Which is Best to Learn on?
Digital pianos sound nothing like a real piano. Upright pianos take up too much room. There’s a lot of conflicting advice floating around. I’ll give you the right piano buying advice so you can make your own decision on whether the digital piano or the upright piano is right for your needs.
Graham Howard – Author and Piano Advisor.
Email for piano advice: firstname.lastname@example.org
or Call 01327 300 016
A brief history of the digital piano
Digital pianos were invented over 26 years ago and when they where first introduced they were pretty terrible, the keys were much too light, spongy and nothing like a real piano. The sound was incredibly bright and the sampling was quite dreadful. You couldn’t really say that it sounded much like a piano at all.
These digital pianos also looked nothing like a real acoustic piano, they had ugly, plastic looking cases that didn’t match any type of furniture in the room. If guests came around it was almost an embarrassment to have this ugly plastic looking machine in the living room. My how things have changed over the last 20 years!
A brief history of the upright piano
The upright piano was invented in 1709 by the Italian Cristofori. It was a four octave instrument compared to the seven and a quarter octave instrument of today, with hammers striking the strings just as they do on a modern upright piano. The instrument was invented to meet the need to control dynamics by touch, which could not be achieved on the harpsichord.
The early upright piano went through many changes before it emerged as the instrument we all know today. The Cristofori piano was wing shaped like grand pianos, it had a curved body and a lid that could be elevated. There were also square pianos in which the strings ran from left to right as on the clavichord. And by 1800, there were upright pianos whose strings ran perpendicular to the keyboard. Other names commonly used are: vertical piano or acoustic piano, they mean essentially the same thing.
A typical old fashioned upright piano, tall upright standing, ivory keys, beautiful wood, moulded carvings, stylish legs and brass candlestick holders. The old pianos always had a beautiful warm tone because they were made with quality materials and real wood. The soundboard was seasoned for ages which in turn created a resonant and sustaining tone. The superior quality meant that your piano would easily last a lifetime.
Moving on to modern times
These days your typical starter piano is mass produced in China, Indonesia or Korea with very cheap materials, soundboards made out of trees that were probably knocked down the day before and thrown together as quickly as possible to get distributed around the world.
Well maybe it is not quite as bad as this, but anyway i am sure you get my point.
ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF ACOUSTIC AND DIGITAL PIANOS
Advantages of Digital Pianos:
1) You can plug in headphones so nobody can hear you play
2) You can turn the volume up or down
3) You can record your music on the instrument itself, or to disc, smart media, floppy etc.
4) You can experiment with lots of different instrument sounds
5) Due to their light weight, digital pianos can easily be moved from room to room
6) Your digital piano will never need tuning or maintenance, which will save you a small fortune
7) You can download songs from the web and play them on your instrument. (Normally the more expensive digital pianos offer this facility)
8) Digital pianos are very reasonably priced for what they are. You can pick one up from as little as £400
9) Digital pianos take up less space than the acoustic piano. They are slightly shorter in length, much lower in height and most importantly about 2/3rds the depth (front to back) of an acoustic piano, thus saving you valuable space
Disadvantages of Digital Pianos:
1) The value of your piano depreciates very quickly
2) New models are introduced every 2-3 years making your piano even less valuable and harder to sell
Advantages of Upright Pianos
1) Your piano will hold its value over time and if it is looked after it will normally increase over a longer period (normally 20 years plus)
2) The piano has natural acoustic sounds which is produced by the hammer striking the string and then amplified by the soundboard
3) The piano is made from wood, sometimes MDF and is very strong
4) If the piano’s outer casing is damaged it can be repaired easily and fairly cheaply by a French polisher
5) If there is a problem with the piano mechanically, it can normally be fixed by a piano tuner very quickly and cheaply. (With the exception of old pianos that normally need a lot of work)
6) The touch of a real piano is second to none. The deep, rich natural tones enable you to really enjoy playing music
7) You normally get a long warranty with acoustic pianos, anywhere from 5-10 years.
Disadvantages of Upright Pianos
1) The upright piano is extremely heavy (can weigh 175kg upwards) and is almost impossible to maneuver without the help of professional piano movers
2) The volume of the piano cannot be turned up or down, it is reliant on the player to control this.
3) The piano needs tuning regularly (normally twice a year) and can cost in the region of £60-£90 a time.
4) The piano will need the occasional maintenance (every 5-10 years)
5) A good, well made piano can be quite expensive (Usually £3000 upwards)
6) Upright pianos take up a lot of room, especially the grands and the taller uprights.
7) They can mark your floor if you try to move them even the slightest bit and because of the immense weight, the wheels or feet leave deep indentations in your floor over a period of time
I hope this article has helped you in your piano buying quest.
Please note: This article is copyright and protected. You may publish this article on your website providing you leave the article “as is” and retain the author’s biography box. All contents Copyright © 2008-2020. All rights reserved. Graham Howard, author of The Digital Piano Bible (a buyer’s guide) and The Howard Score (piano rating system).
“A real piano or digital one – this is my dilemma”
I’m left with the decision of getting my son a `real’ piano or digital one. This is my dilemma. I’d like a digital for it’s looks and size – smaller and more moveable than an acoustic piano. I shall certainly look at your book again to help me decide between the two and to help me chose a digital one, if I go for one. His piano teacher says I’m denying him a proper piano. What are your thoughts?
If you go for a digital piano, then it’s vital
you choose one that’s got a fully-weighted
or heavy-weighted key touch.
This is the most important thing to get right
(also to please his piano teacher).
The Broadway range of pianos is a good
place to start with. They offer a range of
digital pianos all with heavy-weighted keys.
Heavy-weighted keys are an exact replica
of a real piano; so your son will develop
the correct technique from early on.
I recommend either the Broadway EZ-102
or BW1. You can see these here:
If you decide to get a real piano then I
recommend buying a re-conditioned one.
We have about 20 in stock at the moment here:
I downloaded your book but as yet am undecided as to whether to buy digital or acoustic. I play the piano myself and teach piano and singing. I currently have a basic piano which is showing signs of wear, mechanisms going wrong etc so I am wanting to update. Although digital seem to be more cost effective, I am a bit of a purist and feel that an acoustic piano gives a better playing experience so perhaps I should download your acoustic piano book too.
Reply/ Hi Carol
You are absolutely right in saying that an acoustic
piano gives a better playing experience…
The most frequent comment I hear from experienced
players about their digital pianos is that the
sound is just not right… there’s something
What’s missing is the natural sound that’s a result
of a hammer hitting a string, which then transmits
and amplifies the sound through a real wood
soundboard, bridges and wood cabinet.
Simply put, a real, acoustic piano comes to life.
A digital piano has a dead sound.
If you are considering an upright piano then I
recommend the Broadway BU-109…
The Broadway is a beautiful sounding piano.
The tone is rich in the bass and warm in the
The treble is crisp and bright, but not overly
bright like most pianos from Japan and the Far
The most important parts of the mechanism are
produced in Germany and other parts of Europe…
The more expensive materials do push the price
up a bit, but at least you can be sure you’ll
get a quality piano with a great sound.
You can read more about the Broadway here:
Let me know if you need more help choosing
Here’s my number: 020 8367 2080
Many thanks for your prompt reply and for clarifying the differences between the two Yamaha models. I think we need to do a lot more researching before we come to a decision (my husband still thinks we would be better with a piano rather than a digital one) but would appreciate some suggestions for stockists and also some prices please.
Thanks once again,
Reply/ Hi Chris
A real piano is always much nicer to play than
a digital piano. You can hear the natural
sounds made from vibrating strings rather
than an electronic recording of that.
Also, the action of a real piano is more responsive.
The keys are longer (the end of the keys extend
far inside the piano), this gives it leverage… you
just can’t get the same feel on a digital piano.
We have a range of new and secondhand pianos
on the Rent-to-Own programme. This might be
a good way to get started.
You can read more about this here:
Thanks for sharing your knowledge and digitial piano testing results. Your
book is very interesting and informative.
I’m hoping to buy an acoustic piano with silent system one day (It’s out of
my budget now). Meanwhile, I’m going to either buy a digital piano or ship
my existing acoustic piano from Hong Kong to UK.
I passed Grade 8 piano exam ages ago. Since then, I’ve occasionally played
the piano except two years ago when I had piano lessons for 6 months. I
enjoy playing piano for leisure and like pieces with rich tones by
Tchaikovsky, Brahams, Chopins, etc.
My daughter, aged 9, took Grade 2 exam early last year. She has relocated
to UK last summer and hasn’t played piano since then. I would like her to
continue having piano lessons. She is not very keen but is willing to learn
and practise playing piano.
My existing acoustic piano in Hong Kong is an upright Samick bought in
1999 (costing around GBP 2,300) and a higher model then. It has been
little used but tuned three times a year (The pinao tuner said the wood
board behind is not very strong, making certain notes go out of tune sooner
than the better and more expensive pianos). The sound quality is okay, good
in the lower (bass) notes but a tiny bit too sharp in the high notes.
I’m worry whether shipping the Samick over to UK would damage the mechanism
or the material of the piano, and whether it would cost a lot to have it
repaired (though I know of families shipping their pianos abroad when they
emigrate) What do you think?
The other alternative is to buy a digital piano. Is any of the Yamaha
digital pianos or Classenti digital pianos good enough for (a) up to Grade 8
level? and (b) beyond Grade 8 level? I want my daughter to learn the piano
seriously and want a model with sound and touch close to an acoustic
piano to allow easy transition from a digital piano to acoustic piano for my
daughter. Also, I don’t want to be disappointed when I play the digital
piano for leisure. Or perhaps only an acoustic piano could satisfy these
If my daughter practise on a digital piano, will she need to practise
playing on an acoustic piano before any piano exams?
Grateful for your advice, please.
Reply/ Hi Cynthia
Of course it’s best to learn on an acoustic piano.
And if you’re grade 8 standard then there’s
no substitute for the real thing.
Having said that, the Kurzweil and Gewa range of
digital pianos could be a good compromise…
The Kurzweil’s key touch is fully-weighted.
This makes it feel very close to playing a
real piano. So the transition to acoustic will
be much easier to manage for your daughter.
The Kurzweil MP120 is one I particularly
The MP120 has a 5 touch sensitivity levels
and a deep, warm piano sound.
You can read more about it here:
Another is the German made Gewa UP260G.
This piano has a fabulous sound sampled on
a Steinway concert grand.
Shipping over your Samick piano would be
very costly. It would only be worth considering
if you plan on staying here for a long time.
I have read your thoughts on the Classenti digital pianos, which you are obiously keen on. It would be most useful if you could put the Classenti in perspective with the other makes of piano which you have rated eg. Yamaha – 9, Roland – 8 (I think), Classenti – ?
Could I also ask if you are sure about the 5 yr guarantee, as if you look at the Classenti.co.uk site the general 5 yr guarantee seems to limit any electronic components to 12 months. Unless this is changed for the digital piano it would seem to limit most of its components to 12 months.
Reply/ Hi Graham
I have just checked with the Classenti and the warranty is 5 years and it covers all electronic parts.
As far as a rating goes, comparing with other makes such as Yamaha (9.5), Roland (8), Kawai (6.5) and Casio (6) I give the Classenti a rating of 7.
I am pleased to have stumbled upon your website, and very grateful for the invaluable advice published on it.
“Digital or upright piano. Which is best to learn on?”
I am planning to come to your Enfield store on Thursday.
Please I would like to ask what is better to buy on this stage child 5 years, one teacher told me is better start with Digital piano is more attractive with many sounds and other teacher told me that acoustic piano is better.
Really I am not sure which one I can take for her.
If you can advise me.
Reply/ Dear Huda
It’s always best to learn on an acoustic piano.
This is because it’s the real thing, and it has the correct
key resistance and a natural sound.
We have several upright pianos available in our Enfield store.
You can see the current up-to-date list here
Hope to see you in the store this Thursday.
Meanwhile, let me know if you have any more questions.