So you’ve decided to start learning piano and cannot wait for your first lesson. You start searching for a piano online – and realize there are SO MANY OPTIONS! Do you go for an electronic keyboard? An upright piano? One of those portable roll-up keyboards? This article will be discussing the benefits of choosing an upright piano over the digital options, including a few recommendations for piano brands to choose from and what to look for when testing out your piano.
The Benefits of an Acoustic Instrument
There is no denying that when it comes to instruments, an acoustic instrument is going to be better for performance than a digital instrument. The touch is real, let alone the quality of sound and range of colors you can achieve. However, for beginners who are just starting out their musical journey, thoughts of performance are far, far away.
So what can you achieve on an upright piano that makes it worth getting over a cheaper, well-made digital piano? The three most important benefits are: 1) weighted hammer action, 2) greater sensitivity to touch, and 3) true pedaling ability. Other pros for the upright piano include the built-in music stand, a decorative and more aesthetically-pleasing look, and the ability to open/close the piano lid to protect the keys.
1) Weighted Hammer Action
Many digital pianos advertise and highlight the “real piano action” of the synthetic keys. While the quality of digital pianos these days is amazingly close, there is still a difference the more one plays the instrument. It is not just about the weight of the keys, but how the internal action plays a part in the sound production and even the release of the note. For those who have played extensively on a digital keyboard, moving to an upright piano is so much more satisfying because there are many technical skills that are simply harder or not possible on the key action of a digital piano.
2) Greater Sensitivity to Touch
Because an upright piano has all the internal moving parts that work together to produce the sound (hammers, felts, dampers, etc.), there is a greater variety of colors and sounds available. The dynamic and articulation range is much smaller on a keyboard versus an upright piano, and the sensitivity of the real keys on an upright allows even the beginner pianist to create and hear differences in the sound.
As listening to oneself is an integral part of learning, being able to hear the difference as a student is extremely important in your practice and grown as a musician. The sustain of the notes themselves are also cut short on a digital piano, which makes articulation techniques like legato (or even simple long notes and ties) unattainable.
Except the extremely high-end digital concert grand pianos, I have yet to meet a digital piano who has the pedaling capabilities even close to that of an acoustic piano. As the famous concert pianist and composer Anton Rubinstein once said, the pedal is the “soul of the piano.” Imagine learning piano without it! The pedaling on a digital piano, especially those of a beginner entrance-level keyboard, is barely able to capture the sustain of the notes and is actually a handicap to beginner pianists whose pieces require the use of pedal.
Upright Piano Brands
There are many different brands of upright pianos on the market, and even more if you include used pianos in the list. As a general rule, brand name pianos come at a higher cost, but you usually cannot go wrong with them!
Boston pianos are a cheaper branch of Steinway and Sons, offering both upright and grand pianos at good quality. They are sturdy and powerful instruments, but do come at a price range of $10,000 to $20,000. The Essex piano is also a brand of Steinway and Sons, and is a smaller and cheaper version of the Boston. The Essex is less powerful and sturdy, but has a price range of $4,000 to $7,000.
Kawai pianos have a wonderfully singing and sweet tone, and are a personal favorite of mine. They are generally less sturdy than Steinway and Yamaha though, so the smaller-sized pianos may not hold up to long hours of heavy Rachmaninoff or Prokofiev! But for composers like Mozart, Schubert, and Chopin, the Kawai delivers. Their upright pianos have a greater price range, starting around $4,000 and reaching $20,000 for the larger models.
Yamaha is the most famous piano brand after Steinway and Sons. Their grand and
upright pianos are solid and of great quality. Depending on the model size, their upright pianos also range from $4,000 to $20,000.
Pianos are expensive. They are also difficult to recycle and hurtful to destroy when old. Ask around your neighborhood or search social media sites to see if anyone is selling a used piano. Occasionally, you will be surprised to find a bargain deal with a barely-used upright or grand piano!
It is important to know what to look for when trying out a used piano. The list below include the most important aspects to test for:
– all keys in working order, with barely any cracks or broken pieces
– soundboard intact
– working pedals
– inspect the piano body itself to see if nothing is amiss
For students who are more advanced, it is also important that the piano can withstand
long hours of practice or heavy pounding. Test this by playing loud, fast pieces with repeating notes, octaves, and heavy chords. If you feel the piano is weak or may fall apart, it will not be suitable for long-term use.
Having an upright piano is a precious thing. Make sure to take care of it as you would any other piece of expensive furniture. Avoid spilling food and especially drinks on it, as the liquid can seep between the cracks and ruin the wood inside. Make sure to have the piano tuned and regularly checked (usually once a year if used continuously). But most of all, make sure to use your piano constantly and keep the music flowing in your house.