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Music Lessons

What Digital Piano/ Keyboard Should I Buy for My New Piano Student?

Once you have decided to begin piano lessons for your child (or yourself – OnStage does have adult students), one of the most common questions is: which piano should I purchase?

If you prefer a keyboard that will be appropriate for the first 18 months or so and don't know how dedicated your child may be then the Casio CTK3500 is a good choice.  It has touch sensitive keys, which means it will sound louder if you press harder.  The main thing that it is missing is the full 88 keys and  weighted keys.

The best bet once you are prepared to spend $450 or more is usually the Casio Privia PX-160, with the Casio CDP-S100 another good digital piano that costs around $100 less.

Why are the PX-160 and CDP-S100 good pianos? Both of these digital pianos are full-sized, meaning they have an 88-key keyboard and an “action” (feel on keypress) that feels like an acoustic piano. They both have built-in speakers, a headphone jack for quiet practice, and a built-in metronome. The price for the PX-160 is $500, but it is often on sale at Amazon and other sites for nearly $400. As I write this, the Amazon price for the PX-160 is $429. It’s also sold at Wal-Mart, Sweetwater, Guitar Center, and other similar stores and websites. It comes in black or white, though this is purely an aesthetic option and both versions play exactly the same. Amazon Link for PX-160: Casio Link for PX-160: Sweetwater Link for PX-160:

The CDP-S100 was released by Casio in February 2019. Its regular price is $400. In the next few months, it will likely be stocked by most other music retailers as well.

Which one should I choose? The PX-160 or the CDP-S100? If the $400-500 cost of the PX-160 is reasonable for your family, you should buy that one. It is full-featured and an amazing value. The CDP-S100 is Casio’s attempt to get the price of a quality digital piano as low as possible. To do that, they took out some of the features present in the PX-160. One difference is the PX-160 has two front mounted headphone jacks, while the CDP-S100 has one headphone jack in the back of the keyboard. If you switch back and forth between headphones and speakers regularly, having the jack in the back can be annoying, especially if you position the piano against a wall. Having two jacks is also nice so someone (a parent or sibling) can listen on headphones as the student plays. The CDP-S100 also lacks the ability to record as you play, lacks the ability to add a three pedal unit later, and lacks the rhythm accompaniment functions of the PX-160. None of these features are critical, but they are nice to have.

The CDP-S100 does have one feature the PX-160 does not: it can run off AA batteries, something that might occasionally be useful.

What about the Yamaha P45/P71? These are great digital pianos as well (the P45 and P71 are identical – the P71 is the exact same piano as the P45 but sold at Amazon only). The reason they are not our first choices is they are normally as expensive as the Casio PX-160, but more equivalent to the CDP-S100 in features. As one example, it the P45/P71 has a single headphone jack placed awkwardly in the back of the piano. The Casio PX-160 is normally a better value. But if you get a good deal on a Yamaha, or for some reason prefer the Yamaha brand, the P45 and P71 are very good digital pianos.

Where can I read more? The NY Times’ Wirecutter site has a lengthy article which also recommends the PX-160: Here. The CDP-S100 is not included in the review because it is too new.

Do I need anything else to start with? The Casios come with a music stand to hold sheet music, but you should also buy a keyboard stand to put the piano on while playing. The piano will play perfectly well on a table or counter, but it is important your child be at the right height with respect to the keyboard. So a keyboard stand with adjustable height is a good investment. This RockJam stand is a good one, and is only $30 on Amazon.

Also, the sustain pedals that come with the PX-160 and the CDP-S100 are cheaply made and doesn’t feel anything like an acoustic piano pedal. Once your child reaches the point where they are playing music with the pedal, you should consider a pedal like the Casio SP-20, which is about $30 on Amazon.

Should I buy the cabinet? Casio makes a wooden cabinet stand that the PX-160 fits in. The advantages are that it provides a very stable platform, and it looks more like a solid piece of furniture. The downside is it makes the piano much less portable and no longer height-adjustable, so you now need a height-adjustable piano bench or stool to go with it. Whether to spend the $130 to buy the cabinet stand is up to you. Consider holding off and seeing if you really want it – it can be added at any time.  Link

Can I spend less than the cost of the CDP-S100? ($300-$400)? Yes….but. The “but” is big here. You cannot spend less than that and get a quality digital piano. What you will find for less than that generally are “keyboards.” The difference between a “keyboard” and a “digital piano” is that a digital piano duplicates the playing feel of an acoustic piano. When you play an acoustic piano, the keys are heavy, and they get gradually heavier as you move from right to left on the keyboard. Further, acoustic pianos have an infinite dynamic range – this means they can play from very soft to very loud depending on how hard you press the keys. These two features, weighted keys and dynamic range, are what you lose if you buy an inexpensive keyboard. Some keyboards will also not have all 88 keys, though this is not really a problem as new players will not be playing pieces using notes at the ends of the keyboard.

That said, if you have a child who is very unsure about playing the piano, or very young, starting them out on an inexpensive keyboard is a good choice!!! They can still learn to play, and the notes, rhythm, finger placement, and other key skills will carry over to a piano. If your child does stick with it, they will eventually need to transition into a digital piano, though.

If you go this route, it is imperative that you buy a keyboard with “full-size” keys. This means the keys are the same size as on a piano. Learning on a keyboard with smaller keys will be counterproductive.

Casio and Yamaha both make quality inexpensive keyboards. One example, the Casio CTX-700, has 61 full-size keys, and is a reasonable choice and sells for $150-$200 at Amazon and other stores. There are plenty of other options that will work, including cheaper ones. Just make sure the keys are full-size and stick with the Casio or Yamaha brands.

Why do you recommend digital pianos? Aren’t acoustic pianos better? The simple reason is you cannot get a good quality used upright piano for less than about $1500-$2000, unless you are a piano expert and can scour yard sales and Craigslist for bargains and can determine on your own whether a used piano is in good working order. Further, you’ll spend $100-$300 or more per year on an acoustic piano to keep it tuned.

If you are still a doubter about digital pianos, here is a video of a young pianist playing Chopin on the Casio PX-160:  VIDEO

What if I don’t mind spending $1500 or more? Should I get an acoustic? Probably not, for a beginner. Digital pianos have made amazing progress in the last 10-15 years. The best acoustic pianos still sound better than the best digital pianos, but buying one of those fancy acoustic pianos will set you back tens of thousands of dollars, or more.

Further, digital pianos have lots of advantages: they don’t need to be tuned, can be played with headphones, take up less space, can be moved around the home without piano movers, and have built-in metronomes and other nice features like the ability to record and MIDI output. The main advantage of an acoustic piano is it will last for your lifetime, and maybe more, if you maintain it well.

What about fancier digital pianos? Should I look at those? They are not necessary for a beginner. If you really want to, here are a few options:

The Yamaha P-125 plays and sounds as good as the PX-160 and has a very clever Ipad/Iphone app that does some neat things. It’s about $600.

Beyond that, some people think the Roland FP-30 has a slightly better “action” (keyboard feel). It costs about $700.

If you want to go crazy, the Yamaha P-515 has the NWX keyboard action found on the best of Yamaha’s luxury Clavinova line including an escapement mechanism that mimics the feel of an acoustic piano when the keys are pressed very lightly and it also has actual wooden keys. It is a stunning instrument, and sells for about $1500.

Beyond that price point, you are into the range where you could get a quality used acoustic or a really fancy digital piano. If you are truly committed to spending that amount of money on a beginner, give us a call and we’ll give you some pointers and general advice.