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).

 

You can begin the process by answering a few questions:

  • 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?
 

 

Placing Your Keyboard or Piano

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?

(Think of all the time you would save!)
(Think of all the time you would save!)

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…

Will You Be Moving The Instrument Around Frequently?

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.

Who will be using it?

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.

What time of the day primarily will someone be using it?

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.

Your Piano/Keyboard Budget

belt_tightened

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.

Let’s take a look at the major variables involved to see how the pianos compare:

 Grand Piano       Upright Piano      Digital Piano    Electronic Keyboard 
Cost $6K – $150K$500 – $9K$500 – $6K$100 – $1K
Easy to movenonosomewhatyes
Required Space     (5′ – 8′ x 5′)5′ x 3′ – 4′ 4 1/2′ x 2′ – 3′      Sizes Vary
Headphonesnonoyesyes
Tuningyesyes nono
Electricitynonoyesyes


(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.)

Electronic Keyboards 

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

  1. At Least 5 Octaves (around 60 keys)
  2. “Weighted” or “Hammer” Action
  3. Standard Width Keys
 

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.

Digital Pianos

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 testpiaf.com online lesson program.

Acoustic Pianos

Grand Piano

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.

Upright Piano

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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37 Comments
  • Steve
    Posted at 12:59h, 07 December Reply

    Thank you thank you thank you
    Now. Please tell me I can do this at 60. Have time and motivation. Please help me get started. Steve

    • Scott Houston
      Posted at 13:04h, 09 December Reply

      Steve, you can do this at 60. There… 🙂 All kidding aside you can! Just take a look around here at the MANY comments from students and you can see for yourself how many others are having a ball playing using our instruction. I would suggest digging into Course 1 in the method here at pianoinaflash.com if you are a beginner.

    • Norm
      Posted at 19:02h, 09 December Reply

      Age 60 is not a barrier. I have been a mediocre classical and ragtime piano player since teenage hood. I have always had to use sheet music, didn’t know much music theory and had no idea as to how to improvise, and certainly couldn’t memorize music. At age 63 I decided I wanted to play boogie boogie but thought it was always beyond my meager skills since boogie boogie hits all of my weakest points. I fumbled about for a year then took 5 or 6 lessons, and now I know some music theory, found that improvisation is pretty easy, found it was easy to memorize my own music and I don’t have sheet music for my own stuff … at age 65. So I say – Go For It!!

    • Frank Royer
      Posted at 21:28h, 15 December Reply

      60! No problem. I started two years ago when I was 62. You can definitely do this.

    • Jane Terry
      Posted at 10:46h, 28 December Reply

      You can do this! I started learning last fall at age 58. My mind and fingers are slower than when I was younger, but I know that practice and enthusiasm will make up for any liabilities I may have. I love learning to play the piano!
      I went with a moderately-priced digital piano and am delighted with it. But there are so many options, it’s really overwhelming trying to choose one.

      • Scott Houston
        Posted at 09:14h, 29 December Reply

        Good for you Jane! Thanks for the words of encouragement …

    • Julie Perry
      Posted at 19:00h, 11 July Reply

      I am 69 (going on 70) and I am loving it! I can hardly wait to play each day! Never too old to learn something new!

      • Scott Houston
        Posted at 18:06h, 12 July Reply

        Yeah! Great (but not surprising…) news. 🙂

        So happy for you Julie.

  • john mcmahon
    Posted at 14:36h, 07 December Reply

    clavanova vs kawai ??

  • Paul Bruyea
    Posted at 21:21h, 07 December Reply

    Yes digitals getting better.Just purchased a CS11 Kawai digital.Has the same keys as the Shigeru Kawai and actually has a soundboard.Great sound ,great for practice and learning.A nice acoustic grand in the living room and life is good…..Paul Bruyea…..

  • Maureen K Scott
    Posted at 21:55h, 09 December Reply

    I love my Clavinova, I’ve had it since about 2000 and it is a joy to play on and with. I had a 3 year old “playing” it over Thanksgiving and it was great!

  • Don Wenner
    Posted at 13:04h, 12 December Reply

    Great photo of the piano in the bathroom. Fortunately I have more than one keyboard and a place to set the up. dcwqne.

  • steve
    Posted at 08:29h, 25 December Reply

    well scott and friends ,,its Christmas morn and I received a Yamaha ypg 235 76 keys
    not offended to bring it back..didn;t tell my wife about your responses…??? do I keep it or return unopended…willing to do whatever…she paid 200 with a stand…also scott need info on courses so I can start

    • Scott Houston
      Posted at 11:45h, 26 December Reply

      That will work fine… but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if you won’t want something a step or two up pretty quickly. The biggest problem is that the keys on that feel like an organ as opposed to like a real piano. They call what you should be looking for a few different things like “weighted” or “hammer-action” or something similar.

      I think you’ll be a lot happier with something a little more…

    • Scott Houston
      Posted at 11:47h, 26 December Reply

      and all the info you need on the courses can be found right here at http://www.pianoinaflash.com. Just have a look around and you should be able to find everything you need. If you still have some questions, feel free to let us know and we’ll do our best to answer them.

  • Nan
    Posted at 18:54h, 14 April Reply

    Scott, It would be great if you could leave some of your recommendations in each category. And maybe 3 in each ranging from lowest cost to highest. Thanks a bunch

    • Scott Houston
      Posted at 11:20h, 14 June Reply

      Point well taken Nan. Due to various endorsement and sponsorship relationships I have been/currently are in, recommending a specific model or brand is problematic for me. Sorry… Frankly the quality of most instruments is so high these days if you stick with any brand sold by a reputable dealer you should be fine.

  • Ledorna C Israel
    Posted at 19:25h, 18 May Reply

    I signed up for the class to check what you have to offer.
    I like it but I’ll be relocating in a couple of months and will not be ready to start lessons until around August/September. I need to get settled to my new place and shop for a keyboard. Just wondering if your lessons are ongoing? I am retired, have been for a few years and taking piano lesson is on the “bucket list” …..so hopefully “your way” will let me realize that wish.
    Can you just mention a few good brand of keyboards ?
    Thank you, Ledorn

    • Scott Houston
      Posted at 11:17h, 14 June Reply

      I’ll still be hear teaching for sure… I’m not going anywhere 🙂 There are many very good instrument manufacturers so any from a reputable dealer will be fine. Personally I have always felt you can’t go wrong with Roland.

  • Amber
    Posted at 13:54h, 27 August Reply

    I enjoyed this article and want to encourage everyone to learn to play. The questions posed are perfect for choosing just the right fit of keyboard. Thank you!

  • Jay Cadmus
    Posted at 11:43h, 02 October Reply

    Thank you for making the clear comparison of available keyboard types. I have long thought my best choice should attain to be a upright. But, reading your article has clarified my need to start looking in the digital arena. Your key was in the “hammer” feel. It was something to which I could equate. I am in plans of a relocation. The easy mobility of a digital piano will allow me to start my training sooner. Again, thank you.

    • Scott Houston
      Posted at 12:16h, 05 October Reply

      You’re welcome Jay! Glad it helped, and I hope your move goes well. Make sure to leave a space for your new piano 🙂

  • Simon Ross
    Posted at 23:47h, 18 October Reply

    This article is helpful and informative to those who want to learn piano. Tips are amazing, thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

  • Kyara
    Posted at 23:22h, 03 January Reply

    It is encouraging to hear that someone close to 70 enjoys the program! My mother-in-law is approaching 80 and still saying she’d like to learn how to play the piano. I thought one-on-one lessons would be better, but maybe this kind of program works, too. Thank you.

  • Dave Schafer
    Posted at 02:15h, 13 February Reply

    You should consider recommending the better quality arranger keyboards. These are tailored to the “Piano In A Flash” method. Once you have the method, you can have fun with voice and style settings. Your comment about a good piano sound is an absolute must! My next keyboard will be a Yamaha Genos which I was fortunate to test at NAMM, recently.

    I am self taught in the style you teach over 40 years ago, after having some boring classical piano lessons. I recommend your program to friends and acquaintances who want to learn. Thanks for making music fun for everyone!

  • Glenda Jones
    Posted at 19:19h, 19 May Reply

    This was so very helpful. I am looking at a Williams Rhapsody 2 Digital Piano. It has an 88 keyboard, 2 pedals, had metronome and split buttons. Is this a decent choice??

    • Ryan Eldridge
      Posted at 15:39h, 20 May Reply

      Glenda – that is a great choice!

      Ryan
      Support
      Piano In A Flash

  • Benoit Music
    Posted at 11:39h, 29 June Reply

    My Grandma was 62 when she started playing. She was no master but within a couple of years she was happily teaching the grand kids the basics. Kinda of felt old school, like how families would gather around the piano before radio and tv took over.

  • Venus Birmingham
    Posted at 13:05h, 07 August Reply

    Thanks for the great advice. This helps with my piano choice.

  • Connie Nixon
    Posted at 17:13h, 07 August Reply

    Wow!!! Big help. Thank you so much. I took lessons for a year in college and have not played since. Took Scott’s webinar and started playing around on my granddaughters garage sale keyboard ‍♀️ Could not believe how possible it all is!!! I’m 75 and I’m doing it!!! Ordering my Roland NOW!!!

  • Elaine E
    Posted at 04:32h, 10 December Reply

    What about choosing the right piano for a child? Does it depend on age, what are the size recommendations based on their age?

    • Ryan Eldridge
      Posted at 08:19h, 10 December Reply

      There will be no difference age-wise.

      Ryan
      Support
      Piano In A Flash

  • Fan Armstrong
    Posted at 00:35h, 04 November Reply

    Thanks for all the advice you’ve given ! I also signed up your course and bought all the books. I’m really enjoying to play piano !
    Recently, I’ve moved into a new home which has an extra room just for “Baby Grand” that I’m eager to purchase but I also have two cats and two dogs, lol , now, I don’t know whether I should buy that Baby Grand or not ?

    If I do, any suggestions ?

  • Scott Houston
    Posted at 10:54h, 04 November Reply

    If you have room, it is not in direct sunlight, and you are willing to get it tuned 2x per year, I think it is a great idea. You’ll love it!

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