Acoustic Or Electronic Piano: Which Is Best?

A small electronic music keyboard

Is an acoustic or electronic piano the best choice for you?

Many people are daunted by purchasing such a large and usually expensive item.

One strategy might be to purchase an inexpensive electronic keyboard to see if your child has interest, and, if that is successful, go on to explore purchasing a piano.

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But what is the difference to a child?

From my experience, beginning piano students usually do not know what they are missing by playing on an electronic keyboard. A keyboard will be adequate until the child needs the pedals, and outgrows music which sounds well on a little keyboard.

A keyboard is adequate at first because initially a child is simply learning geography: where are the landmark keys, which way is up, where are the black keys, etc.

Since these factors are the same on both an acoustic or electronic instrument, the child will learn the basics just as well on an electronic keyboard.

But once the child advances a little further, you will want the sound and capabilities of a real instrument.

Perhaps the most telling sign that a child has outgrown a keyboard is boredom. I don’t know why, but children, when they have gained a little skill at the piano, can tell that the keyboard is just a toy, really, and realize that it is just a plastic machine.

The main differences between acoustic and electronic instruments are the sound and the feel in your fingers.


On an acoustic piano, the floor and the entire room become part of the instrument, vibrating and making a much larger sound than an electronic instrument.

An electronic instrument may sound sort of like a piano, but the sound is coming from a tiny, tinny speaker, and cannot compete with the strength and richness of sound that an acoustic piano produces.


Acoustic piano keys are counter weighted, providing a certain sense of resistance in the fingers. Almost all electronic keyboards are unweighted, and the feel in the keys is very light, with no resistance. While this is acceptable at first with an electronic instrument, eventually the child will need to experience and work the feel of real piano keys.

Acoustic pianos can be purchased from individuals or piano stores. In all cases, you won’t have much of an idea what you’re getting, since a piano has 9000 moving parts, none of them familiar to non-musicians. Consult an independent professional, and never rely on the advice of a piano salesman.

New acoustic pianos can cost from $2500 to $150,000. You are better off with an inexpensive upright acoustic piano unless the sky is the limit and you want to purchase a fine instrument. A child won’t know the difference between a $2500 Chinese knock-off and a Steinway Concert Grand costing $115,000. The Steinway will last longer and have resale value, and the Chinese knock-off will get you 50% at best if you want to sell it.

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You can also look in the local papers in the spring, because people often move in late spring, selling their hard-to-move pianos at fire sale prices. I’ve even seen people giving them away, since the average piano costs at least $200 to be carted and thrown away.

Electronic instruments run from $99 to thousands. I urge you to buy the least expensive keyboard that will do the job. All you need is about 48 full size keys (there are different sizes) and a piano sound. Anything more is a waste unless you plan to go into the field of audio production.

Many parents are fooled by salesmen and walk out of the store with a $5,000 electronic behemoth that “does everything” and “sounds just like a piano.” It’s waste of money, aside from the fact that you don’t know if your child is interested yet.

An electronic keyboard may be better than an old, beat up piano, because old pianos have keys that stick and other defects that kill children’s interest.

Copyright 2010 Walden Pond Press

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