Buying your first piano or keyboard is a really important decision that should be researched and made with care. It’s an investment – not only financially, but also in your learning. The easier it is to play the instrument, the better; in terms of enjoyment, progress and accessibility.
There are also several features that pianos and keyboards may or may not have, which make a difference too. Some of these are essential in your development as a pianist. These features are included on the list below.
Buying a first instrument of any kind always presents a certain, specific dilemma. On one hand, you don’t want to spend a huge amount, because you may find that you don’t want to continue playing long term – the enthusiasm wanes, or you can’t find enough time.
However – if you spend too little, you face potentially making playing more difficult due to the lack of features, and furthermore if you do continue playing longer term you may find yourself needing to upgrade the instrument before it’s even a year old.
Finding balance is the key, and while the price is important to buyers, it’s important to ensure the model you purchase has the following features:
Full Size Keyboard
A full size piano keyboard has 88 keys. This means the piano’s range covers 7 octaves and the notes available run from extremely low to extremely high.
This is an important point because having a piano’s full range at your disposal is crucial to your repertoire and flexibility. You are required to play that low and that high, and even if not now you will be in future. So this is something that, when ignored, often means pianists need to upgrade their instrument fairly early on.
Some beginners do start with a 64 key piano/keyboard, and while that doesn’t necessarily prevent progress (as much as say, not practicing or having no enthusiasm) it will ultimately limit progress and need to be upgraded.
Certainly anything with less than 64 keys should be instantly discounted from consideration. But 88 is ideal.
Another really important factor. This means that the keys are touch responsive. Similarly to an acoustic piano, weighted keys play louder when the keys are pressed harder and softer when the keys are pressed softly. While playing it isn’t impossible without this feature, playing with any expression whatsoever absolutely is.
Just like the point on number of keys mentioned above, the absence of this feature won’t prevent you making a start, but will mean an instrument upgrade is needed much sooner than you might envisage, so the aim always should be to buy a weighted keys piano/keyboard first time around!
The sustain pedal is a foot-controlled lever that allows you to play a note or notes and have them still sounding/ringing out aloud while you move your hands elsewhere on the keyboard. So much of piano playing requires this in some form; so again, this is an absolute essential for even semi-serious pianists.
As above, it’s not like you can’t play anything without a sustain pedal, but you’re going to need to acquire one so soon in your development that you really might as well get it sorted from the outset. Especially as pianos/keyboards often include them in the purchase bundle, meaning you get a good deal overall, and you know absolutely for sure that the pedal is compatible.
Sound Quality / Range
Whether you’re more concerned with sound quality or range of sounds available will probably depend more on your stylistic tastes, aims and ambitions.
For a pure pianist looking to compose, study, play the piano for fun or create piano music, then what is by far the most important element is the quality of the piano sound. How realistic the sound is, and not sounding cheap as so many cheap starter models do are important factors in the sound quality. If you’re looking for other sounds e.g. replicating other instruments for recordings, playing synths or copying organ sounds etc. Then it’s more the range of sounds that is a factor for you.
Whichever of these two types you are, the point is, you need to know you’re getting the sound quality or range you need. So find somewhere you can test the instrument out, look at online reviews or demos, and look further into the sound of the instrument as well as the features.
And finally – accessories! Of course, the quality and features of the piano/keyboard itself are always the primary concerns.
However – be on the lookout for bundles and deals that include the accessories you need. Because, frankly, you do need them, and this way will always work out cheaper than buying the accessories separately.
By accessories I mean certain essentials such as a stool or seat and a music stand, as well as less essential, but desirable items such as headphones, or a metronome etc.
If you keep all these factors above at the forefront of your mind, and do your research with time and care, you’ll be sure to find a great model that will enable and encourage progress and success. Good luck!