First Time Piano Buyers Guide: Digital Vs Acoustic Pianos

Buying your first piano can be a little overwhelming! More often than not, the first question that every aspiring pianist (or parent) faces is: “Should I pick a digital or an acoustic for my first piano?”

Today we’ll be breaking down the real differences between the two, the pros, the cons and the top things to look out for to help give you a fully comprehensive guide to starting your musical journey. If you would like any further information on our full range of pianos, our expert team are here to help! you can book a demonstration or get in touch with us today!

A BIT OF BACKGROUND

Before looking at the current world of pianos, it’s a good idea to take a step back and see how far we have come. Long gone are the days of poorly constructed digital synthesisers with it’s clunky 1980s melodica sounds.

For a long time digital pianos held a stigma that they were no way close to playing a real piano, you’ll still come across this opinion every now and again within the musical world, but for the most part when you are first starting out, you’ll find it significantly harder to hear the differences between say a Yamaha B1 and a Yamaha YPD. Whilst each has their various nuances and hold a completely different playing experience to the seasoned player, the level of technological advancement that has gone into the digital world is truly astounding.

RolandCasio Kawai and Yamaha, (or The ‘big 4’ of the digital piano worlds) continue to invest countless amounts of time, effort and money into developing the digital sounds of pianos to be as closely matched to the real mechanics of an actual piano…but more on that later! 

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WHAT DO YOU WANT IT TO DO?

A great place to start when trying to pick your first piano is simply to ask the question, what do you want it to do?

It’s easy to say ‘I want to learn piano’, but what do you really mean by this? Do you want to play in a concert hall in front of the masses? Just learn some of your favourite songs for fun in your bedroom? Or even just use it to record some songs at home!


Whatever your musical journey looks like, the main things to really consider here is volume and size…Where are you going to store your new instrument? Do you need to move it often?

If you’re looking to store your piano in a tight space, a grand piano probably isn’t appropriate…But if you want something that can be easily transported for playing live gigs, then a digital portable piano could be perfect for you as they are sleek, compact and can be easily stored away. You can read our full comparison on 4 great starter portable pianos here.

Likewise, do the people you live with mind you playing loudly first thing in the morning? Or after they get in after a long day at work?


Acoustic pianos have no means of volume control. It’s a literal sound coming from a physical action of a hammer striking a string so unless you’re playing in the most delicate way possible, you can’t really hide that sound. This is one of the major advantages for many beginner pianists of digital pianos over the acoustic…they allow the user to play wearing headphones! 

Whilst the acoustic player will find themselves creeping across the keys and not achieving the desired result as they don’t want to wake up the rest of the street, the digital pianist can play to their heart’s content, any time of the day (or night). The exception to this would be the use of a silent acoustic piano, that blends cutting edge technology with the raw authenticisity of an acoustic to create an acoustic feel that still uses ‘true’ piano action whilst still being able to use headphones.

Digital does have another advantage here if you’d consider yourself a home recording artist –  Alot of digital pianos are designed for exactly this purpose and it is a lot easier to simply plug your digital piano into a computer and record directly than have to buy 10 different microphones to capture the acoustic piano’s sound. Sure it’s not impossible to record an acoustic instrument, but if you’re just starting out, it’s something to consider!

GETTING A FEEL FOR IT

When purchasing your first piano, it’s important that it feels comfortable to you when you use it. That’s why at Millers we offer every customer the opportunity to experience our showrooms and feel each instrument they are interested in.

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Ultimately it’s you who’s playing the thing, so it needs to feel right to you!

Whilst the acoustic piano uses a physical action to create its sound, digital pianos attempt to replicate the sound of a hammer striking a piano string at various speeds and strengths. With the level of technology in modern digital pianos, this is now a small difference, but if you find that traditional action far more comfortable, then an acoustic piano might be more suited for you. Brands such as Yamaha and Kawai for example aim to maintain traditional acoustic sound at the forefront of every piano they produce, whilst others such as Roland and Casio use cutting edge technology to replicate and enhance on traditional sounds.

In short, the better the piano, the more accurately it translates the player’s intent. On a really well-built piano, there are literally thousands of tiny nuances that the player is able to draw out of the instrument simply by how they’re touching the keys. Obviously a digital pianos find it a little harder to replicate this, but it’s certainly not impossible!

A FEW OTHER THINGS TO NOTE!

As your piano experience grows, you will find that you will need a sustain pedal pretty quickly. There’s simply no way around it! If you are playing ASRBM graded piano for example this comes in around grade 3. 


Whilst the acoustic will have this built in, digital pianos require add ons. Some digital pianos come with a pedal included, others do not.

In our personal opinion, don’t opt for a piano with less than 88 keys. This is the staple, but more often than not, we see a lot of people buying compact keyboards (which are entirely different from digital pianos) with perhaps 44 or 61 keys. It may sound more suitable for children, but trust us, it usually isn’t. Pretty soon you’ll see that those low and high keys pop up more often than you might think!

IN CONCLUSION

Ultimately, buying your first piano is an incredibly personal experience and it would be impossible to cover all needs and intents in one article. Unless you are going for concert hall melodies from day 1, most of the time, a digital piano of a decent quality will be more suited to most for the first few years of your musical journey.

Of course, if you are more akin to the feel of an acoustic, and have a space and sound setup that isn’t going to wake up the whole street, then that’s the right choice for you!

Times have changed and so have opinions when it comes to digital pianos. There’s (almost) nothing you can’t learn when getting started with piano that you can’t achieve on a digital piano over an acoustic. We’re no longer stuck in the embarrassing era of harsh digital tones that don’t blend and the digital soundscape is now far more immersive, creative and offers an entire world of prolific opportunity for your fingers.

Digital pianos or portable pianos are often smaller, more portable, less expensive and still offer an experience that you can truly lose yourself in. 

So hopefully that has offered some brief insight into the fantastic musical world of the piano, what you can expect and some of the things to look out for when first getting started. If you would like further help or more information, check out our other blog posts here. Likewise, if you would like expert in person advice, our showroom team would love to help you! Book your appointment today! 

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