Already have one? You don’t need to read this.
First, if you’re considering an acoustic (real) piano, check out Piano Buyer. A few tips for buying acoustic pianos:
- Acoustic pianos are like people – no two are alike (even of the same model).
- It’s usually better to buy from a piano store than a private party.
- If you’re unsure, ask a piano tuner/technician for an objective opinion before you buy. (You may need to pay them; it’s probably worth it.)
- Always negotiate! A piano is like a car – never pay sticker price.
Now let’s talk about digital pianos.
Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of digital pianos – instruments for home use and stage use. Most home pianos have a cabinet that looks like an acoustic piano:
Stage pianos are easier to transport, but require an external stand:
Most home pianos have built-in speakers. Many stage pianos don’t – you may need to use headphones or connect it to an external amplifier.
While nearly all home and stage pianos have excellent keyboard sounds, in a given price range, stage pianos usually have the highest-quality sounds to satisfy the professional musician.
If you know what kind of digital instrument you want (home or stage), what should you consider next? For learning purposes, the most important aspect of an instrument is its action – the mechanism that produces sound when you press a key. To learn good keyboard technique, you need a weighted action instrument (meaning the keys have resistance when pressed, like a real piano). All true digital pianos have weighted actions. Most keyboards with fewer than 88 keys don’t.
The next most important aspect of an instrument are its sounds. Many digital pianos only offer keyboard sounds (piano, electric piano, organ, harpsichord etc.). If your main goal is learning to play, you don’t need strings, brass, guitar etc. (You can always connect your piano to a computer and access more sounds with downloadable software.)
How many keys? A full complement of 88 is optimal, but 76 keys is fine for your first few years of playing.
Pedal? Get one, but you don’t need more than one. It will be your sustain pedal.
If you’re going to buy a digital stage piano you’ll need a keyboard stand. An adjustable stand is useful. It will make it easier to sit at an ideal height in relationship to the keys.
Rhythm patterns? Drum tracks are cool to have for playing popular music, though not essential. Even a built-in metronome isn’t that important, since you can download free metronome apps on your smartphone. You can get rhythm apps for your phone too.
A recorder or “sequencer” which lets you record yourself and listen back is useful but not absolutely essential.
You don’t need the other bells and whistles. You don’t need 900 sounds and a built-in professional recording studio to learn to play, understand and create keyboard music. In fact, for a beginner, simpler is better. You can buy additional keyboards and specialized software later, if you really need it!
And now <drumroll> my recommended digital pianos!
The top digital piano manufacturers (Yamaha, Kawai, Roland, Casio, Korg and Kurzweil) produce instruments that are reasonably similar in quality and features. You can’t go wrong with any of them, and if you already own a digital piano made by one of these companies, you’re set. That said, some digital pianos are (at least slightly) better than others, and in my opinion Kawai currently designs and manufactures the best digital pianos in the most affordable price ranges. Here are my current recommendations:
BEST DIGITAL PIANO UNDER $1,000: Kawai ES110 (includes speakers). You may be able to find a used ES100 (the older version) for less.
BEST DIGITAL PIANO BETWEEN $1,000 AND $2,000: Kawai ES8 (includes speakers). You may be able to find a used ES7 (the older version) for less.
Kawai MP7SE (requires headphones or an external amplifier). This is a professional stage piano. I own one and love it. You may be able to find a used MP7 (the older version) for less.
BEST DIGITAL PIANO BETWEEN $2,000 AND $3,000: Kawai MP11SE. This pricier cousin of the MP7SE has an action closer in feel to a good acoustic piano than any other digital instrument in the same price range.
For detailed reviews on these and other digital pianos, check out Piano Man Chuck’s YouTube channel.