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Buying a digital piano

Digital Pianos are an interesting breed of pianos and can be a great alternative to an acoustic piano, but always remember that whatever digital piano you purchase, it will always be a compromise in comparison to an acoustic piano.

This is 99% true. While digital pianos often have the upper hand in terms of practicality (no tuning, lightweight, volume control etc) they do not posess the touch or tones that an acoustic piano provide. Even the top of the range digital pianos, like the Kawai CA95 or CS7, which are fantastic digital pianos - the best on the market, but are always a compromise to an acoustic piano.

Kawai CA95 Digital Piano SurreyThe only place where this statement is not true is when you are considering buying a cheap old piano, usually listed in places like your local paper or on eBay. These are usually pianos that people have offered to piano dealers who are not interested in buying their pianos and rather than having to pay a disposal charge, they offer them for very cheap - or even free online or in the local paper. You will normally see "free to a good home" or "no longer needed". These are pianos that should always be avoided.

This is where a digital piano far outweighs the quality of an acoustic piano. The older acoustic pianos you will find in the papers etc. will usually be very old, the keys will be chipped, the action is very 'loose' and the tone of the piano very 'ringy'. A piano like this is more likely to put any learner off than make them want to practice - this is the main downfall for parents when looking for a piano for their child who has just started. They don't want to spend a lot of money on a piano if their child isn't going to take to it, so they look in the local paper or on eBay and buy a piano for £200 thinking it is a safe bet, but really they aren't even giving their children any chance of progressing at all. A digital piano here would be a much better option.

Do not confuse the term 'Digital Piano' with 'Keyboard'. These are 2 completely different instruments and there are teachers and music books for each.

Keyboards are electronic pianos that are usually 61 or 76 notes that have no weighted keys and are used to play melodies whilst making chord patterns in the left hand to trigger all the built-in rhythms and accompaniments. 
Digital Pianos, are just like acoustic pianos - but digital! They have 88 notes (like an acoustic piano), with weighted-keys, and sound like an acoustic piano.

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How do digital pianos work?

Digital Pianos have 88 weighted keys, and when you press one it triggers a recording of that same note played at the same pressure on an acoustic piano. Each note will have a certain number of recordings of the same note played at different pressures. So when you play the note softly, it will trigger the softer recording of the acoustic piano, and vice versa.

Different makes and different models have different numbers of recordings per note. Some, like Kawai have 128 different recordings of each different note, giving a vast dynamic range much closer to an acoustic piano. Some makes will have less, and other manufacturers may have say 92 different recordings for each note, but they have only recorded 44 of the 88 notes and use computers to 'stretch' the recordings to make up the missing notes. This is a cheaper way of producing the recordings and is something to look out for when purchasing a digital piano.

What are the advantages of a digital piano?

There are many advantages of buying a digital piano.

• The first being that generally they are much cheaper than acoustic pianos allowing you to buy a quality instrument for less money.

• Digital Pianos never need to be tuned - as they are recordings of a real piano and play through a speaker, they never need to be tuned as there are no strings inside to loosen over time.

• A digital piano allows you to play with other voices, such as a harpsichord or strings.

• Digital pianos can be played with headphones and so can be placed in a room where someone else can be watching television for example, whilst you are practicing.

• They are much lighter than acoustic pianos and so can be moved around easily and even put upstairs without the hassle that moving an acoustic piano causes.

• Some digital pianos have the facility to record your performance and play it back. This allows you to play along with your recording and practice both hands independently.

• All digital piano also have MIDI connectivity allowing you to connect your piano to a computer to enhance your creativity. This is particularly useful for people studying music at school, college or university. You can connect the piano to score writing software such as Sibelius or Cubase, which allows you to print out the music of your compositions or layer up your recordings into songs.

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How much room do I need for a digital piano?

There is a common misconception that digital pianos are much smaller than acoustic pianos. Many times people go looking for a digital piano because they "are much small than acoustic pianos". This is not really the case. If you take the footprint of an acoustic piano vs the footprint of a digital piano, they are generally very similar. This is because digital pianos have the same number of keys as a real piano, so they take up almost the same amount of space. They may be less deep on some occasions, but generally they are only really shorter than acoustic pianos. 
 

Why such a difference in price in digital pianos?

As you will find out, there is a huge difference in pricing for digital pianos. They start around £500 and go up to above £4,000. The main differences you will notice as you are guided through the ranges is the quality of the speakers, and the feel of the piano. It is very much the same as an acoustic piano, where the more money you spend, the better the touch and tone.

What to look for when buying a digital piano?

There are many things to look out for when purchasing a digital piano, some have been outlined above but here is a quick guide to some of the main things to look out for:

TOUCH - How does it feel to play? Does it feel like an acoustic piano when you play it? Can you play loudly and softly easily or is it quick difficult to control? Does it feel as if it could be a hammer hitting a string?/p>

TONE - Play one note loudly and listen carefully. Does it sound like an acoustic piano? Does the sound 'decay' like a real piano? Does it sound natural or synthentic? Then do the same whilst playing a chord.

DYNAMIC RANGE - Play the piano at different velocities. Try playing very softly and very loudly. How does the piano respond? Does it distort? Can you play at the same level evenly?

DESIGN - Is it easy to navigate? Are the buttons clear, precise and self-explanatory? Try pressing a few buttons and see whether they do what you expect them to. You don't want to be trawling through an extensive manual every time you want to change a sound or change the speed of the metronome.

PEDALS - Does it come with a pedal or are they attached? Is it a sustain pedal? Does it have half-damping capability or is it just on/off? On an acoustic piano, if you half press the sustain pedal you get a half type of sustain - some digital pianos have this function, and can be quite useful.

LID / KEY COVER - Is it important to have a lid to cover the keys? This is purely an aesthetic choice as not having a cover will not affect the piano in any way.

OTHER FUNCTIONS - How many other facilities does the instrument have? Would you use them? How does the amount of 'bells & whistles' affect the price? Does it have a metronome, or recording facilities?

SPEAKERS & AMPLIFICATION - Will the speakers be loud enough for where the piano is going to go? Would you need the option to be able to plug it into an external amplifier or PA system?

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