Digital vs Acoustic: Which Piano is Best for Students

The piano is easily one of the most popular instruments available to learn today. It’s found in nearly every kind of music, from heavy metal and punk rock, to rap and hip-hop, and of course, classical, jazz, and countless other genres, both those have been around for a long time, and more contemporary fair.

But for a student, choosing the right piano can be tricky.

Since most of us can’t afford a grand piano, let alone have the space for one, many people are turning to digital pianos. And they can make an amazing substitute for traditional pianos, while adding in the benefits of affordability and portability. That being said, acoustic pianos still offer a few features that are not so easily duplicated on a digital keyboard.

Even music teachers can struggle to decide which instrument they feel is better suited for their teaching environment and technique, so it’s not surprising that some students may also have a difficult time choosing between the options when learning in their spare time or practicing at home.

Luckily, we’ve got a few factors for you to keep in mind when deciding on one type of piano over another.

Sound Quality

Without a doubt, the most important aspect of any piano is the sound. It’s important to keep in mind that a digital piano is specifically made to imitate the sound produced by an actual piano. Most high-end digital pianos are made with incredibly accurate and rich sound sampling methods that give them the ability to reproduce the sound of an acoustic piano faithfully and accurately.

One of the great advantages to this digital recreation of sound is that you’ll never need to pay to have a special technician come to your home and do all that crazy tuning an acoustic piano needs from time to time to keep the pitch accurate. The benefit of any well-kept piano, acoustic or digital, is its true sound with unmistakable resonance and timbre.

Touch Response

“Touch response” refers to how an acoustic piano will produce a louder or more intense sound based on how hard each key is pressed. Most digital pianos are able to imitate this effect, but not all do it well, and many don’t do it at all.

There is even a strong chance that the touch response on one digital piano will be different from another. What this means is that if you have one piano at your lessons, and a digital piano at home for practicing, playing a piece exactly the same on both pianos may produce very different effects.

Because of this, it may be hard for some students to adapt to different piano models. An acoustic piano should basically always respond the same (unless there is something wrong with it) because the touch element is a natural, and physical, part of a standard piano. Anyone with experience can easily play traditional pieces the way they were meant to sound, every time.

Feel

A little bit different from the touch response, the feel of a piano can actually impact your ability to play if it is not authentic when compared to a standard, acoustic piano. To compensate for this, many digital pianos offer weighted keys to give a feel that is closer to an acoustic piano. However, some lower-quality digital pianos have a more “plastic-y” feel, with no real weight, and a clucky plastic sound that can get annoying while playing.

Digital pianos like that tend to be more like simple keyboards than actual pianos, and are completely useless as substitutes for an acoustic piano. Standard pianos have a bit of a texture to their keys that helps to keep your fingers from slipping during faster tempos, and they have a normal, natural weight and pressure response. It is these sensations that a good pianist should adapt to.

Price

Of course, one of the biggest factors that separate acoustic and digital pianos is the price tag. Most people are looking to stay within a specific budget while they’re still learning, and the cost can dictate some of your decision. It’s just not necessary to invest in a standard piano at the earliest stages of learning.

Digital pianos are much more cost effective, so it’s often wise to start with a digital piano to save money. This is especially true if you’ll be practicing at home (as you should be). When it comes to pianos, it’s often wise to save up for the acoustic while learning on a digital piano.

That being said, depending on your situation, sometimes the price of an acoustic piano is well worth it for the genuine piano experience. Only you can know which is the best option for your situation.

Build

Another important factor is the design of the instrument. Digital pianos are, of course, a lot lighter than traditional, acoustic pianos. But even some of these models can be quite heavy, and not really all that portable. Though even these larger models offer the advantage of smaller frames that can fit into a lot more spaces than a traditional piano.

Acoustic pianos, no matter the model or style, are heavy and stationary, usually put in one place and meant to stay there for as long as they are owned. They take up a lot of space, but the design and width of the piano in relation to the piano bench may help some students develop the proper posture and hand form.

Individual Benefits

When you boil it all down, both digital and acoustic pianos have their own benefits.

Digital pianos tend to be more portable, and can often be transported to and from practices, lessons, and performances whenever needed. It’s also easier to move them around a room or building. Digital pianos also usually offer some sort of connection to a computer, so you can transfer and store song files.

Acoustic pianos provide students with the true piano experience, the way everyone, from students to masters, are meant to play, practice, learn, and develop. They give a genuine piano sound and touch, and any player should be able to adapt to it.

The differences between choices might depend on your skill level just as much as your teacher’s recommendations or personal preferences for one or the other. Acoustic pianos are often simply too expensive for many students, but a quality digital piano can be a much better option for a student than a less expensive, low-quality acoustic.