Choosing Your Piano

After a few years of teaching, I began to notice a marked difference between my students who had well-maintained instruments and those who have out of tune instruments, or keyboard instruments that don't reach my digital piano guidelines (see below.) Unfortunately, this difference only becomes more pronounced the longer a student continues with a piano that isn't contributing to their learning experience. But the good news is that when a family is able to upgrade, there tends to be a noticeable change in the student's interest, and in their progress, over a very short period of time. And many times I have seen that learning gap diminish, and ultimately disappear in a matter of months.

In order to learn the piano, you need to own a piano. This may seem obvious, but you'd be surprised how often piano teachers are asked about this in student interviews. So, I'm putting together this guide to help in choosing the right instrument for your family.

Some things to consider:
  • Quality/Playability
  • Size
  • Cost
  • Maintenance 
  • Student Interest
The first, and most important consideration to your piano teacher, is the playability of your instrument. There are two essentials that MUST be present in any instrument if a student is to benefit from lessons.
  1. The instrument is in tune, and in good working order (pedals, dampers, and all the other movable bits function properly)
  2. The instrument has good action. This is the mechanism that translates what your fingers do into tone. If you are considering a digital keyboard, it needs to have Graded Hammer Action, or an equivalent feature, that mimics the feel and tone production of an acoustic piano, it should also have a standard keyboard of 88 keys. On an acoustic piano, the keys shouldn't clunk right down without offering any resistance, and you should be able to play loudly and softly without doing any finger gymnastics. If you're not sure and want to test the action you can do a coin test, ideally the downweight is about 50 grams, upweight is about 20 grams, these are ballpark figures for "normal" so using nickels (5 grams) and pennies (3 grams) you should be able to test the action.
After that, the rest can fall into place pretty easily.

If you have a small home, an upright or digital piano would be a good choice. If you have the space, I'd recommend a grand piano as they are beautiful additions to a home, they often have better action, and they sound wonderful.

If cost is a consideration, consider a used instrument, or a digital piano. Either can be found for under $1000, often around $500 if you shop around.

Is really only a consideration with acoustic pianos, as they require annual tuning. Tuners tend to charge between $120-$150. This is a necessary expense, similar to getting your oil changed in your car periodically, the instrument will serve you much better over a longer time if you care for it. Your student will also benefit from the consistent tuning. Other considerations are piano repair, which runs about $70-$90/hour, and is only necessary if something breaks. And pianos can be damaged when moved, so a piano mover should be used if you move house or purchase a piano and need it moved in. Usually another $100-$200 depending on the distance moved.

Student Interest: 
And, if you are not sure of your student's long term interest, consider renting a piano initially, so they have a quality instrument to begin with, and then you can decide.

Here are a few resources you can try in your search:

To shop Locally: 
Chuck Vetter at Sounds Great is a terrific local resource for musicians, and he's got a great selection of upright & grand pianos available, as well as digital instruments.

For my favorite online Digital Piano Recommendations:

For a free piano!
(these will most likely need some tuning & repairs, and you would have to move it or have it moved - see Chuck at Sounds Great for those services)

Happy piano hunting!