So, you’ve decided to buy a piano! It is a beautiful, rich sounding instrument that can be used for any music genre. Maybe you just started taking lessons. Maybe you’re getting back into music after being away from it for too long. Maybe you’ve been taking lessons for quite some time and now want your own instrument to get some practice in.
In any case, your decision will come down to a choice between acoustic and digital. Both types of pianos have their pros and cons. You just have to weigh them to see which choice would be best for you.
Acoustic piano: Mechanism and types
An acoustic piano is, simply put, just an old-fashioned piano like the kind made in Italy by Bartolomeo Cristofori all the way back in 1700. It’s a wooden exterior with an interior made up of steel strings and velvet tipped hammers. When one of the ivories (actually more likely to be wood or white plastic on newer models) is pressed, the corresponding hammer comes down on the string just underneath it, causing vibration, causing the dulcet notes that can only be produced by a piano.
The two kinds of acoustic piano are the grand piano and the upright. The grand piano is associated with concert halls and classy ballrooms. The upright is associated with schools and churches. This should give you an idea how much space is needed for these acoustic piano types. Also, the grand piano keys set themselves back into place due to simple gravity while the upright depends on a spring mechanism, which is subject to wear and tear.
Why consider an acoustic piano?
Now, what are some good reasons for investing in an acoustic piano? For one, it’s just that, an investment! If an acoustic piano is well tended to, its resale value will go up considerably.
Digital piano: Mechanism and types
A digital piano is a more modern instrument. As the name suggests, the sound is digital, computer processed. Touching a key on a digital piano causes the electronic speakers to play a high-quality recording of that note. Like with the acoustic piano, the digital comes in both upright and grand designs plus a portable type made of lightweight plastic with a detachable stand.
The grand variety has superior key movements and a higher quality sound system but is both expensive and rare. The digital upright is similar to the acoustic counterpart, but lighter. The portable piano is a creature all to its own.
Why consider a digital piano?
Acoustic vs digital piano—which is better?
Only you know that! Classic music aficionados may insist on the full sound of an acoustic like Beethoven would've used, but digital have their perks.
If you have a lot of room and aren't worried about the noise disturbing others, an acoustic may be the way to go. The acoustic's sound can be described as authentic, warm and resonant where the digital piano only produces a recording of such sounds. A digital file simply doesn't allow much for nuance. However, a high end digital piano may have a superior sound to a low end acoustic.
Here is a great video comparison of sounds between digital and acoustic pianos.
Versatility - utility and portability
A digital piano can be adjusted to sound like other instruments, giving you an entire ensemble in one instrument. If you plan to compose your own songs, the digital computer can interface with your computer to ease recording and note arrangement. A volume knob and headphone output prevents you from disturbing others. A great advantage of the digital piano is portability. This is a light instrument that can be handled by one person.
The touch sensitive spring mechanism of an acoustic helps the player control individual tones and expressions. While some top-of-the-line digital brands have weighted keys that mimic an acoustic piano's touch sensitivity, many don't. Same with pedals; some have them, some don’t. It may be a detachable option on some types. The expression of your music may be affected by this limitation.
How would your personal preferences affect your decision?
For classical pieces, the acoustic is better. If you prefer pop, rock or funk, a digital piano is the better option.
Level of proficiency
For a beginner, especially a self taught one, the digital is best. The still developing student can take advantage of learning software and apps.
Practice hours and location
If you can only practice in a time and place that may disturb others, a digital piano is a considerate choice. The sound is adjustable and a headphone jack means the player might be the only one to hear the notes.
An acoustic needs a yearly tuning and a low humidity, climate controlled environment. Ideally, this means humidity between 45% and 70% and a constant room temperature of approximately 68 degrees Fahrenheit or 20 degrees Celsius.
If you plan to use pedals in your music, the acoustic comes with a soft pedal, a sustain pedal and a sostenuto pedal. Most digitals only come with the sustain (often detachable) but purchasing add-ons is an option.
While an acoustic is more expensive, it has a better resale value. With the rapid changes made daily in the technological market, a digital keyboard may be obsolete in a few years and be difficult if not impossible to resell.
What to look for in a digital
Unless you never intend to move beyond Grade 6 RCM, get something with all 88 keys. If you want touch sensitivity comparable to an acoustic, look for weighted keys. You will want 64 note polyphony or better to ensure an instrument that can handle more notes at the same time. If you plan on playing Grade 3 RCM you will want an ability to connect to a damper pedal.
What to look for in an acoustic
You need to be meticulous in purchasing an acoustic piano as each one is handmade, causing variation in individual instruments. You may get a good bargain on a used piano, presuming it's been well kept. Don't let looks fool you. A piano with a chipped finish might still sound sweet and a polished exterior may hide flaws in the mechanism. Test drive before you buy.
Avoid liability by asking the salesperson for a demonstration. If you do purchase one, record that serial number.
With the above information in mind, it is hoped that you find the perfect instrument to aid you in your continued musical studies. The talent of music is a precious one that must be honed to perfection. Your needs as a music student are individual and so you must keep them in mind when seeking out the piano that suits you best.
Remember that no matter which type of piano you choose to perform on, the truest quality of the music relies on the musician.