Much can be said about what is the right, or wrong, instrument to practice on. If you are new to piano, you may be tempted by the myriad choices available in electronic keyboards. A lot of those keyboards may seem to be an economical choice. I mean, why spend $2,000 for an instrument when you can get a $99 special at Target?
The short of it is, if you can afford to get a real piano, by all means, buy it. Don’t skimp out and get something electronic. A quality acoustic piano will last for decades. And I don’t mean just two decades. A piano that is well-maintained will outlast you, and perhaps even your children and grandchildren. An electronic instrument will last maybe 10 years at best, and when something goes wrong, the likelihood of finding the parts to repair it will be slim to none. So, you’ll be replacing that electronic instrument every 5 to 10 years. You’ll also be faced with learning a new instrument every time you have to replace it with another electronic instrument.
If you are going to buy an electronic keyboard, there are definitely some good choices, though. I personally own several. One reason I have the electronic instruments is that I am often asked to play in situations where an acoustic piano is not present. It’s great to have a portable instrument to cart along with me. Some things you need to look out for if you plan on purchasing an electronic instrument as a piano practice instrument:
1. Make sure you get a graded, weighted keyboard. “What does that mean”, you ask. A weighted keyboard has added weight to all of the keys to approximate what a piano feels like. The problem with simple weighting, however, is that the keys all feel exactly the same. A real piano, whether grand or upright, is not actually like that. So, in the last ten years, high-quality keyboards have been introduced with graded and weighted actions. The “graded” part means that the keys at the lower range of the keyboard are somewhat heavier than the keys at the top. That’s exactly the way a real piano feels.
2. Make sure you have at least 2 pedals. A soft pedal and a damper pedal. Keyboards that have only one pedal are not good practice instruments as real pianos actually have 3 pedals, not just one. To learn how to use the pedals, first you have to have one to put your foot on!
So, let’s say you’ve decided to get an acoustic piano–the kind with real wood and steel strings. What kind to get? I’d recommend sticking with the name brands. In uprights, I’d recommend a Yamaha, Kawai or Baldwin be among your top choices. Mason and Hamlin produces an excellent 50″ upright. In pianos, particularly used ones, you get what you pay for. If you find a $500 steal of deal on Craigslist, it’s probably not you who’s getting the deal. If you’re going to buy a used piano, get a piano technician to come along with you to check out the instrument. The money you spend on a technician’s time and talent is well worth the investment. If you’re buying new, you would do well to stick with either American, European or Japanese brands, as they have been producing pianos for a long time, and have their manufacturing techniques well-honed.
So, why such a lengthy blog post about the right piano to practice on? I have taught students who had less expensive even-weighted keyboards to practice on, and when it came time for them to play on a real grand piano, their technique was toast. What sounded perfectly fine on a bargain keyboard was unacceptable on a real instrument. Another problem that crops up is finger, forearm and arm strength. Having played on a keyboard with too light of a touch, students find that they wear out in minutes playing a real piano and truly bad technical habits are developed, risking real physical injury to the student.
So, if you can’t afford to get a graded, weighted keyboard or buy a real piano, find one to practice on at your church, school or college. Do yourself a favor, and don’t go for the cheap keyboard unless that is the only keyboard you ever intend to play. You’ll be happy that you saved up, and saved your hands in the process.