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I just started learning piano, and I want to buy a piano for recreational purposes and practicing. I am torn between digital and acoustic. I love the feel and sound of an acoustic, but I cannot afford one, so I'm wondering if I should just go ahead and buy a digital.

But I am not too fond of digital pianos. I don't care about any additional features of a digital. Is there too much of a difference in sound and feel?

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possible duplicate of What to look for when buying a digital piano for a beginner? –  luser droog Mar 27 '13 at 17:03
    
Shopping recommendations are off-topic here so I've focused the question a little more on the learning and sound/feel aspects. That said it may indeed be a duplicate, the answers to the other question should certainly be helpful in any case. –  Matthew Read Mar 28 '13 at 17:28
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10 Answers 10

If you want to compare acoustic piano and digital ones, they are more or less the same instrument, digital pianos are just cheaper, lighter and quieter substitutes. If you want to be as close as possible to the feel of a real piano, you'll have to chose wisely and to still invest a good amount of money. The additional features (organ sounds and stuff) are mostly gadgets in that regard. If you can afford the cost, the weight and the sonic disturbance of the real one, there's not much of a discussion here.

You will hear everything and its opposite concerning digital pianos: some people claiming to having played acoustic pianos their whole life would say this one is really good while other, of the same background, would say it is a complete steal and would not lay eyes on anything costing less than 2000 dollars.

I would say you're good in the $900-$1300 range, and you surely can have a bargain buying second hand. Yamaha is a good pick, but Roland too, in my personal experience.

If you know how to play a few chords, the best solution is still to go to a shop and make your own opinion. Digital piano might be as far to real piano as purists claim, but for now the only thing that matters is that it suits you. You'll have all the occasion to be picky in few years, when you're a more experienced player.

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A decent acoustic is at least 4 grand. If you can afford an acoustic, you can afford a digital piano to go with it.

Practice longest on the digital to minimize retunes of the acoustic and to keep your neighbors happy.

Finesse the songs' feel on the acoustic when you're to that point (to also keep your neighbors happy).

You'll need to pick out the acoustic on your own. It's a VERY personal choice. For the digital, maybe a used Yamaha CP-33?

So, in short, start with a used digital with 88 weighted keys that FEELS good to you. MANY digitals suck and you can't change the feel without buying a new one.

see also http://www.pianocheetah.com/piano

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It's best to get a piano used if you're a beginner and going for an acoustic, IMO, no need to spend $4000 on a new one. –  Matthew Read Mar 28 '13 at 17:30
    
I haven't researched acoustics much, but I thought at $4000, you were lookin at something used. –  Stephen Hazel Mar 29 '13 at 3:35
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One more thing to consider is how the keys feel to play (I'm sure there's a technical term for it, but I don't know it, sorry). Basically the key resistance to being played.

If you get yourself a cheap and simple musical keyboard, you'll notice very quickly that the keys tend to feel very differently - they tend to react to a much lighter touch which has its advantages when playing, but it works against you when learning to play (similar to learning to type on a mechanical typewriter like I did - still glad for it today!).

A piano uses a hammer to hit the strings inside which requires a certain amount of force. Most simpler keyboards don't have that.

So my recommendation is to include this in your search parameters and make sure to test a bunch of different instruments before buying. I used to have a digital piano (ages ago so I don't remember the brand) that felt very similar to a real piano, and it worked really well for my lessons and for strengthening my fingers.

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Unless you pay LOTS for a digital piano, right up to date, the feel (action) will not be like a real piano.However, if you have the space and understanding neighbours, an acoustic piano with a good action will be better.In U.K. a good second hand example will be bought for £500 - £1000, often less. If we're talking $4000, I'll ship all mine across the pond !!! Obviously, the black and white keys will be the same on either, so your fingering will improve on each, and the sounds will be very similar, with the advantage of using headphones on the digital.Most real pianos are larger (and heavier) than digitals, which can often be packed away if they come with a separate stand.My stage piano (Roland FP, £400 used) does, and its action is QUITE close to that of an acoustic - plus it has a plethora of other sounds, 300 plus, and can be MIDI-ed for more sonic fun when the piano sound gets tedious.It's a difficult question, so subjective, so if you have room - go for BOTH !!!!

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An acoustic piano can be heard in adjacent flats and rooms by your neighbours. This may make you to practice less, avoid Sunday, do not use late night or morning hours you otherwise may have and the like.

Acoustic piano may have better sound, keyboard feeling, external look and the like. However digital piano has sound regulator and the phone jack. Hopefully digital piano could be acceptable replacement at home. We do not need to have its quality better, just "good enough".

Update 1: It may be regulations in some countries that defend your (or at least your child) rights to play the instrument as long as certain rules (silence times and limited number of hours) are followed, and the landlord may actually have no right to ban this even if it is written on the renting contract. I was not initially aware about this. Talk to your music teacher who must be aware. Headphones are still required to practice without any limitations.

Update 2: It is important to understand the difference between the "keyboard" and "digital piano" or "stage piano". The lower end keyboard may lack multiple key sensitivity levels, pedals, be limited in range and polyphony, keys may feel completely differently, so understandable why many teachers see it only applicable to the very first lessons, if any. The differences between high end digital piano keyboard and the mechanical keyboard of the acustic piano are already subtle.

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There are acoustic pianos that are switchable to quiet mode and have digital circuitry and a phone jack. They cost and weigh just like acoustic pianos though, because they are. –  n.m. Jan 9 at 18:43
    
Depends on how often you could use such a piano without headphones. Some communities have no tolerance to every music they hear from adjacent flat. Others may accept a good playing time to time, but not the beginner training. –  Audrius Meškauskas Jan 10 at 7:57
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I wrote a book about piano before.

The-Virtuoso-Pianist-Contemporary-Studies

Nobody knows. You can be a virtuoso in few years with a digital piano or a very bad condition grand piano. It depends on you. Art can not have certain rights/laws/rules. If it was certain, we wouldn't be able to see Glenn Gould, Horowitz, Rachmaninoff etc.

The most important thing is that 'how you like it'

There is no certain answer about it. Somebody says "Get an expensive digital piano instead of cheap one.", "Digital piano better" or "Digital piano is the worst."

As you can see the main differences between them something you wouldn't need to get informed from me instead of their website, remember that "Nobody can touch with your fingers, nobody can feel how you feel when you hear any sound."

Your decision should be between your body and the instrument. Try.

Hope helps.

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A good digital piano is better than a bad acoustic piano.

The best digital pianos aren't as good as the best acoustic pianos.

As a beginner, it's unlikely that you have the skill and experience to detect the nuance and detail that separates a good digital piano from a great acoustic piano.

Pretty much anything made by a reputable brand and marketed as a "digital piano" (as opposed to a "keyboard" etc.) will have a keyboard feel that's close enough to a real piano for a beginner. Remember too that real pianos vary dramatically in feel.

If you choose a real piano, you should factor in the cost of maintenance. Real pianos need regular tuning; an out-of-tune piano is no pleasure to play, nor to listen to. Digital pianos never go out of tune, and require very little maintenance.

In favour of real pianos, there's nothing quite like taking the covers off a real piano, watching the intricate mechanisms, getting the full sound of the uncovered strings, seeing them vibrate, plucking or muting with your hands, etc.

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The better sound and feel goes to the acoustic piano. I own and play an 88 key digital piano. Although most 88 key pianos have hammer weighted keys like a real piano, the feeling is just not the same. The sound of an acoustic piano is also, not the same. Real pianos have character and sound organic.

Your skill level does not matter, if you're a beginner and intend to become proficient with the instrument, then you might as well aim for the stars from the get go. As a previous post mentioned, digital pianos are great because you have a lot of control over the volume, and most digital pianos have headphone jacks which are great when you don't want people listening while you learn a song.

But again, the acoustic piano is superior in terms of feel and sound. If you can go with an acoustic piano. Upright pianos are great because they do not take up much room and they're real pianos nonetheless. They also tend to be cheaper than grand pianos!

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You cannot learn to play an acoustic piano well on a digital piano. You cannot play a digital piano incorrectly because they do not sample the bad, tin-ny, percussive sounds a piano can make when you bang on it. Everything sounds beautiful even if you don't know how to play it beautifully on an "real"/acoustic piano.

That may not be a bad thing for a beginner. You can learn to play some songs and have fun with it and sound good. There's definitely a while of just plunking around on the keyboard to get your hand dexterity and muscle memory working. A digital piano is cheaper and more convenient and definitely better than no piano at all. You may also spend more time practicing if you can turn off the sound to not bother others.

But if you learn on a digital piano, when you get the chance to play your songs on an acoustic piano you may find they sound not so good. It's hard learn correct key attack and how to create all the beautiful tones a piano is capable of by playing a digital sample of someone else doing it. Your hand's muscle memory does not know how it should move differently to create a forte or a pianissimo or a bright or mellow tone because the computer on your digital piano has always taken care of that for you. You'll have to go back and get the muscle memory of an acoustic piano in order to create really beautiful sounds on it (the kind they might sample for a digital piano).

Some of those arguments could also apply to a bad acoustic piano. The world's best piano player could not make a beautiful sound come out of some of them. But I have seen decent, recent-ish model used pianos for similar prices to a new digital piano.

The opposite is not true. If you learn on an acoustic piano, you will be able to play a digital piano beautifully, perhaps even more beautifully than perhaps someone that learned on it.

In short, if you can afford the cost and inconvenience of an acoustic, get one. You'll be happy in the long run. Correct key attack is a foundation muscle memory skill and you'll be better off to develop it from the very beginning. But a beginner can learn a lot from even a bad a digital piano. Just know there is some muscle memory involved that you need to spend a lot of time practicing on an acoustic piano someday to gain.

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I disagree with some posters here who think that digital piano equals or betters an acoustic one. And I own a digital piano, and currently don't have an acoustic one, even though I always had one (right now I own a synthesizer with fully weighted keyboard that serves both as a digital piano and as a synthesizer - Kurzweil).

Bad acoustic pianos should be avoided and cannot be compared to anything - they are simply bad, and not to be used. Good pianos are usually not more than 10-20 years old and have been kept at room temperature without kids jumping on them; these days really good used pianos can be had for about 2000-3000 USD; if you are lucky you may find an older used one, for around a grand. Best ones are from reputable manufacturers such as Yamaha. Those acoustic pianos will better any digital one in every area - from sound quality to feel and everything in between.

It is best for a beginner to start learning on a real piano. That way they will develop the proper feel for the keyboard and piano. The variety of sounds that can be produced from a real piano cannot be rivalled by a digital piano, although few have come very close (which is most likely outside of reach of most beginners - it would entail a few GB of samples and so on). The problem of achieving good quality sound from a digital piano is not only in samples used but also in the keyboard itself: acoustic piano's keyboard is a very complex mechanism that evolved over few centuries to provide us with what we have today. Digital piano keyboard is just an on/off switch with many values in between - nothing fancy there. Some may have "after-touch" feature, but that is useless for a piano student.

Over time, a beginner should develop their own preferences for a piano. Glen Gould took his father with him to every concert as he had a very strict idea about how a piano should be tuned and adjusted. He even used an unusual chair with backrest (due to his back problems). Digital piano has none of that freedom. Heck, one cannot even choose the type of tuning for a digital piano!

Personally I prefer slightly shallower keyboard, and I absolutely hate a deep one which does not allow me to play fast passages well (my fingers feel like they are getting stuck in there). I also prefer a lighter keyboard that does not force me to "work too hard" (if you have ever been to Disneyland, those guys that are playing honky-tonk piano on the street have their keyboards adjusted to be super light, in order to prevent them from developing repetitive stress injury).

Hopefully a beginner will be exposed to different acoustic pianos, not only few digital ones which all have the same feel more or less, and with time will develop their own preferences.

As for neighbors and "noise" coming from practicing piano, that is the price of art. Paints stink and require natural light, sculpture requires expensive materials, and lots of room and are messy and often noisy, singing is even louder, and pianos require tollerant neighbors or living in a house where very few people can hear you.

Beginners typically do not practice more than an hour or two per day. So "noise" (if we can call it that) should not be a big deal I think.

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