I’m frequently asked for advice on purchasing a piano and I always respond with the same spiel. It’s safe to say a lo of people out there so I figured I’d let the internet know what’s up.
Before I get started, I need to make the distinction between a keyboard and a piano. This may be obvious to a lot of people, but I have encountered a few who weren’t sure of the difference. This was due to confusion about the term “digital piano” which is, in fact, not a piano.
Allow me to explain: Pianos create sound by causing metal strings to vibrate within a wooden cabinet; keyboards create sound by transmitting electronic signals through embedded speakers. I’ve came up with a rhyme to help you remember:
Need electricity? It’s a keyboard, you see. No wires or buttons? It’s piano! Have some mutton.
Note that I didn’t say it was a great rhyme. Here’s the rest of what you need to know:
Piano vs Keyboard
In short: get the piano if you have the space. Piano keys offer a certain amount of resistance that demand proper posture and technique to get the best sound out of them. Players who learn on keyboards don’t develop that same level of fine motor control.
What’s more, and this will sound a little hippy-dippy, but pianos have a soul and a character that’s just impossible to replicate with a keyboard. It’s difficult to explain to the uninitiated. Keyboards, while useful, just don’t have the same feel to them. It’s a tool: but a pianos are instruments.
Still, there are a few practical reasons you might consider getting a keyboard instead; they’re easily portable, they don’t require any upkeep, and you can use headphones with them. Keyboards generally have a few bells and whistles like different instruments sounds and MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) which allows the keyboard to communicate with a computer.
If you’re set on getting a keyboard but still intend on learning how to play piano, buy a full-size keyboard (88 keys) with weighted keys. The resistance isn’t quite as solid as a piano, but it’s better than nothing. You may come across the term “velocity-sensitive keys” but this isn’t the same thing as weighted keys; it only means you can change how loud a key plays by pressing it harder even though the resistance on them is still negligible.
If you’re still not sure whether or not your kid will stick with lessons, keyboards are an inexpensive way to test the waters. If he or she develops a keen interest, though, buckle down and get the piano (worth being the first and last bit of advice).
The fact that you’re reading this means that the research has already begun. But before you start Googling the nearest music store, I recommend giving your personal network a chance to find a piano for you. Make a few phone calls or post an inquiry on Facebook. Chances are you know someone who may have an instrument they’re willing–or even desperate–to part with. The number of pianos in need of a good home within your circle of friends may astonish you.
Also, don’t completely write off classified sites like Craigslist. “Buyer Beware” is one’s natural motto when dealing with Craig but, not unlike your neighborhood thrift store, there can be treasure buried amongst the garbage. I found a great deal on my keyboard with a combination of patience and luck (mostly luck). You never know what’ll happen if you’re in the right place at the right time.
Failing that, a retail store will probably have a higher price, but there’s definitely something to be said for a warranty and quality guarantee. Most places will include moving and the first tuning in the retail price (haggle for it if they don’t). Hey, speaking of haggling…
Let’s Talk Turkey
Price is always an important factor, although, like any big purchase, the more expensive but higher quality item will usually prove worth it in the long run. That said, keep in mind you can easily spend more on a quality upright piano than you would on a quality used car.
It’s tough to estimate, but if I were to ballpark it I’d say the average going rate for a brand new upright piano is roughly $1,000-$4,000. Many retailers will also have deals on refurbished used pianos which will run more like $700-$2,000.
If buying used from an independent seller, don’t forget to factor in the cost of moving and tuning if it isn’t already included. If the piano hasn’t been cared for, the maintenance on the piano could prove pricey. Avoid buying anything that hasn’t been tuned in more than three years.
A decent keyboard with weighted keys retails around $600-$1,200. There are still additional costs to anticipate, namely a sturdy stand, a damper pedal, and a stool or bench, which would add around $100 or so to the pricetag.
Think of it as any other investment. Determine what fits your situation best and what you’re willing to spend ahead of time. Just remember that, as always, you’ll get what you pay for.