How to Choose Your First Piano or Keyboard

Choosing your first piano or keyboard can be confusing, overwhelming and downright exhausting, but it doesn’t have to be. Let me help you bring some clarity to the daunting task of choosing a good first instrument.

Choosing your first piano or keyboard can be confusing, overwhelming and downright exhausting, but it doesn’t have to be. Let me help you bring some clarity to the daunting task of choosing a good first instrument.

Before you begin searching, it is important to have a laser-clear focus on what you actually want. I know you want a keyboard or piano, but you really have to be more specific than that if you don’t want find yourself a month later, exchanging your purchase for something else or worse yet, leaving it lonely gathering dust (For more on choosing your instrument the take a look at – Five Things You Need to Know When Buying a Digital Piano or Keyboard).

  • Where are you planning to place it?
  • Are you going to be moving it around frequently?
  • Who will be using it?
  • What time of the day primarily will someone be using it?
  • What is your budget?

Will it be in a shared space or in a bedroom? Does it need to have a “wow” factor or simply be functional without concern for form?

If you are going to primarily use it with DVD video lessons, you will want to make sure that you choose an instrument that can be placed close to wherever you plan on viewing the DVD’s: (ie. the DVD player hooked to your TV, or your computer, laptop, etc.) If on the other hand you plan to use it with online video lessons, then you will want to make sure that you choose an instrument that can be placed somewhere with good internet access for your laptop, iPad, or whatever you will be gaining online access from. Are you or someone else in your family planning to take weekly piano lessons from a piano teacher? If so, let’s segue to the next topic to consider…

Are you ultimately hoping someday to play at church or somewhere with a group of friends or band? Do you move fairly regularly, or are you in a spot you’ll be staying for years? Weight and size are important aspects to consider depending on those answers.

Be sure that you have this conversation with everyone in your home that potentially is going to use it on a regular basis. Trust me, everyone will appreciate being able to offer their input.

If you or your budding pianist is typically planning on practicing late at night or early in the morning, it will be especially important to choose an instrument that offers the ability to use headphones.

Needless to say, this one is probably the first thing you thought about when deciding to look for a piano or keyboard. So, let’s dig into that more thoroughly considering price along with the other major factors that differentiate the things you will be looking into buying.

(Please know that table is not meant to be taken as “exact” but instead as a general guide to help you sort out the options.)

The minimum features that I recommend on a keyboard for anyone beginning to learn in the styles I teach are these 3 things:

Although having a full 88 note keyboard is preferred, any keyboard with at least 5 octaves will work to start. Also, the keys need to feel like a piano versus an organ when you play them. That is usually called “weighted” or “Hammer” action or something similar. Finally, make sure it has full size keys, as some of the really tiny ones you can find at big-box discount stores (as opposed to music stores) have more narrow keys than a real piano, which can be a real problem later on.

One thing you don’t need in my opinion, are all the bells and whistles … 95% of the time you will just be using the acoustic piano voice. So instead of 100s of different instruments sounds and built-in songs, blah, blah, blah, spend your money on getting a full sized 88 note keyboard with the best acoustic piano sound you can find.

If you are going to be considering a keyboard, plan ahead and know what you are going to physically put the keyboard on … Will you need to purchase a keyboard stand too? Some folks think they will be good simply plopping it on a desk (that’s fine if you happen to get lucky with the desk height being perfect) but more than likely you will want to be able to adjust the height. That’s where a keyboard stand comes in handy. One will probably be recommended for the model of keyboard you choose. That’s important as different stands are more appropriate for a certain sized keyboard and its weight. If your keyboard does not come with sustain pedal, you’ll want to make sure to buy one too as it will be a necessity once you get rolling.

This category can loosely be summed up as: the best of the electronic keyboard category (above), with often a better feeling keyboard, with built in legs (so it is the right height, and looks more like furniture) and a much better sound (speaker) system. In addition (and this is probably a bigger deal than you would imagine) like a smaller keyboard you can plug in headphones to play privately if need be. Same as above, if you are trying to save some money don’t worry so much about the bells and whistles. There will be enough features on any model to keep you entertained! Just make sure to consider space. Make sure that the model you choose fits in the space you have in mind. I personally feel you can get the most piano for your money in this category for the vast majority of students that we work with in our online lesson program.

If money is not a consideration, go for it! They are beautiful! It can obviously also serve as a beautiful focal point of a room. Do remember though that an acoustic piano will require continued maintenance in the form of regular (2x per year) tuning. Also, you need to consider where you plan to place it with regard to temperature changes, very high or low humidity, excessive sunlight, etc.

I’ll probably get a lot of heat for saying this, but in my opinion, a new upright piano is most likely not a logical choice in this day and age. I am of the belief that a digital piano is really a better bet if you are considering an upright piano. The technology has just gotten so good… A digital stays in tune, the sound qualities typically surpass those of your typical upright piano, and you can use headphones if need be. Beware of “free or “cheap” pianos which can actually be quite expensive if the condition of the instrument will require rebuilding in order to be a playable instrument. Remember that they won’t come with a warranty. Buyer beware!

I hope that helps clarify what you need to physically get started realizing your dream of playing favorite tunes on the piano.

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