Should I buy a piano or keyboard for a beginner?

Piano lessons can begin at any age. Our focus of course is on youth ages 8 – 17.  There is no such thing as ‘too old’ to learn music or the piano. A quick google search will reveals lots of successful pianists who started as adults. Regardless, choosing whether to buy a piano or keyboard for a beginner can be a tough call, but it’s a simple process that requires a bit of wisdom and observation. Here are a few things to consider:

Lessons?

A serious consideration for this decision is whether or not piano lessons are going to be a thing. If yes, then there will be those required ‘practice’ sessions in between the lessons. From this point of view, your child obviously need something to practice on. Ideally, if a child or teen is learning to play the acoustic piano during lessons, then weighted vs unweighted keys needs to be considered.

[Quick Summary: Acoustic pianos = Weighted Keys. (fingers hit key -> key hits hammer -> hammer strikes string -> string makes sound). Digital pianos = varying degrees of weighted hammer action. Keyboard = varying degrees of weighted keys.] 

Your child will likely do lessons on an acoustic piano. For practice, you can choose to go with an acoustic piano to prepare and strengthen their fingers for the ‘real deal’. Alternatively, you can look for a digital piano or keyboard option.

If lessons are not going to be a thing and you are simply considering the purchase for your teen to accompany themselves while they practice singing, for example, then weighted vs unweighted is less of a big deal. This leads to the next point…

Outcome

Outcome or reason they’re learning and the style of music they’re focusing on may overlap. I say this because the style of music your child is learning may change the outcome. Think performance vs accompaniment. For instance, a typical ‘piano lesson’ is likely going to head into the classical genre. If your young one develops a love of it and continues pursuing it later on, it’s likely that classical music will lead into the sphere of classical performance – even if it’s just at the school talent show! If you want your child to become a concert pianist – then acoustic is the way to go. If, on the other hand, your child has an interest in jazz or pop music and you’re able to find someone to lead them down that path (which will probably start off on the same path as classical music btw), then the outcome may not be performance, it may accompaniment. They may simply want to accompany themselves or others. In this case , your child or teen will need to focus more on playing by air and feeling the music based on what they hear and will probably just need a keyboard with moderately weighted keys.

Alot of teens choose to learn music to be part of a band. If that’s the desired outcome then the weight of the keys have less weight (pun intended) on the decision. Figuring out whether to buy a piano or a keyboard for a beginner is definitely influenced by you or your child’s goal.

Age

I started learning music when I was 7 years old. The school I went to had several pianos and the piano used for lessons would vary for a number of reasons. There was a newer grand piano that was a dream for myself and music classmates to play. There was a decent Yamaha upright that I used most and was enjoyable and comfortable. Then there were the older and more hollow sounding pianos. I disliked playing those because my young fingers never felt like they could move as easily over the keys. I had to try too hard.

For younger players, while strengthening fingers and exposure to the real feel of acoustic pianos may be the goal, you wouldn’t want to hinder your child’s love of the instrument by making them practice on something they’re not comfortable with.

Ages 8+ : Stick with a digital piano  Teens: Can use more weighted keys on digital pianos or keyboards due to their stronger fingers.

 

How serious are they?

So you decide your child WILL have the best of everything and you dish out your $10,000 for the shiniest baby grand you could find. By the 2nd month your child or teen is bored and no longer wants to play the piano. Brilliant!

Suggestion: The younger the are, the more you should be on the lookout for cues that they really want to learn music. I don’t mean that they danced as babies when they heard music – that’s more than half the world’s population.

Here’s a personal example: My son, soon to be 11, was born in Trinidad. At age 3 he started taking out several buckets, setting them up like a drum set and would hit them with anything from spoons, sticks to pencils. I’d put them away and find them back out again. It became habitual.

myoffbeatgifts

By the time he was 5 he asked to sit behind the drummer at our church. He kept his eyes glued on the drummer. The drummer was kind enough to give him small percussion instruments to play. He eventually ‘graduated’ to playing the drums (certainly not an instrument I would have considered getting him into!)That’s a genuine interest in wanting to play an instrument! By aged 7 he got his first drum set and the $2000 investment was worth it. He plays quite well to this day.

If choosing if to buy a piano or keyboard for a beginner, let your investment be just enough to encourage the gift or desire – even if it’s YOUR desire rather than your child’s. Any upgrades can be done later on to match their seriousness and development.

Size

For my non-musical parents, an acoustic piano typically has 88 keys or roughly 7 octaves (with a few keys to spare).  Accept that. A keyboard or digital piano that has that many is “full-length”. Truthfully, unless someone is learning classical music, a full length keyboard isn’t necessary. You would still want one that is long enough to give some range though. A keyboard with only 5 octaves (61 notes) will be more than sufficient to start off with, if you have decided not to purchase an acoustic piano at this time.

Be careful

There is one that you should be forewarned about with digital keyboards and pianos. They very often come with all the bells and whistles to add rhythm and play around with sound while you play. There are MANY features available, some of which can mislead or misguide. If you are toggling with if you should buy a piano or keyboard for a beginner, keep in mind that the bells and whistles should be kept off when learning and practicing the bare rudiments of music theory and piano basics. Avoid buttons that alter the sounds etc. That way, the experience becomes as authentic as possible.

To wrap it up, a good digital piano or keyboard with not too many extras and that is a decent length is perfectly suitable to get your child or teen through their first stage of music lessons. Once established, upgrade to either longer or  more weighted or acoustic. Either way, #stayoffbeat.

 

Pat

 

 

4 thoughts on “Should I buy a piano or keyboard for a beginner?”

  1. Ah this takes me back! I remember my keyboard dearly and those cool drum pads it had lol. Thankfully my parents never made the mistake of buying a full piano because it was something I was done with very quickly. Guitar was where it was at for me! Great post. Well written. Thank you!

  2. Thank you for this inspiring article. I’m thinking of getting into the instrument game but never knew which one I should try. I’m a HUGE piano fan (because of my grandfather) but everyone says I should practice on the keyboard first. I’m known for taking shortcuts and I think the piano is a good choice for me. I don’t care about the bells and whistles. Thanks for the clarity 🙂

  3. Hi Pat, my biggest regret was packing piano lessons in as a kid, football was far more important at the time, how ignorant was I.
    I passed my level 2 but as a ten year old classical music became a bore, I started to play Beatles music which was far more entertaining as I knew their songs inside out.
    Pianos at the time were hugely expensive, I’m not sure what their prices are nowadays however like you mention, I would opt for a keyboard for starting out purely because they’re an inexpensive solution meanwhile their keys are a doddle to play compared to a pianos. If interest keeps on growing, pianos are worth their investment,
    Simon.

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