Piano Keyboards Bernards Township


The acoustic piano, an entirely mechanical device engineered by Cristofori, has evolved for over a century to its current virtuoso design. The piano sets the standard for piano keyboard sound and feel for professionally trained pianists.  Whether the acoustic piano is better than a digital instrument is like comparing the difference between a harpsichord and a piano – the feel and performance of each is unique. The question is how best to utilize the unique qualities and values of a piano keyboard or digital instrument in training and learning.


Digital or Acoustic Keyboards

Both digital and acoustic piano keyboards have inherent differences based on their construction. Digital pianos are products of integrated circuits. Sound generation is entirely electronic.

The purchaser should consider these differences when deciding whether to opt for a digital piano:

  1. costs less than a new acoustic piano
  2. a good, used piano can be purchased for as much as one would pay for some digital pianos
  3. no tuning
  4. pitch doesn’t change with varying room humidity and temperature
  5. touch is lighter than pianos, but players develop “lazy” fingering and poor wrist, arm and hip motion
  6. availability of multiple instrument voices in one instrument
  7. direct composing on the computer from the keyboard
  8. more amenable to experimentation and creativity (mixing voices and sound effects)
  9. most owners of digital pianos use only a small fraction of their capabilities

Chief among the advantages of a piano are:

  1. a huge literature of music specifically written for the piano
  2. easier playing of certain passages (e.g. those which are both fast and soft)
  3. many people trained and training to play it
  4. a special sound and feel which at least some digital keyboard instruments cannot fully duplicate


Piano Keyboard Sound and Feel

With higher-end, more expensive digital pianos, we get arbitrarily close to the sound of the piano, depending upon the quality of the instrument.

The ability of digitals to duplicate the sound of a piano keyboard is adequate for the sound of pianos for beginning piano instruction. When comparing a good digital piano sound with that of a piano, it's very much like comparing a Yamaha piano to a Steinway - a matter of ear. However, ear training and sensitivity to sound and expression can only be trained on an acoustic piano.  For this reason, students must eventually buy a piano.

Pianists report that the touch and feel of a digital piano is very different from that of a piano, since the keys are shorter and the escapement mechanism governing the key action on pianos isn’t available on digitals. The touch response of the piano keyboard can be duplicated only through the more expensive digital models. These are not the ones that most beginning students will likely buy. So, if they are willing to spend that much, then the better choice is a used, acoustic piano for the same amount of money.

Because the piano's system for generating sound is entirely mechanical and depends on the player’s technique and ability to feel the music through the keys, it takes more finger control to play a piano than it does for a digital keyboard. Similarly, the sustaining pedal mechanisms of digital pianos are electronic, rather than mechanical. This can be a problem in teaching proper pedaling technique and skills for the piano. There are few digitals models that have pedals and they lack the same feel and resonance as true piano pedals.




Piano Repertoire


Those of us trained on the piano feel that many aspects of the piano repertoire simply cannot be played appropriately on a digital. No doubt, there are some parts of the repertoire, particularly Impressionist works with passages requiring both fast and light playing, that are written for and best rendered on the piano, at least when one compares trying to play them with digital keyboards.

In fact, control over sound produced on a piano keyboard can’t truly be achieved on a digital. One must have an acoustic piano to achieve the necessary control. In other words, if one wants to have control over sound one must have an acoustic piano. The advantage of a digital is for advanced pianists who compose for ensembles, quartets and full orchestras.





Learning the Piano Keyboard

I'm sure I'd choose the digital piano if my budget was $200 and I really wanted to start piano lessons.   However, if one is looking to spend more, a very fine, used piano may be purchased and it would make sense to invest the money in a piano for a few reasons:

  • digital technology changes rapidly.  Pianos maintain their value, while electronic technology depreciates in a short time.
  • A piano is a lifetime investment. 
  • At the thousands price level, composers benefit from the investment, but a new piano student will not benefit from the extra bells and whistles.
  • A used, lesser brand piano that may need some reconditioning and/or repair can be a better choice than a digital piano of the same price.

However, it's far better to start lessons, even on a digital keyboard, than not to have them take them at all for lack of a piano. Progressive virtuosity to play the piano will require, ultimately, an acoustic piano by the time the student reaches the intermediate level.



Piano Keyboard Lessons


While a good piano is probably preferable from the standpoints of learning both the sound and feel of playing the piano, a decent digital piano might be a good option for a beginning student whose ultimate level of interest and motivation is unknown. It's less expensive than buying an off-brand piano (though probably only about half the price).  Also, young children actually require a piano with keys that are very touch sensitive. With their small fingers, a digital keyboard is easier to play than acoustic keys.

Digitals provide a medium for the teacher to encourage practice and provide later opportunities for composing.

Whether a digital piano or keyboard is deemed suitable for lessons depends on interests and pocketbook. If the goal is the same as most piano students, to learn keyboard on both acoustic and digital piano, piano students will need both eventually. The price of an acoustic piano is due to labor and material costs while the price of lower-end digital pianos, like all technology, drops as new models make others obsolete. Most teachers of acoustic piano would say that a digital piano is acceptable for the first year or so of lessons.  It can be best altogether to have an acoustic piano from the beginning.

To talk about playing the piano keyboard with Barbara Ehrlich or Eric Bryant, please call or e-mail us!


Discover piano keyboard music. Contact us at 908-787-3475.

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