Learning to play the piano is one of the best hobbies you can possibly take on. Playing musical instruments is superb for fighting stress and depression and this type of hobby makes it very easy for you to connect with others.
The first thing you will need is a good quality piano. There are quite a few different types out there but many feel that a digital piano is a great pick if you are dedicated to mastering this musical art.
A digital piano is an electronic piano or electric keyboard instrument that is considered the alternative to a traditional acoustic piano. These offer the same basic sound production and feel when you play them.
Unlike traditional pianos, these use a synthesized emulation or recorded samples of the acoustic piano that is played back when you press certain keys. These pianos can have an upright or grand piano design and look a lot like the traditional piano. However, portable options also exist that forgo the more traditional appearance.
Pianos fall under three main categories. Here is a quick look at the main piano types you can buy if you want to learn to play this fantastic musical instrument:
Acoustic pianos are considered the traditional piano, or old-school piano. These pianos date back to the 1700s and earlier and were invented in Italy by Bartolomeo Cristofori.
For these pianos, the sound is produced when wooden hammers strike the strings of the piano. These hammers are usually coated with a soft material and the intensity of the strike you execute on the keys can affect the sound quality. The harder you strike the keys, the louder the sound will be.
There are two main types of acoustic pianos:
A grand piano is much larger and the strings are set horizontally to the ground. These pianos are used for concerts and for making recordings since they produce much more vivid sounds.
The vivid sound production is mostly due to the open top of the grand piano, which allows much more sound to escape compared to the upright piano.
These pianos are typically quite expensive and they do take up a lot of space. They also need to be manually tuned and properly maintained.
In these pianos, the sound bar and strings run vertically. An upright piano has an upright (surprise), boxed design and takes less floor space compared to the grand piano. The sound quality of these pianos is quite vivid, yet not quite as loud as the grand piano.
Upright pianos are a bit more affordable compared to grand pianos and there are quite a few different types available including smaller and more compact options.
Digital pianos are the modernized version of the traditional piano. These pianos are electric, but most designers go to great lengths to create digital pianos that produce the same sound quality and feel of the acoustic piano.
Digital pianos can be connected to headsets so you can practice music in silence, or they can be connected to amplifiers for performing in front of groups.
There are quite a few different types of digital pianos. Here is a quick look at the main types of digital pianos you can find:
Grand Digital Piano
This piano produces higher quality sound compared to your average digital piano. They are mostly designed for performances and they do come in various shapes and sizes. You can get these as a full size grand piano that looks a lot like an acoustic grand piano, or you can get a mini size.
Upright Digital Piano
These pianos are very popular in homes. They have the same basic upright design as acoustic upright pianos but differ quite a bit since they can be much more compact and offer many modern features. The design and details on upright digital pianos tend to be much sleeker compared to decorative grand pianos. Digital upright pianos are also much lighter than acoustic pianos.
Portable Digital Piano
Digital portable pianos are very compact in size. They are usually mounted on removable stands so you can stow these pianos away with ease or take them along on journeys. The keys of these pianos are usually made of plastic to reduce the weight of the piano but they still offer the same sound quality and weighted key feel of the other types of digital pianos.
Keyboard pianos are the latest type of piano. These are usually designed with portability in mind and they are ideal for traveling musicians. Keyboards come in all shapes and sizes including childrens keyboards. They also come with different numbers of keys and they can have a lot of customization options.
Here is a quick look at some of the different types of keyboards that you can buy.
Beginner keyboards are designed for students and usually have a limited selection of digitized sounds. They don’t have weighted keys and generally range from two to four octaves.
Arranger keyboards can have an extensive list of pre-recorded tracks in various music styles such as indie rock, reggae, classic country, techno, and more. They are ideal for solo artists who want to compose their own tunes. They also come with voice back-up capabilities and USB ports so you can save the music you play in a memory bank.
Digital Workstation Keyboards
These keyboards are ideal for musicians who love to compose their own tracks. The keyboards offer lots of control and they are ideal for recording and manipulating tunes note by note. These workstations can vary quite a lot in size and feature.
These look like a conventional keyboard but they have a completely different purpose. Synthesizers are used to invert and adjust exotic sounds that your standard keyboard normally doesn’t use or cannot produce. They use analog or digital signal processing to produce these sounds and are ideal for creating new musical tracks from scratch or from existing material.
These keyboards don’t use metal pipes and are quite compact in tone. Some have singular keyboards while others can have a double keyboard design.
These keyboards are a mix between arrangers, digital workstations, synthesizers, organs, or a normal piano. It is basically a jack of all trades and a perfect investment for someone who loves to explore different mediums.
Main Differences Between Digital and Other Pianos
By now you are likely confused as to which piano to buy. It is hard to make a good choice when you have so many different options to choose from. To make it a little easier for you to decide on the right category of piano to shop for, we are quickly going to compare the main differences between digital pianos and traditional pianos, as well as digital pianos and keyboards.
Digital Pianos VS Traditional Pianos
There are quite a few differences between a traditional piano and a digital piano. Here is a quick look at some of the main differences:
- Digital pianos function via electricity
- Electric pianos don’t have to be tuned
- Electronic pianos can be adjusted to mimic the sound of other musical instruments, such as the pipe organ or electric guitar
- Some digital pianos can have lighter or non-weighted keys (a major factor if you are used to either option)
- Digital pianos are usually smaller, lighter, and more portable
- You can use headphones on digital pianos or lower the volume when practicing
- Digital pianos can be connected to amplifiers to produce more sound
- Digital pianos are better equipped for beginners, pop music players, and singer-songwriters
- If you want a new piano, digital pianos are usually much more affordable
- Unless you spend thousands, most digital pianos don’t offer the same organic sound quality as acoustic pianos
- Traditional pianos use a series of string cords and hammers to produce sound
- Traditional pianos need to be manually tuned
- These pianos are non-electric and cannot be used on amplifiers (without an installed adapter)
- The keys of traditional pianos are always weighted
- Acoustic or traditional pianos tend to take up more space compared to digital pianos
- Acoustic pianos are louder compared to a standard digital (without an amplifier)
- Acoustic pianos are better for classical players
- Acoustic pianos can be more affordable if you are willing to shop in the used section
- Acoustic pianos can be very heavy and are expensive to move
Digital Pianos VS Keyboards
While shopping for electric pianos, you will quickly see a lot of “keyboards” and “digital pianos”. Both of these pianos are electric and look very similar, but there are some huge differences between these two different types of pianos.
Here is a quick look at the main differences between these two pianos:
- These instruments are designed to replicate acoustic pianos in both feel and look
- There are lots of different types available including upright, grand piano, cabinet piano, and pianos with weighted keys
- These are designed to mimic the touch, feel, and sound of traditional acoustic pianos
- Digital pianos offer musicians more authenticity compared to keyboards
- Digital pianos are more sensitive to pressure thanks to graded hammer key technology (this allows them to produce louder tones the harder you press the keys)
- Digital pianos have pedals where keyboard pianos do not usually support this feature
- These pianos are designed with portability in mind
- They are ideal for musicians of various backgrounds
- The pianos are light in weight
- They mostly have 61 or 76 keys
- These pianos are played using a specific keyboard style (which is a combination of rhythms and accompaniments)
- You can pick other musical instruments or rhythms (like drums) to play with your left hand while playing the melody using your right hand
- Keyboards are programed with hundreds or thousands of tones and they have a lot of customization options so you can tune the sound according to your likes
- They are typically more affordable
- The keys of keyboards are usually soft and they don’t have graded key action
Main Specs to Consider When Buying Digital Pianos
As you already know, there are three main types of digital pianos. Here is a quick look at the different types of specifications that these pianos can offer:
Piano Size and Weight
Digital pianos are lighter than acoustics but they are still heavier compared to keyboards. The upright and grand style digital pianos are not very portable. Most models can be disassembled for easy storage though.
Color and Design
These pianos can vary greatly in color and design. Grand digital pianos usually offer a more traditional and elegant style while uprights can vary from streamlined and squared to highly decorative. Portable types are usually not decorative. Some designs are bulkier than others.
A good example is a full size, grand digital piano compared to a grandbaby digital piano.
Number of Keys
Digital pianos mostly come with the standard amount of keys because they are designed to closely mimic acoustic pianos.
88-key digital pianos are the most common but there are a few smaller types available, like those with 76 keys or 61 keys.
The smallest digital keyboards only have 25 keys. The number of keys on a piano can restrict the type of music you can play. If you are getting a piano for very basic playing, then a smaller 61-key piano may be sufficient. 88-key pianos are better for starters though.
Polyphony sounds complex but it is quite simple. It indicates the number of notes a keyboard can play at
at the same time.
A good example is a children’s Fisher-Price keyboard. These keyboards have 8 keys, but when you press
three keys at once, only one key will produce sound. This means that this tiny keyboard has a polyphony of just one.
The minimum polyphony your keyboard should have is 32 but a 64-note polyphony or higher is better for creating complex sound. Digital keyboards can vary quite a lot in terms of polyphony. The best and highest quality pianos usually deliver 128-note or 264-note polyphony.
Key Weight, Action and Touch Response
The key weight of pianos can differ widely. Some are designed to be weighted, others are semi-weighted, and some digital pianos are not weighted at all. Digital piano weighted keys are designed to simulate the same feel as acoustic pianos. These pianos also have graduated weighting which means lower octave keys will weigh less compared to your higher octave keys. This is known as graded hammer action.
The touch response of your piano keys is also important. Advanced digital pianos can sense pressure differences in the velocity of your keystrokes. This enables you to produce softer sounds by gently tapping the keys, or louder sounds by pounding the keys harder. If your digital piano doesn’t have any touch response, all keys will produce a flat sound no matter how hard you press down on the keys.
The pedals on a digital piano enable you to control the function of the sound and make it possible for you to modify the sound. By pushing down on the pedal you can increase the richness of the sound or dampen it, depending on your need for a particular note. Most digital pianos come with pedals, although portable may not support this feature.
Volume and Sound Quality
Not all digital pianos produce the same level of quality sound. These pianos are designed to play note samples recorded from acoustic pianos.
Expensive pianos with advanced technology will produce sounds that are closer to the sound of natural pianos compared to cheaper digital pianos.
High-quality pianos also contain more digital memory and the result is a high-resolution sound that sounds more accurate.
Most modern digital pianos have recorders built-in. You can record your performance and review the sound when you are finished playing. This is a great way to identify flaws or to find out what you should be focusing on during practice sessions.
Digital pianos also (usually) come with MIDI capability. This allows you to connect your digital piano to recording equipment and is ideal for musicians that want to record their tracks. Some of these pianos also have USB ports that allow you to connect to all sorts of audio gear, while others can take memory flashcards so you can store recordings and transfer to other devices such as computers.
Teaching or Learning Tools
These pianos are often designed for beginners and as such, are usually programmed with learning programs. The programs are very valuable for those who want to learn how to play the piano.
The built-in lessons, exercises, note/chord displays, and metronomes are ideal for helping you master piano much quicker. High-quality digitals even come with dual headphone jacks so you and a teacher can listen while you are playing without disturbing others.
Your piano might even come with a split-keyboard function so students and teachers can play together.
Pianos can come with all sorts of accessories. Here is a quick look at some of the most common accessories that you can get with or buy along with your piano:
Amps and Cables
Amplifiers are ideal for those who want to perform. The piano is connected to an amplifier to help you produce higher volume sounds. These amps can vary hugely from small home units to large units designed for live performances.
For ideal playing, you should have a comfy bench that is just the right height. Good posture is essential if you want to play correctly and a bench is just the right tool for the job since they don’t come with restricting armrests. There are all sorts of piano benches available on the market, including folding ones that can be stored away with ease.
A piano cover is a must for units that come with a stand. These covers will keep dust out of your keys and are ideal for protecting your piano while you travel.
You can invest in a simple cloth cover that pulls over your piano to protect it or you can even get a portable case. Cases are usually padded to offer more protection against impact while you journey and are a must for traveling musicians.
Digital piano stands are available in various shapes and sizes but they are only used for portable digital pianos and not suitable for grand or uprights that already have legs.
Pianos are incredible musical instruments with a deep history. There are lots of different digital pianos to choose from and if you invest in the correct piano, you will be able to master this fine art much quicker.
We hope that this guide helped you learn more about digital pianos. And if you are looking for more information on the best pianos to buy or want to know what is the best digital piano with weighted keys, then you should have a look at some of our other buying guides too!