David Hicken ~ Pianist & Composer

Advice For Pianists

In a previous post, I mentioned that the very best instrument for serious piano students is always a grand piano.  Of course this is not feasible for many people due to their high cost, lack of space as well as sound issues in apartments etc.  A digital piano can be a good solution.

Digital pianos produce their sound electronically and are much smaller and lighter than acoustic pianos, allowing them to be moved to different rooms in a home with relative ease.  These instruments do not need to be tuned, and their sound is unaffected by changes in temperature and humidity.  Their volume can easily be controlled, and the use of headphones will make sure that your neighbors do not hear your scale practice.

Some digital pianos include built-in metronomes as well as a number of other sounds.  Others include sequencers which allow you to easily record what you are playing. This can be very helpful when learning a piece because you can record one hand and then play it back while playing along with the other hand.

All of today's digital pianos include either MIDI ports, a USB port, or both.  With the correct cable(s) they will allow you to connect the piano to a computer so that you can use sequencers, notation software as well as sound software.  This is ideal for people who want to compose or arrange music because the use of computers is quicker and more convenient than writing music out by hand.

Digital pianos have 88 keys just like a real piano.  The keys are also weighted like real pianos, and some manufacturers even go as far as to create a "graded action" where the keys on the left are a little heavier than the keys on the right - just like on real pianos.

A good-quality digital piano will usually come with its own wooden stand with pedals attached, and this is a necessity.  If you purchase the keyboard alone, and then search for a metal stand, you'll have a hard time finding a sturdy one that doesn't make the keyboard wobble, and also it will be difficult to adjust the keyboard's height exactly.  All stands are adjustable, but if you need to make a half inch adjustment, you can't.  The wooden stands are already at the correct height for the keyboard.  The other problem with a metal stand is where exactly will you place your pedals?  Their placement is very important, and you don't want them moving around when you use them.  Again, this is not an issue with the wooden stand.

The sound of the piano in digital instruments is usually very good because what you are hearing is the sampled sound of a real piano.  The sound will vary considerably from manufacturer to manufacturer, but another consideration is the speaker and amplification system that is used, as well as the speaker placement.  It's possible to have the most beautiful sampled piano sound that just sounds awful coming from inferior and cheap speakers which point away from the piano.  

Another small, but still important consideration is the feel of the key tops.  Cheaper models have a very smooth plastic feel under your fingers.  Better quality models allow you to grip the keys with your fingertips in a slightly better way.

When choosing a digital piano, look for one with a built-in stand and pedals as well as matching bench. Everything is at the correct height and placement, and all you have to do is sit down and play.  Listen carefully to the sound that each one produces and trust your ear.  Notice which ones you like better, and also consider how each one responds to your touch.  Also pay attention to the weight of the keys under your fingers - some pianos feel really good and others don't.

Do not buy a piano that does not have weighted keys, and do not be fooled by the misleading term "semi-weighted" keys.  If you play one of these, you will notice that it has a "spongy" feel compared to that of the standard weighted-key digital piano.

Also be aware that there is a distinction between a keyboard and a digital piano.  Digital pianos almost always have 88 weighted keys.  However, keyboards usually have 61 or 76 keys (and can have 88 as well), but are usually not weighted.  Pianists need weighted keys to practice on, and anything other than weighted keys can cause problems in technique.

Generally, the fewer bells and whistles the better.  If your digital piano is packed with knobs, buttons and displays - plays itself and also makes you a cup of coffee, you have to wonder how much work went into creating the best feeling keyboard as well as the best possible piano sound.  All of the fancy features can be very enticing when you're standing in the piano store, but I can assure you that within a few weeks you won't use any of them.  Don't spend the extra money on this nonsense - after all you want to be a great pianist right?  Also dismiss any models that talk about included piano lessons using blinking lights and digital displays.  This is not the way to learn to play the piano.

Models made by Roland are excellent and are the ones I would suggest above anything else.  I am not compensated by any manufacturers for any products, so these opinions are honest.  I have always liked products by Korg, and they have good feeling keyboards.  Casio makes a digital piano that is a lot less expensive than their competitors, and I have found it to be pretty good value for money.  I am less familiar with Yamaha's products, but the digital pianos I have played do have a good feel and sound.

There is plenty of information out there, so do your research and you'll find an instrument you like.  Keep in mind the tips that I've mentioned here and you can't go wrong.  

Finally, once you have your digital piano, invest in a good quality pair of headphones - they can make ALL the difference.

Happy Practicing!

David Hicken

All of the concepts that I write about here are detailed in my eBook "Secrets To Better Piano Playing" . Click the image below to find out more.