I often coach my piano students and their families on what to look for when purchasing a piano. There are a lot of options out there and first big choice is digital or acoustic.
Personally, I own and enjoy playing both digital and acoustic pianos. I use both types for teaching in my studio as well as for my own practice. I tend to gravitate towards different pianos for different reasons, but do appreciate the unique advantages of each piano that I use.
Let’s look closely at the main differences between digital and acoustic pianos so that you can make the best decision for your own circumstances.
There is something irreplaceable about the sound and touch of an acoustic piano. Your hands have a direct connection to the sound: when you play a note on an acoustic piano, there is a physical reaction within the piano. The vibrations of the strings create harmonic overtones that sound simultaneously, creating a beautifully full and rich sound. This difference may be subtle to most ears, but those if you play acoustic pianos frequently you’ll notice that difference immediately.
Pros: Acoustic Pianos
Acoustic pianos have a rich sound and authentic touch.
Playing a tuned and high-quality acoustic piano can be a delightful experience and something that can’t be replicated digitally. Spending a lot of time at an acoustic piano helps you appreciate the authenticity of its sound.
Acoustic pianos respond to how you play them.
An acoustic piano consists of thousands of moving parts; the sound you get from it is a reaction from your hands moving those parts. How you choreograph your hands and how you approach the keys has a direct effect on the shape and texture of the sound.
Acoustic pianos look nice in your home.
Most pianos are beautiful works of design that add charm to your space.
The sound of an acoustic piano carries naturally.
With a well-balanced sound that carries well in small or large spaces, an acoustic piano does a better job of blending in with vocalists and other instrumentalists
Cons: Acoustic Pianos
Acoustic pianos require maintenance.
Acoustic pianos require ongoing maintenance and care. They need to be tuned professionally at least two times a year. There are other maintenance issues that occur from time to time that will require the assistance of a piano technician. When you purchase an acoustic piano, you should plan for the ongoing costs of tunings and regular maintenance. An acoustic piano that lacks the proper maintenance and repair will eventually become unusable.
Acoustic pianos generally do not improve with time.
The sound of acoustic pianos do not improve with time. The piano has a lifespan of approximately 60 years. Older pianos lose their ability to hold the correct pitch, and parts of the piano may start break that are not worth repairing. This means that there is always a level of risk in buying used acoustic pianos. Antique pianos and family heirlooms may look beautiful on the outside, but they are usually not reliable instruments to practice regularly.
Acoustic pianos are affected by environmental changes.
You need to keep acoustic pianos in a stable environment. Temperature swings, changes in humidity, and exposure to moisture can negatively affect your instrument. If you own an acoustic piano, you need to be aware of the conditions of the room where it is kept to ensure that it stays in tune and works properly.
In recent years, the technology of digital pianos has improved remarkably. In many ways, they make an excellent substitute for an acoustic piano. With a digital piano, you gain many convenience factors and have less maintenance to worry about.
Pros: Digital Pianos
Digital pianos are always in tune and require little maintenance.
Digital pianos require almost no maintenance. Unlike acoustic pianos, they are always in tune. Once you turn them on, they’re ready to go!
Digital pianos are more affordable.
If you’re looking for a new piano, digital pianos can be considerably cheaper. Many digital pianos start around $1,000, though they can get up to $5,000 and beyond. However, even with digital pianos, price should not be the sole criteria for selection. It may be worth the investment to have something that sounds and feels good to you!
You can adjust the volume or use headphones for private practice.
A huge bonus of using a digital piano is to have control of the volume and the ability to plug in headphones. This is ideal if you need to practice quietly to accommodate other members of your household.
Digital pianos include a variety of helpful and fun features.
Digital pianos often come with a variety of features to aid the user experience. Recording options, different instrumental sounds, and built in accompaniments to play along with are just a few examples. Most digital pianos can be used easily with recording software. Acoustic pianos, on the other hand, require several microphones and a recording studio. These features open up new possibilities for creative music making.
Digital pianos take up less space.
A digital piano’s keys and keyboard have the same standardized size as all pianos, but they do not have the internal structure of an acoustic piano. They can take up far less space, making them convenient for smaller rooms. They also do not require the same level of human labor and delicacy to transport.
Cons: Digital Pianos
Digital pianos can be difficult to repair.
While digital pianos do not require regular tuning and maintenance, like all electronics, they can still break or stop working. It can be hard to find a qualified technician in your area to work on a digital piano.
Digital pianos often sound artificial.
The best digital pianos today can sound and feel remarkably similar to an acoustic piano. However, dated models or lower end digital pianos can have a noticeably inferior sound quality. Some people describe them as sounding “tinny” or computerized. It is important to keep in mind that you are more likely to stay motivated to play your piano if you actually enjoy how it sounds.
Technology is always changing.
Just as in the case of computers, features on digital pianos can easily become obsolete. For example, digital pianos from just 10-15 years ago have floppy drives on them. If you wanted to record music on an older digital piano, you’d probably have a difficult time transferring your music to a more current device.
Digital pianos may not build finger strength.
Most newer digital pianos incorporate “weighted keys” to mimic an acoustic piano. However, some digital pianos that claim to have weighted feel very different than an acoustic piano. Older models or lower-end models might feel unauthentic which will result in clumsy or messy playing. This can lead to a lot of bad habits and poor piano technique.
Which should you own?
Deciding between an acoustic and digital piano will come down to your personal preferences and circumstances. Consider your space, the other people you live with, how you plan on using it and your goals for piano. Be sure to test out many different pianos before you settle on one. Digital pianos are appealing because they are convenient and low maintenance, but acoustic pianos will add beauty and depth to your music.
Choose an acoustic if:
- You enjoy playing classical music or hope to learn to play classical music.
- Technique is important to you and desire a sound that will respond to subtleties in your playing.
- You appreciate the uniqueness of the feel and sound of an acoustic piano.
- You’re interested in the visual aesthetic an acoustic piano will bring to your space.
Choose a digital if:
- You’re interested in recording your music at home.
- You would like to creatively combine your piano skills with technology, such as instrumental voices,
accompaniment loops, and other features.
- You do not want worry about tuning or ongoing maintenance.
- You want the convenience of playing with headphones or lowering the volume.
Remember to spend time testing out your piano before you buy it. It’s important to be happy with how it performs
so that you can enjoy using it for many years to come!
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