So you want to learn piano, and there’s a great big hurdle standing in your way. You don’t have anything to play on! Obviously, you’re going to have to get your hands on a piano or keyboard. And there are a lot of options to pick from – so many that choosing just one is a daunting task. But not to worry! If you’ve been asking yourself what piano should I buy for a beginner, I’m here to help.
What Piano Should I Buy for a Beginner
I fell in love with the piano… I was dying to play.
The question of what piano (1) should I buy for a beginner can seem overwhelming. A quick Google search will turn up hundreds if not thousands of instruments. There’s no way to sift through all that without some idea of what you need and what makes sense for you as a beginner piano student.
So you need some guidelines as you start your search. What you need is…
A Buying Guide: How to Buy Your First Keyboard
Like I said, help is what I’m here for. We’re going to take a look at a few major factors:
- Instrument type
That’s a lot to consider, but hang in there – by the end of this article you should have a good idea of what the best choice is for you.
Acoustic vs. Digital vs. Keyboards
The very first thing you need to take into consideration is what type of piano you need. Because if you’re asking what piano should I buy for a beginner, you really need to know what the word “piano” means for you.
What Piano Should I Buy for a Beginner: Acoustic Pianos
I also like the banging piano – that old good-time piano.
Let’s not get too complicated here: an acoustic piano is one that’s made out of (mostly) wood and strings. You never have to plug it in, though you will have to get it tuned from time to time. It’s heavy, it’s large, and it’s got a great warm and resonant sound due to the way it’s constructed. This is what people usually think of when they hear the word “piano,” and it’s a solid, traditional option.
What Piano Should I Buy for a Beginner: Digital Pianos
These are the slightly more modern versions of pianos – the ones that do their best to mimic acoustic features while providing a modern edge. How so? Well, they typically have decent construction designed to give a more authentic feel, but they use electricity (2) and they come with some cool bells and whistles. Sound effects, reverb, transposing buttons, headphones jacks, volume control… you get the idea. They also tend to look nicer than your average keyboard!
What Piano Should I Buy for a Beginner: Electronic Keyboards
This is by far the most common and most budget-friendly option. Electronic keyboards give you a chance to play with the same basic setup as a “real” piano, but with a heck of a lot more portability. There are usually many of the same features that a digital piano would have, but keyboards tend to be of lower quality construction and have a less authentic feel when you play them. That doesn’t make them a bad option though – in fact there are some models which can be a great compromise between quality and price.
Before we move on to other important criteria for your first piano, I want to mention that there are other piano-type options out there, including:
- MIDI keyboard controllers
- Accordians (okay, just kidding on that one – it’s a completely different instrument)
While experts will quibble over how to classify those options, I want to mention them here. Why? Well, sometimes people email me about their synthesizers, organs, or MIDI controllers. They want to know if they can use them to learn to play piano.
Here’s what I tell them: probably, but if you have a choice I’d rather you pick something more traditional. First, because I am not able to provide resources that cover the in’s and out’s of these specific options. But also because it’s harder to start on instruments that have more unusual bells, whistles, and technical considerations.
Okay, time to move onto size!
What Size Piano Should I Buy?
What size (3) piano should you buy as a beginner? Well, like just about everything in life, that depends. 😉
Size Considerations for Acoustic Pianos
If you’ve decided on an acoustic piano, you have several options when it comes to size. This could easily become a whole separate article, but for our purposes there are a few main size options:
- Upright/vertical pianos
- Grand pianos
Upright pianos are the kind that you often see in homes, or at a piano teacher’s house. They have a fairly narrow profile, so they don’t stick out too far into the room or take up as much space as a grand piano. They’re bigger than a keyboard, but they still might fit in a hallway or a spare corner of your living room. Just remember to leave space for a bench, too. 😉
On the other end of the spectrum, you have the cream of the crop: grand pianos. These are the kind that you see in concert halls, fancy venues, and homes with a bit more space to fill. They’re beautiful, but they are not going to squeeze in just anywhere! Even a baby grand is still going to be at least 4+ feet long!
Sizing Considerations for Digital Pianos vs. Keyboards
No space for an acoustic piano? It sounds like digital pianos or keyboards will be a better fit (pun intended!). There are a lot of options here, going from super-slim, no-frills keyboards to more built-out digital consoles. They all still tend to be a lot smaller than your average upright or vertical piano though, so that’s a good start.
My main advice will sound very basic here, but believe me when I say: Google and a decent measuring tape are your friend for this. Do your research and write down the measurements of your top picks for a digital piano or keyboard, then compare to the space that you have. Why write it down? Because I promise you that you will forget the details as soon as you start measuring. 😉 Oh, and make sure you leave room for where your bench will be or where you want to stand as you play!
The Keys: What to Consider
Weighted vs. Unweighted Keys
On an acoustic piano, keys have a natural weight to them due to their construction and the way that the internal parts of the piano work. There is a bit of resistance when you push down, and that’s how it should be (4).
But on digital pianos and keyboards, the keys don’t automatically have that kind of feeling when you play. It’s something that the manufacturers add as a feature, so you need to know whether this feature is something you want to prioritize.
In my opinion, having weighted or at least semi-weighted keys is an important part of that question of what piano should I buy for a beginner. You don’t necessarily need fully-weighted, hammer-action keys to have a good experience. But a model that has at least semi-weighted, touch-sensitive keys is preferable to keys without weighting.
Choosing the Right Number of Keys
A big determining factor in the size and cost of keyboard is how many keys it has. I’ve got a whole post on how to decide the right number of keys for you. So if you’re unsure, make sure you check that out here. But to summarize: you need at least 49 keys. More is better, but 49 can be enough.
Great, let’s move on to everyone’s least favorite topic: pricing!
Budgeting for Your Piano or Keyboard
This may shock you, but some pianos can cost as much as a house! When you take a look at the price tag of some models, especially grand pianos, it’s pretty mind-boggling. Most people don’t have that kind of budget, but if you do, good for you. Skip this part of the article. 😉
What You Pay, What You Get
For those of you who are still with me, let’s be real: you want to enjoy piano, not take out a mortgage for a piano. So we’re not going to be looking at super-pricey options (5) here.
Instead, let’s look at a few price ranges and what they can get you.
- $0-$200: This is going to be tough, but there are some possibilities to explore. Rather than try to buy a very cheap brand-new model that probably is bad quality and/or extremely tiny, you could:
- Look on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or local listings to see if someone in your area is giving away/selling a piano or keyboard. Several of my students have found their instruments for free or cheap this way!
- Ask your place of worship, or local community center if you can use their piano or keyboard for a while. You’ll never know unless you ask!
- Look on Ebay or similar sites for a secondhand keyboard.
- Buy an instrument on an installment plan – but make sure you read the fine print first.
- $200-$400: This is a great price range for many keyboard options. My favorite beginner keyboard is a semi-weighted model that fits right into this price range.
- $400-$1,000: Now we are getting into fancier territory! Pricier models should always include weighted keys, and usually hammer-action too. Make sure you read a lot of reviews and get a guarantee – expensive doesn’t always mean better, and you deserve to get a top-notch instrument if you are paying this much for it.
Obviously, the prices can keep going up, but that’s where we’ll leave this topic for now.
Other Costs to Consider
Before you place an order or agree to purchase a specific instrument, you need to know what you are (and aren’t) getting. Don’t assume that your new keyboard comes with a stand, or a bench, or even a power plug! Read the description and make note of anything you will need to purchase separately.
At bare minimum, your keyboard or digital piano will need:
- A power supply
- Something to place it on (such as a stand or a piece of furniture that you already have)
It would be great if it also comes with:
- A sustain pedal (required if you want to learn piano with my 21-day course!)
- A bench or stool
- A headphones jack so you can play for an audience of one 😉
- A shelf or stand for you to place your tablet, workbook, or printed chord notation on when you play
Mistakes People Make When Buying a Piano
Now I want to address a few of the biggest mistakes I see people make when they are buying their first piano or keyboard. Don’t worry – you won’t make these mistakes because you are already here and thinking things through before you do anything too crazy!
Trusting Without Verifying
Be careful about buying a piano or keyboard from an unverified/poorly-reviewed seller: Who you purchase from can be just as important as what you buy! If you’re looking for an instrument on sites like Ebay, make sure you read the seller’s reviews.
Don’t just look at their star ratings – take some time to see what other purchasers say about their experience. And make sure you understand what protections the platform and the seller offer you in case your keyboard arrives damaged or not as described.
Not Doing Your Homework
Come on, your dog can’t eat this homework. 😉 It’s completely up to you to follow through, but I promise you will be glad if you take some time to read through what your purchase does and doesn’t include.
I can’t tell you how many times people have emailed me about not having a sustain pedal, or even a place to plug one in! And every so often, people ask me what on earth a MIDI keyboard is and how to set it up – after the one they purchased has arrived and they realize they can’t just plug it in play.
(By the way, this goes for piano lessons too – don’t sign up if you’re not sure what you’re getting. I try to be very upfront about the fact that I don’t teach classical music at all. Yet I still hear from people almost every week asking me how to play Für Elise or Moonlight Sonata. Sorry – that’s not what I do!)
No matter what you buy and how much you spend, there is no one perfect piano or keyboard. They all have their quirks, they all have their pros and cons, and they are only going to sound as good as you make them sound.
So let’s be realistic – your instrument is just a tool. It can’t make or break your piano-learning experience. It’s not going to make you sound like a professional if you never practice, and unless it’s completely malfunctioning it’s probably not the reason why you make some mistakes either. (Hint: everyone makes mistakes.)
Upgrading Too Early
This one might be a bit controversial, but hear me out. If you have a basic keyboard (6) that’s just okay. If you have an acoustic piano that’s seen better days but can still be tuned. And if you are dealing with a case of instrument-envy that doesn’t bode well for your budget…
…It’s okay to play on something that is less than ideal. You’re allowed to play on a subpar keyboard. You don’t need the “best” to succeed at learning piano.
While it’s nice to have a top-quality instrument, all you really need to start is 49+ keys and a sustain pedal.
Instead of spending a lot of money upfront on an expensive new keyboard or piano, why not wait and practice on something that’s good enough for now? You can always upgrade later to reward yourself for your progress. 🙂
Which Keyboard Should I Buy as a Beginner?
The kind of keyboard you should buy as a beginner is highly personal to you. The answer to the question “what piano should I buy for a beginner” is always going to be “the one that makes sense for your budget and needs.”
Remember – a 49+ key keyboard with a sustain pedal is all you really need to begin. In fact, my beginner piano lessons work great even for people who don’t have access to the biggest or most expensive instruments. Have fun getting set up and getting started!
- Wikipedia, Piano, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piano
- Wikipedia, Electric Piano, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_piano
- James E. Reynolds, Making A Key Decision How to buy your first piano–and one to last a lifetime, https://money.cnn.com/magazines/moneymag/moneymag_archive/1998/11/01/250316/index.htm
- Wikipedia, Action, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Action_(piano)
- Statista, Average unit price for a grand piano in the United States from 2005 to 2019, https://www.statista.com/statistics/453896/average-price-of-grand-pianos-us/
- Wikipedia, Keyboard instrument, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keyboard_instrument