Back in the 90s, when I first started piano tuition, digital pianos were generally frowned upon by the music world – the musical equivalent of offering Dairylea triangles on an after dinner cheese platter. And to be fair, I played on many of the digital pianos that were around at the time, and they were almost universally awful. They didn’t sound like pianos and they didn’t feel like pianos. In fact the only likeness to an actual, real piano was the fact they had black and white keys… but then so does this:
Now, however, things are different. Thanks to the wonders of mass data storage, manufactures are able to equip their digital pianos with samples of real instruments that would be way outside the budget of the average player. The development of what is called the “graded hammer keyboard” means the keys are weighted, with lower notes being heavier than higher notes, as though they were operating the larger hammers of a real piano. Some are even housed in wooden upright and grand piano bodies, making it almost impossible to distinguish them from the real thing.
Which is all well and good, but it still doesn’t explain why I think a digital piano is better than a real piano for piano lessons AND for learners. So here’s a few reasons:
- Digital pianos produce the sound and feel of pianos that would be way outside most people’s budget.
- Digital pianos don’t need tuning, which saves around £50 every six months. Nor do they suffer from other maintenance issues such as sensitivity to heat and humidity.
- Digital pianos have a volume button and headphone sockets, meaning you can practice ay time of the day or night without disturbing anyone else.
- Digital pianos allow you to record yourself and listen back, which can be a great learning aid.
- Digital pianos allow you to transpose songs and pieces with the touch of a button, allowing you to play along to recordings in easier keys than the original.
- Digital pianos have a built in metronome, which is another great tool despite the fact everyone hates playing along to it!
- Digital pianos include other instrument sounds (something hundreds of them), many of which are samples of real instruments. This is a great feature, not just as an interesting gimmick, but allowing you to play pieces on the instruments they were written for, e.g. Bach’s Toccata & Fugue on pipe organ, Deane’s “Mourning Dove Sonnet” on Vibraphone and Joplin’s “The Entertainer” on Honky Tonk piano.
- Digital pianos, even those with built in speakers like my Yamaha CP300, are portable. Even the lightest of upright pianos take at least two people to move… and will need tuning afterwards.
- Digital pianos (except Clavinova-style models) have pedals you can move around. This is especially useful for children whose feet often cannot reach the pedals on a traditional piano as the pedal can be placed on a raised platform. Also, keyboard stands can usually be raised or lowered to suit.
Enough reasons yet?
I do own a traditional upright piano, and I do enjoying playing it, but if I could only have one piano, it’d be digital. It’s like choosing between a horse and a car – I’d love to ride around on a horse and cart, but for daily life, a car is the only choice.