As a piano teacher, it is very rare that I start working with a beginner who already owns a piano. Some arrive at their first lesson thinking that learning the piano simply involves turning up once a week. Others state that they are going to see how the lessons go, and then invest in an instrument once they are sure that it is something that they want to do. There are also those who are keen to buy an instrument to get them started, but understandably, don't have a clue what they need.
Let's take a look at what a beginner pianist will need as an absolute minimum to give them the best start on their piano playing journey, assuming they can't accommodate an acoustic piano.
WEIGHTED KEYS - WHAT ARE THEY?
Weighted keys are a feature that digital pianos (and some keyboards/portable stage pianos) include in their design to help mimic the action of an acoustic piano. You can see from the example above that by pressing a key on an acoustic grand piano, a series of mechanical parts are set into motion with the aim of throwing a hammer at the string(s). This creates the familiar sound of a piano and provides a pianist with the level of control that is required to produce an array of expressive possibilities.
You can read more about the importance of weighted keys here https://www.thepianovault.com/post/weighted-piano-keys-why-they-are-important-for-a-beginner in a separate blog post that I dedicated to the subject.
A FULL 88 KEYED INSTRUMENT
Many beginners often start their piano journey not only with an unweighted keyboard, but also one that only has a 61 key range. The standard number of keys on a piano is 88, which means that if you were to progress quickly, you will soon run out of keys in pieces that require the standard 88 key range.
Another problem that a 61 key (5 octave) keyboard presents is disorientation. When a pupil arrives for a lesson who has already acquired one of these instruments, they often find it difficult to position their hands on the full 88 keyed piano, sometimes even playing an octave too high or low. This is due to the centre point on a 61 keyed keyboard being slightly offset to that of an 88 keyed piano. Also, the missing keys on each end of their instrument becomes the norm to them, so when faced with a full size piano, the extra keys distort their spacial awareness.
To avoid this disorientation, as well as probably needing to upgrade from a 61 keyed keyboard relatively quickly, I point out to my beginner pupils that it would be a good idea to go for the full 88 keyed setup from the start. This way, they are minimising any disruption to their learning.
NO DISTRACTIONS / EXTRA BUTTONS ETC
Many keyboards come with an array of buttons positioned above the keys. These are often a huge distraction, particularly to a younger learner. I often hear from parents that their child seems more interested in what these buttons do, such as activating various rhythm sequences, accompaniments, and a myriad of alternative sounds to that of a standard piano setting. Who can blame them really, but, it is distracting them from actually working on the material that they have been given to prepare for their next piano lesson.
By choosing an instrument that keeps these buttons to a minimum, you will avoid the temptation of a beginner wanting to try out all these alternative features, as well as the practice sessions becoming unfocused, and unproductive.
On an acoustic piano, a key strike lasts much longer at the bass end of the instrument than it does at the treble. This is due to the strings being longer and thicker towards the left hand side, and gradually becoming thinner and shorter towards the right hand side.
On some keyboards, the piano sound after a key has been struck does not behave in a way that it would on an acoustic or quality digital piano. Often the sound will decay very quickly, which becomes a problem if the student needs to hold a key down for an extended time. If the sound decays before they have finished counting the length of a note, this will be extremely off-putting and counter productive.
When selecting an instrument, it is important that it responds in a way that is appropriate for what they are being asked to practise. If it doesn't, their listening and counting skills are being affected by an instrument that is not supporting them in terms of realistic sound duration.
WHAT WOULD TICK ALL THESE BOXES?
When beginner pupils start their lessons with me, and don't have the space or budget for an acoustic piano, I always go through the above points when pointing out what they should be looking for in an instrument that is easily movable, but ticks all the above boxes.
Many manufacturers offer a beginner 'entry range' of portable, weighted keyed instruments that provide a good basis for building a piano technique. One such instrument at a very affordable price is the Casio CDP-S100. See the short video below for an overview:
This instrument is ideal for all the reasons I have discussed above. A young pupil of mine who is still using a 61 keyed keyboard tried out this instrument and felt that it took him a step closer to the pianos that I have in my studio. Picture below...
SEE THE CDP-S100 IN ACTION
WHAT TO TAKE AWAY
There is more to it than meets the eye when selecting a piano for the first time. If you follow the above suggestions, you can't go far wrong. I would advise though that where possible, you try before you buy, unless you are taking advice from someone who's opinion you really trust.
A portable beginners piano such as the Casio CDP-S100 would be a good choice here, and, will not break the bank at approx £325. Just for the key action alone, this price is fantastic!
If however you would like something more substantial than a beginners piano, why not try this piano selector to help you find an instrument that is right for you:
Find out more about the Casio CDP-S100 here:
Listen to more of the Casio CDP-S100 in this specially selected playlist: