How to Choose a Digital Piano: The Essential Guide

In the realm of musical instruments, digital pianos have become increasingly popular musical instruments for both beginners and seasoned musicians. However, choosing the best digital piano to meet your goal among many options can be overwhelming. Before you start shopping for one, it is best to understand what digital pianos offer.

The versatility, portability, and advanced features make digital pianos an excellent choice for those seeking the authentic feel of a traditional piano with modern technological enhancements.

Within this guide, we will encompass all the essential information you need to be aware of before purchasing a digital piano.

What is a Digital Piano?

A digital piano is a modern electronic musical instrument designed to replicate the sound and feel of an acoustic piano. It utilizes digital technology to produce sound, rather than the traditional mechanical components found in acoustic pianos.

Digital pianos aim to provide a realistic piano-playing experience while offering additional features and benefits.

Here is a detailed post about the types of digital pianos.

Acoustic Piano vs. Digital Piano

While acoustic pianos offer a timeless, authentic playing experience, digital pianos provide versatility, convenience, and digital features. Many musicians find that the decision between the two depends on their specific needs and the balance between traditional and contemporary elements in their musical journey.

The table below is a brief comparison of acoustic piano vs. digital piano.

Features Digital Pianos Acoustic Pianos
Piano Sound Reproduce piano sounds through sampled recordings of acoustic pianos. Produce the sound of an acoustic one through hammers striking strings.
Voices and Sound Offer a variety of instrument voices beyond traditional piano sounds, including electric piano, strings, etc. Present one piano voice with a rich, resonant tone.
Key Action Provide weighted and touch-sensitive keys to simulate the feel of acoustic pianos, with options for different levels of touch sensitivity. Have a touch-sensitive keyboard with weighted keys.
Maintenance It needs minimum maintenance, and no tuning is required. Require regular tuning and maintenance due to sensitivity to changes in temperature and humidity.
Moveability Compact and portable: easy to move around within a location or transport to various performance venues. Generally, it is more substantial and often requires professional piano movers.
Onboard Digital Functions Come with features such as built-in metronomes, recording options, and connectivity to computers and external devices. None.

For more information, check out our article about Digital Piano vs. Acoustic Piano.

Is It OK to Learn Piano on a Digital Piano?

The short answer is YES.

Learning to play on a digital piano is not only acceptable but also has several advantages, especially for beginners.

The most important is to have a digital piano with weighted keys, especially for beginners. You will not learn proper piano techniques using a keyboard with spring-loaded keys.

In addition, you’ll want to have a digital piano with decent piano sounds because you will use the real piano sound most of the time, even though your digital piano may have tons of other voices.

Moreover, some digital pianos come with more than one piano voice. Different piano sounds can enrich your practice experiences.

For instance, the Yamaha P515 features ten different piano sounds, including two world-class concert grand piano sounds: the renowned Yamaha CFX flagship concert grand piano and the celebrated Bösendorfer Imperial grand piano. 

Therefore, for beginners and those seeking a versatile, convenient, and cost-effective option, learning on a digital piano is absolutely acceptable.

Benefits of Owning a Digital Piano

Choosing to own a digital piano can bring numerous benefits, making it an attractive option for musicians of all skill levels. Here are some key advantages of owning a digital piano:

Cost-Effective

Digital pianos are generally more affordable than high-quality acoustic pianos. Therefore, they are an excellent option for budget-conscious musicians.

The low-cost electronic pianos offer beginners an opportunity to test the water without breaking their wallets.

Space and Portability

portable digital pianos

If you have limited space for a piano or need to take your instrument for gigs, digital pianos will be ideal. They are often more compact and lighter than their acoustic counterparts.

The portable digital pianos come with their own advantages. You can put them on piano stands or on any tabletop. Some models are very light-weighted, only about 25 ~ 26 lbs, such as Yamana P125a and Casio PX-S3100.

Read more: Top 5 Benefits of Portable Digital Pianos.

Console-style digital pianos with full-size keyboards are usually smaller than upright acoustic pianos. Hence, they are a good choice for small homes and apartments. For more information, check out pianos for small spaces.

Piano Sounds

Digital pianos offer a wide range of instrument sounds beyond the traditional piano, including electric piano, organ, strings, and more. This versatility also allows musicians to explore various musical genres.

Many digital pianos equip hundreds of accompaniments, including drum pads. Hence, you have the capability to effortlessly form a small music ensemble right at your fingertips, quite literally.

Built-in Learning Tools

Many models come with built-in features designed to assist beginners in their learning journey. These may include –

  • metronomes
  • lesson functions
  • interactive tutorials
  • recorders
  • connectivities to laptops, pads, and smartphones

Recording Capabilities

The recording features enable you to capture and analyze your performances. Therefore, this can be a valuable tool for self-assessment and improvement.

Interactive Learning Functions

online piano lessons

Digital pianos make it easy to connect to your smart devices.

Through these devices, you can leverage the piano learning programs. Some of these programs share real-time feedback. It means the program detects the note you played and shows you immediately if it is correct. For example, Flowkey offers interactive feedback.

Silent Practice with Headphones

Nowadays, almost all digital pianos come with a headphone jack, allowing for silent practice. This feature is especially useful for late-night or shared living situations.

This is a feature not easily achievable with acoustic pianos.

Adjustable Settings

Digital pianos allow users to adjust touch sensitivity, volume, and tone settings. This customization ensures a personalized playing experience based on individual preferences.

More advanced settings, such as reverb and ambiance, are also available in many digital piano models.

Low Maintenance

Digital pianos require minimal maintenance compared to acoustic pianos. There’s no need for tuning; they are less susceptible to environmental factors like temperature and humidity changes.

Digital Piano Benefit Summary

While digital pianos may not replicate every aspect of the traditional acoustic piano experience, their affordability, portability, versatility, and modern features make them a practical and appealing choice for many musicians.

Essential Features of Digital Pianos

While the weighted keys, touch sensitivity, and sound quality are a few critical features of a digital piano, many digital functions are essential.

Even though the digital features you need can vary depending on your skill level, preferences, and intended use, here, we recommend some key features to consider when choosing a digital piano.

Number of Keys

Consider the number of keys based on your playing preferences. Standard pianos have 88 keys, but some digital pianos have fewer for increased portability.

For beginners, using a piano with full 88 keys is ideal. We recommend using at least a 61-key digital piano with touch sensitivity. Moreover, please remember that you must upgrade your piano when you play more complex pieces that require more than five octaves. A full-size keyboard offers seven octaves plus three keys.

Polyphony

Digital piano specifications often list the maximum polyphony notes.

Polyphony refers to the number of individual tones a digital piano can produce simultaneously. A higher polyphony count ensures that intricate pieces with sustained notes and pedal use are accurately reproduced.

For beginners, a polyphony of at least 64 notes is recommended. If you are an intermediate or advanced player, you may want to get 128 to 192 notes of polyphony.

Nowadays, many digital piano models have 256 maximum polyphony notes. For instance, the Roland FP-90X has 256-note polyphony and unlimited polyphony for its piano sounds.

User Interface

digital piano user interface

A digital piano’s user interface (UI) is crucial because it directly impacts your interaction with the instrument.

What to look for? When choosing a digital piano, pay attention to the layout, responsiveness, and features of the user interface to ensure that it aligns with your preferences and playing style.

Ease of Navigation

A user-friendly interface ensures you can easily access and navigate various functions and settings. Look for intuitive controls and a well-organized layout.

An intuitive layout simplifies selecting sounds, adjusting settings, and accessing additional features.

Display Screen

A clear and informative display screen can make understanding and adjusting settings easier. A backlit display is especially useful in low-light environments.

Digital pianos with touchscreen displays can offer a more interactive and modern user experience. Touchscreens can simplify navigation and make exploring and controlling various functions easier.

Button Placement and Size

Buttons and controls should be logically placed and appropriately sized for easy access. This is particularly important during live performances when quick adjustments may be necessary.

A straightforward control system reduces the learning curve for users.

A front-located headphone jack is always a plus.

In a Nutshell

A well-designed user interface on a digital piano enhances the overall user experience, making it more enjoyable and efficient to use.

Recording Capability

Digital pianos often come equipped with various recording capabilities to enhance musicians’ practice, performance, and composition experiences. Here are various types of recording features in digital pianos.

Internal Recorder

Many digital pianos have an internal recorder that lets you record and play back your performances directly on the instrument. This tool is valuable for self-assessment, practice analysis, and tracking progress.

Some advanced digital pianos offer multi-track recording capabilities. They allow you to record different parts of a composition separately. This is particularly useful for layering multiple instrument sounds or creating complex arrangements. For example, the Casio PX-870 has two recording tracks.

Check the storage capacity of built-in memory. Sufficient storage capacity is important, especially for longer recordings or multiple takes.

MIDI Recording

The MIDI capability of a digital piano allows you to record your performances in MIDI format. MIDI recordings capture not only the notes played but also the nuances of your playing, such as velocity and pedal information.

For further customization, MIDI files can be edited and manipulated in a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation).

External Recording Storage

Digital pianos with USB or Bluetooth connectivity can often serve as an audio/MIDI interface. Therefore, you can transfer audio and MIDI files between your piano and other devices.

Moreover, many models support external storage options, such as USB drives, for saving and retrieving recorded data.

Recording Formats

Check the supported recording formats. Common formats include WAV and MP3 for audio recordings and MIDI for MIDI recordings. Make sure the format is compatible with your intended use or sharing platform.

Understanding and utilizing these recording capabilities can greatly enhance your musical experience. Whether you’re a student practicing, a performer creating backing tracks, or a composer bringing your musical ideas to life, this feature is useful.

Onboard Metronome

playing piano with a metronome

An onboard metronome is a fundamental feature of digital pianos that promotes rhythmic accuracy, precision in playing, and overall musical proficiency. It is an indispensable practice companion for musicians across various genres and skill levels.

We have a dedicated article about how to use a metronome.

For music students, the metronome is an excellent educational tool. It instills discipline in practice routines and helps students develop a solid foundation in rhythm, a fundamental aspect of music education.

When practicing alone, the metronome acts as a reliable practice partner. It helps musicians focus on specific passages, identify weaknesses, and gradually improve their overall playing.

Modes

Digital pianos often feature various modes that enhance the playing experience and expand the instrument’s versatility. Here’s a brief description of three common modes found in digital pianos

Layering (Dual)

In Layering Mode, also known as dual mode, you can play two different sounds simultaneously, combining them into a single, layered sound.

For example, you might layer a grand piano sound with strings, creating a rich, textured sonic experience. This mode is excellent for adding depth and complexity to your playing.

Additionally, some piano makers go further to allow adjusting the volume of each tone independently. An example is the Roland FP-90X.

Split

Split Mode divides the keyboard into two sections, each assigned to a different instrument sound.

This is particularly useful for creating a dual-voice setup, where one hand plays one instrument, and the other hand plays a different instrument.

For instance, you could have a bass sound in the lower range and a piano sound in the upper range. Split Mode is beneficial for solo performers and those exploring more complex arrangements.

Duet (Twin Piano)

Duet Mode, often called Twin Piano, is designed to facilitate side-by-side piano practice. This mode splits the keyboard into two identical sections with the same pitch range.

This allows a teacher and student (or two players) to sit at the piano and play together. Each side is an independent piano, making it an excellent feature for music education and collaborative learning.

To Sum Up

These modes contribute to the versatility of digital pianos, catering to different playing styles, musical genres, and learning scenarios.

Read our dedicated article about digital piano modes.

Connectivity

digital piano connectivity

Digital pianos come equipped with various connectivity options, enhancing their functionality and versatility. Understanding these options can help you to choose a piano that meets your musical objectives. Here’s a brief description of common connectivity features found in digital pianos.

USB Type-A

It is typically associated with the USB-to-Device functionality on digital pianos.

A digital piano with a USB Type-A port is often used as a “USB-to-Device” port. This means you can connect external USB devices to the digital piano, such as USB flash drives or external hard drives.

The USB Type-A port allows you to transfer data, save and load presets, and sometimes even record and playback audio directly to and from the connected USB device. It provides a convenient way to expand the storage capacity of the digital piano and facilitates easy data exchange.

USB Type-B

USB-to-Host is another name for USB Type B on digital pianos. A digital piano with a USB Type B port is designed to connect the piano to a host device, such as a computer or tablet.

This connection allows the digital piano to function as a MIDI controller, enabling communication with music software on the host device. It’s a common feature for recording, playing virtual instruments, or using educational software.

The USB-to-Host connection simplifies the setup and eliminates the need for dedicated MIDI cables, making it a convenient option for integrating the digital piano with a computer or other MIDI-compatible devices.

Bluetooth MIDI

Bluetooth MIDI connectivity enables wireless communication between the digital piano and MIDI-compatible devices, such as computers, tablets, or smartphones. This can simplify the setup and eliminate the need for physical MIDI cables.

Bluetooth Audio

Bluetooth audio connectivity allows you to wirelessly stream audio from external devices, such as smartphones or tablets, to the digital piano’s built-in speakers. This feature is handy for playing along with backing tracks or enjoying music.

You may also interested in more detailed information about Bluetooth Audio vs. MIDI.

Line Out

The line-out connection lets you connect the digital piano to external audio equipment, such as amplifiers or audio interfaces. This is useful for larger performances or recording purposes, providing a direct audio output.

Microphone Input

Some digital pianos feature a microphone input, allowing you to connect a microphone directly to the instrument. This is beneficial for vocal accompaniment or for capturing vocal and piano performances simultaneously.

Headphone Jack

The headphone jack enables private practice by allowing you to connect headphones to the digital piano. This is especially useful for late-night or quiet practice sessions.

Pedal Sockets

The piano pedal is a fundamental accessory for pianists, providing expressive control over sustain.

Many digital pianos have two pedal sockets, one for a damper pedal and one for a three-pedal unit.

You may like to read more about piano pedals.

7 Tips on Choosing a Digital Piano

While it is helpful to understand digital pianos and their benefits, there is no need to be overwhelmed. This guide aims to assist you in making an informed decision when choosing a digital piano.

Here, we give you practical tips for choosing a piano that meets your musical goals and lifestyle.

Tip 1: Consider Your Skill Level

Before diving into the world of digital pianos or digital grand pianos, assess your skill level.

Beginners may benefit from models with built-in learning tools and simple features, while advanced players might prioritize realistic key action and a wide range of realistic sound options.

Choosing a digital piano for the proper skill level is favorable.

Tip 2: Examine Size and Portability

Check the space available in your home or studio. You may need a smaller piano for a limited-space situation. We have a special post: Pianos for Small Spaces.

Another vital factor to consider is whether you’ll need to transport the digital piano. Compact and portable models are ideal for those who plan to perform or practice in different locations. For example, the Kawai ES120 might be a good option for carrying around because it only weighs 27.5 lbs (12.5 kg).

Tip 3: Check Out Brand Reputation and Reviews

Conducting thorough research on the brands you are contemplating. Take the time to explore the reputation of these brands within the musical community.

Delve into reviews from experts and fellow musicians to gain valuable insights into various aspects of the digital piano’s performance.

Experts often provide detailed analyses of digital pianos’ technical capabilities, sound quality, and overall design. The assessments can offer a nuanced understanding of the instrument’s features and how they may align with your musical preferences and requirements.

Additionally, fellow musicians can provide practical, real-world insights into the day-to-day use of the best digital piano around. Their experiences with reliability, durability, and user-friendliness can be particularly valuable in helping you make an informed choice.

We periodically play with various digital pianos and write detailed reviews based on our experiences with them. Check out our Digital Piano Reviews.

Tip 4: Make a List of Desired Features

As mentioned, many digital pianos offer a variety of built-in features, such as metronomes, recording capabilities, and different playing modes. Consider which features are important to you and how they align with your musical goals.

Create a list of must-have built-in features and a list of nice-to-have functions. This will greatly help you choose the right digital piano for you.

Tip 5: Set a Realistic Budget

While it’s tempting to go for the most advanced models, excellent digital pianos are available at various price points.

Setting a budget helps you define the financial boundaries within which you are comfortable purchasing.

Having a budget also allows you to assess the value for money offered by different digital pianos. This is where your desired feature list comes into play. You can compare features, build quality, and performance within your budget range to ensure that you get the most suitable instrument for the price.

Knowing your budget helps with long-term financial planning. It allows you to allocate resources for other aspects of your musical journey, such as lessons, sheet music, or further instrument upgrades.

Tip 6: For Online Shopping

After researching and determining the desired features, shopping for a digital piano can be easy. However, it comes with pros and cons. Here’s a breakdown to help you decide if buying online suits your preferences and needs.

Pros
  • Convenience: Online shopping allows you to browse and purchase from the comfort of your home, eliminating the need to travel to physical stores.
  • Wider Selection: Online retailers often offer a broader range of digital pianos, including various brands, models, and price points. This can increase your chances of finding an instrument that meets your requirements.
  • Comparative Reviews: Online platforms provide easy access to customer reviews and expert opinions, enabling you to make informed decisions by comparing different models and brands.
  • Price Comparisons: Online shopping facilitates easy price comparisons between retailers, helping you find the best deal for your chosen digital piano.
Cons
  • Inability to Test: One of the main drawbacks is the inability to physically test and play the digital piano before purchasing. This can be crucial for assessing key action, sound quality, and overall feel.
  • Shipping Concerns: Potential shipping damage or delays may be a concern. Ensuring reliable shipping and return policies is essential.

Tip 7: For Buying in Store

When considering choosing a digital piano in-store, several advantages and disadvantages come into play.

In-store shopping offers the invaluable benefit of hands-on testing, allowing you to physically play and assess the instrument before making a decision. Knowledgeable staff in music stores can provide expert advice, aiding in a more informed purchase based on specific musical needs.

Pros
  • Hands-On Testing: In-store shopping allows you to test and play the digital piano before deciding. This hands-on experience is invaluable for assessing key action, sound quality, and overall feel.
  • Expert Assistance: In-store staff, especially in specialty music stores, can provide expert advice and assistance, helping you make a more informed decision based on your specific needs. Personalized staff interactions also foster a more guided and tailored shopping process.
  • Immediate Availability: You can take the purchased digital piano home immediately, avoiding shipping times and potential shipping-related issues.
Cons
  • Limited Selection: Physical stores may have a more limited selection compared to online retailers, restricting your choices regarding brands and models.
  • Potentially Higher Prices: In-store prices may be higher due to factors like overhead costs. Online shopping often allows for more competitive pricing.
  • Travel and Time Constraints: Shopping in-store requires time and travel, which may be inconvenient for those with busy schedules or limited access to music stores.

Conclusion

Choosing the right digital piano is a personal journey that involves considering your playing style, preferences, and budget.

By carefully evaluating key features such as key action, sound quality, and connectivity, you can find a digital piano that not only suits your current skill level but also allows for growth and exploration in your musical journey.

Ultimately, the decision between online and in-store shopping depends on your priorities. If hands-on testing is crucial and you have access to reputable music stores, in-store shopping may be preferable. On the other hand, if convenience, a wide selection, and price comparisons are priorities, online shopping might be the better choice.

Some buyers also choose a hybrid approach, researching and comparing online before heading to a store for a hands-on experience.

Take the time to test different models, read reviews, and make an informed decision to ensure a satisfying and enjoyable playing experience.

FAQs About Buying Digital Pianos

What should I look for in a digital piano?

Considering these key factors:
– key action (weighted and touch-sensitive keys for an authentic feel)
– sound quality (high-quality piano samples and a variety of instrument voices)
– polyphony (at least 64 notes for complex pieces)
– portability
– connectivity options (USB, MIDI)
– built-in features (metronomes, recording capabilities)

What is the lifespan of a digital piano?

Generally, a well-built and well-maintained digital piano can last anywhere from 20 to 40 years.
The lifespan of a digital piano can vary depending on factors such as build quality, usage, and maintenance.

Regular cleaning, proper storage, and avoiding extreme environmental conditions can contribute to the longevity of the instrument. Technological advancements may also influence the lifespan, as older models may become outdated over time.

More details on piano lifespan.

Is It Good to Buy Digital Piano Online?

Buying a digital piano online can be a good option, but it comes with both advantages and potential drawbacks. The convenience of browsing a wide selection of models from the comfort of your home, access to customer reviews, and the ability to compare prices across various retailers are notable advantages.

However, the inability to physically test the instrument before purchasing can be a downside. It’s crucial to research thoroughly, read reviews, and choose reputable sellers to ensure the digital piano meets your expectations.

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