When it comes to buying a piano most people assume an acoustic is a must – but this isn’t the case anymore. Digital pianos offer much more for your money, and don’t require the front of your house to be removed to get it in along with 4 burly delivery men!
Nowadays, digital pianos record and sample their sound straight from a top of the range grand piano which means you don’t actually have to spend £100,000 on the real thing to get an amazing sound.
You may even be a parent looking to buy your child their first piano, but are unsure whether or not they are going to enjoy it – which is why a digital piano is the perfect solution.
However, it’s important to remember that although technology has advanced dramatically in recent years, you still need to ensure you buy the right digital piano for you and stay clear of any cheap imitations.
Here’s what to look for when buying a digital piano.
How many keys should it have?
The standard number of keys on a piano is 88 – so this is what you’re looking for. Don’t be fooled into buying anything under this number of keys, even if the man in the shop tells you it’s fine.
There are some really good digital pianos out there that have only 61 keys and even some that are quite close with 76. But not of these are worth it in the long run.
If you are an experienced player then you probably won’t even look at anything under 88 keys. However, if you are a beginner or are looking to buy a digital piano for a friend or your child, then it’s important to remember that although less than 88 keys may be enough for learning initially, it won’t keep you going for long.
Once you come across any pieces which require you to go higher or lower down the keys than what you have, you’ll instantly regret it. You’ll also need to buy another piano as well!
Does it have in built speakers?
Not all digital pianos come with their own speakers and have to be plugged into an amplifier to make a sound. This might seem a little strange, but it’s quite common and typically something you’ll come across when looking at stage pianos. Don’t make the mistake I made many years ago and check with the seller first!
Stage pianos need to be as light as possible so they can be easily transported around to gigs. So often they don’t come with speakers to save on the weight. This is fine for someone who travels around and performs, as they are fully aware of what they are buying and what they don’t need. However, if you want to avoid using headphones at home and would like the sound to come straight from inbuilt speakers, make sure you take note of what you’re buying.
Of course, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy a stage piano if there aren’t any speakers. If you are planning to use headphones all the time anyway, then it’s no problem.
How many sounds and features do I need?
A common misconception when it comes to buying a digital piano is that the more sounds and features it has, the better. But this all depends on what you want the piano for, and what you are looking to learn.
If you are buying a digital piano for yourself or someone who is looking to learn piano and not keyboard, then the number of sounds and features will probably not be important.
Keyboards for example are specifically designed for someone who wants to have fun with hundreds of sounds and rhythms, and enable the player to create an actual live band sound. However, a pianist is just looking for a great piano sound along with a fantastic realistic piano touch and feel.
If you need a digital piano to actually learn piano, then the most important thing to look for is how the piano sounds and how good the keys feel when playing. Anything else it offers is a bonus.
There is however some features which I find to be extremely important. I love to record for example, so I always buy a digital piano which has a record function – although this is pretty standard anyway nowadays.
Digital pianos typically come with other sounds anyway, like organ, strings, electric piano etc. So you will have more than enough to play around with if you want to see what it’s like.
What is polyphony?
When shopping around for a digital piano you will most likely come across the term ‘polyphony’ and be wondering what it means. The shop assistant might tell you how amazing a piano is because it has a really high polyphony like 256 – but don’t be fooled into thinking that this makes a huge difference.
So what does it mean? Basically, if a digital piano comes with 64 note polyphony, it means that the speakers can only play a total of 64 notes at any one time. So you might be thinking surely that isn’t possible – and you’d probably be right.
64 note polyphony should be more than enough, and it would take an extremely difficult piece and talented pianist to push it beyond that. You can of course hold down the sustain pedal and test out that theory, but I can assure you it will not be easy.
However you don’t want to go below this, and it’s wise to stay clear of anything else like 32 note polyphony. Most digital pianos will come with at least 64 anyway, so you should be fine. But at least you won’t be fooled into buying something that has much more and thinking it must be amazing cause of how high the polyphony is!
If you are an experienced player who has any doubts about playing and sustaining over 64, then go for the standard 128 note polyphony which is quite common in the newer models.
Touch sensitive or touch response
I’d be very surprised if a digital piano didn’t come with this, but it is possible on some of the older and cheaper models.
So what is it?
If a digital piano has touch sensitivity on the keys, it basically means that they will play louder or softer depending on how hard you hit the keys. This is of course exactly what you need as you are trying to replicate the feel and sound of a real acoustic piano.
If you are looking to buy an older second hand model, it may be possible to find one that doesn’t have touch response. You need to stay clear of these models as it won’t allow you to learn properly and build up the tone and control required to play a piano to a good standard.
If you buy online it’s important to remember to check the specs as it will state this. Buying from a shop will of course allow you to test out this theory, but take along an experienced player if you are unsure.
Fully weighted keys
Buying a digital piano with fully weighted keys is a must, and you should easily be able to check this in the specs when buying online. Again, you are looking to buy a digital piano that imitates the real thing, so having fully weighted keys is the way to go.
You may also come across the word ‘Graded Hammer’ and wonder what it means. Yamaha and other models over the years have continued to push more and more realism into the weighting of the keys to emulate a real acoustic grand piano, so buying a piano with any kind of additional hammer effect is fantastic.
Gone are the days when you have to settle for just ‘weighted keys’ with your digital piano, and you can now find some models that not only sound like a real grand piano, but also play like one!