or 6 years, an acoustic piano should definitely considered because now they have the skill to enjoy and control the acoustic piano – and your initial investment in the digital piano has been money well spent. You will also feel more comfortable in investing in a more expensive acoustic piano.

However, I do want to point out that If you dream has always been to get an acoustic piano for starting your child in lessons – then there is absolutely nothing wrong with that – and with the right acoustic piano – it will serve you for many decades.

I wish I had the digital option when I think back to my old piano and the horrid E key that shrieked in misery every time I dared to call it into action.

We are lucky and privileged to have such amazing products today!

Musically yours,

Michael Daly
Piano Specialist
Merriam Music

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