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Congratulations on deciding to buy your first piano!

This can be an exciting—but overwhelming—process. Luckily, you’ve come to the right place! At Pianote, we want everyone to start their piano journey strong, so here’s a guide to get you started.

We’ll discuss what you should consider before buying a piano, the types of pianos on the market today, how they differ, and how to choose a piano that is right for you.


Table of Contents

*Note: This article contains affiliate links, which means we might earn a small commission from the product seller if you make a purchase. For more info, check out our privacy page.


CHAPTER 1: BEFORE YOU BUY

1.1 A Brief History of the Piano

Welcome to the piano. By going on this journey, you’re joining a tradition that’s been going on for over 300 years.

Before you learn how to buy the best piano for you, it may help to understand the historical context of this magnificent instrument.

The Harpsichord and Clavichord

Before the piano, there was the harpsichord and the clavichord.

The harpsichord is different from other keyboard instruments because its strings are plucked rather than hammered. With keys that resemble unweighted buttons, it has a small dynamic range.

A harpsichord, Cristofori pianoforte, and Broadwood piano.
Demonstration of a clavichord.

The clavichord dates back to the late Middle Ages. It’s very compact and rather quiet. But it more closely resembles the piano because the strings are hammered, although some notes can’t be played at the same time.

The triangular shape of the harpsichord comes from it being descended from harps laid down. We still see this shape in grand pianos today!

Cristofori’s Pianoforte and Beethoven’s Broadwood

In the 1700s, piano engineering took a huge step forward thanks to Bartholomew Cristofori.

Cristofori single-handedly designed the pianoforte (literally, “soft-loud”) which is the precursor to the modern piano. Unlike previous keyboard instruments, the pianoforte has a nuanced, dynamic range based on how much pressure a pianist puts on the keys.

Escapement was another innovation — a mechanism that keeps strings from vibrating when not in use.

A copy of a fortepiano Mozart would have used in the 1700s.
A Broadwood piano similar to one Beethoven may have played.

Piano engineering would take another big step in the 1800s with John Broadwood’s pianos.

Beethoven famously abused his pianos out of frustration because he was hard of hearing. But when he gained access to the Broadwood piano, his world changed. In fact, Beethoven’s dynamic and passionate composition style may have come about thanks to the greater expressive range of the Broadwood.

Modern Pianos

The pianos of today are a culmination of hundreds of years of human ingenuity. Pianos are one of few instruments capable of playing melody and harmony at once. And the sound of an acoustic piano is strong enough to stand out against an entire orchestra during a concerto.

Rhodes piano — a silver, electronic keyboard with a single pedal on thin metal legs.
The Rhodes piano, an electronic keyboard instrument popularized in the 1970s by jazz artist Chick Corea. (Photo: Docrobbie, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
The Pianote studio piano – a Roland V-Piano Grand. Looks like a grand piano, but has digital capabilities useful for teaching piano on YouTube!

The sophistication of acoustic pianos is probably why, until very recently, learning piano on a digital keyboard was frowned upon. But digital pianos have come a very long way in the past twenty years. Later in this article, we’ll see just how far they’ve come along and how they stack up against — even rival — their acoustic counterparts.

1.2 How Pianos Work

Understanding how pianos work — both acoustics and digitals — can help you navigate the (often overwhelming) piano market. Know what salespeople mean when they say things like “real spruce soundboard” and “semi-weighted key action”!

How Acoustic Pianos Work

The modern acoustic piano is a sophisticated machine with over 12,000 moving parts. It’s easier to understand the mechanisms by watching a video, but we’ll summarize the key points here.

What a key does when you press it is called action. Know this word well — it’ll come up a lot when you shop for a piano, acoustic or digital. In a nutshell, it works like this:

  1. You press a key with your finger.
  2. The key activates a series of intricate levers.
  3. The levers activate a hammer.
  4. The hammer strikes a string (or several strings, depending on the pitch of the note), creating a sound.
Labelled diagram illustration of piano action.
A diagram of the piano action mechanism. (Source: Olek Remesz & Bechstein, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

A note about pedals. Acoustic grand pianos usually have three pedals, the una corda (left), the sostenuto (middle), and the sustain (right).

The una corda softens your playing, the sostenuto sustains a select number of notes, and the sustain pedal sustains all notes played while it’s pressed down. Upright acoustic pianos don’t tend to have a sostenuto pedal — instead, the middle pedal can be locked down and used as a “practice pedal” that significantly mutes sound for late-night practice.

A quick rundown on how to use the sustain pedal.

How Digital Pianos Work

A digital piano interprets the “input” of your hands to produce an output (sound) made from samples. Today, digital pianos are very sophisticated at interpreting what fingers do, and they can recreate things like dynamics and expression very well.

This is because digital pianos have gotten very good at designing key actions that mimic those of acoustic pianos. That being said, how digital pianos work vary widely. Synthesizers with very simple actions can feel like pressing buttons on a game controller. Meanwhile, high-end performance keyboards can feel like you’re playing on a concert grand.

Here’s some useful vocabulary to know about digital piano action:

  • Fully-weighted action keys use a counterweight to simulate the feel of an acoustic piano’s key resistance.
  • Unweighted (synth action) keys are spring-loaded and feel more like pressing buttons. They are most often used in synthesizers and workstations.
  • Semi-weighted keys combine characteristics of spring-loaded and fully-weighted keys. Folks who don’t require fully-weighted keys and some Hammond organ players may choose semi-weighted keys.
  • Hammer action keys are a newer innovation and use an actual hammer. These digital pianos are even closer to the touch and feel of an acoustic piano.
  • “Graded keys” refers to how, in an acoustic piano, lower note keys are heavier and higher note keys are lighter. Some digital pianos also imitate this.

Differences Between Acoustic and Digital Pianos

While the main difference between an acoustic and a digital piano is the action, another big difference is how the sound reaches your ear.

Digital pianos use speakers while acoustic pianos use wooden soundboards. This is why many traditionalists think acoustic pianos are superior — the sound is created by the entire instrument resonating.

When you play a grand piano with the lid up, all eight or so feet of piano (the size of a table) act as your speaker. In vertical upright pianos, the back of the piano acts as a wall-size speaker.

A piano expert explains the differences between digital and acoustic pianos, including the sound differences of soundboards (entire instrument resonating) vs. speakers.

Of course, you can hook a digital piano up to high-quality speakers or headphones and achieve a similar effect. But some would argue that you can’t match the natural, spruce soundboard of an acoustic grand.

And then there are hybrid pianos…

Hybrid Pianos

Hybrid pianos combine the best of both worlds. They often use acoustic piano action with a digital tone engine. The Kawai NV5 even uses a real spruce soundboard.

These instruments aren’t cheap, but they’re an excellent choice for experienced musicians who require the nuanced power of an acoustic piano but don’t have the space or privacy to house a concert grand. Skip to this section if you’re interested in hybrid pianos.

1.3 What to Consider When Buying Your First Piano

Everyone has different needs, so how do you know whether the piano of your dreams is right for you? Here are some things to think about before you buy your first piano:

1. Type of Music You Want to Play

Do you want to play classical, jazz, or pop? Are you interested in creating your own songs?

Classical and jazz pianists may prefer an acoustic or acoustic-like piano. This is because pianos with sophisticated actions are best for training your fingers to evoke the dynamic nuances in classical and jazz music. Pop music benefits from nuance too.

Meanwhile, composers and music producers may require the connectivity and features of a synthesizer or workstation, perhaps even at the cost of key action.

Man with manbun plays portable keyboard in public street.

2. Commitment Level

How long do you think you (or your child) will stick with learning the piano? This will affect how much money you should invest.

Child with headphones plays see-through white piano in a store.

If you’ve never played the piano before and have no idea how much you’ll like it, then it makes sense to invest in a cheaper, entry-level instrument.

But if you’re sure you or someone in your household will play the piano for three to five years, you may want to invest in a mid-level, semi-professional instrument.

If someone in your household sees themselves playing for ten years or more, and are an experienced, professional, or semi-professional player, then it makes sense to invest in a higher-tier instrument.

3. Budget

Let’s face it, pianos are expensive. That being said, you have a lot of choice here. The price range of pianos ranges from free to that of a luxury car.

In general, the more you spend, the better the instrument will be. But just because a piano is super expensive doesn’t mean it’ll meet your needs. A Steinway concert grand is an excellent piano, but it’s not very helpful for someone who wants to record themselves playing pop songs with special effects.

There are keyboards selling for as low as $50-70. Keyboards like these can be excellent to leave in a nursery room to gauge the interest of a very young child.

But for adult beginners enthusiastic about getting started, we recommend going for keyboards in the $500-1500 range.

Grand piano with lid and fallboard closed in a high-celing room.

4. Space

The piano is a large piece of furniture, especially acoustic pianos. If your space is limited, you may want to invest in a smaller keyboard. Grand pianos are beautiful, but they’re also oddly-shaped. Meanwhile, acoustic uprights save space, but they’re not small either and require an expert to transport.

But what if you have your heart set on playing classical music? Shouldn’t you invest in at least a baby grand?

Eames chair next to antique upright with strings showing and a fan on top.
Keyboard placed in front of an open window with plants.

If you have the space and the budget, by all means purchase the piano of your dreams. But keyboard technology has advanced exponentially in recent years.

Music students, performers on the road, and other experienced pianists can get a lot of value from compact, professional stage keyboards. These keyboards go for a fraction of the price of an acoustic and come jam-packed with features like portability, recording, and headphone output.

So, don’t discount the value of a digital piano or keyboard.

5. The People You Live With

Lisa holds black and white dog in front of piano, paws on keyboard.
Lisa’s furbaby Rhodes! If you have people or animals at home who are sensitive to noise, you may want a digital piano with headphone capability.

Finally, be a good neighbor and/or roommate and factor in the people you live with. Pianos with a headphone jack are useful for practicing all hours, and many upright pianos have a practice pedal for silent practice.

The number of people in the household who will play the piano also affects your purchase. Heavy use from many pianists will naturally shorten your instrument’s lifespan. In this case, you may want to invest in a longer-lasting higher-end model.

Take some time to consider all these factors and jot them down before you head to the music store. It’s also a good idea to measure out the space you intend to place your instrument and bring those numbers to the store.


CHAPTER 2: HOW TO BUY AN ACOUSTIC PIANO

Close-up of the inside of a grand piano's strings - Steinway and Sons label.

2.1 Upright vs. Grand Pianos

You’ve probably encountered several upright pianos in your life, whether in your childhood home, at school, at church, or at a family friend’s house. For generations, upright pianos like the Yamaha U1 were familiar residents of family homes.

Man with curly hair plays open lid grand piano outdoors in front of crowd.
Man in tank top and backwards hat plays upright piano on a mountain overlooking a sunset view.

On the other hand, grand pianos are some of the most elegant and beautiful things you can place in a home. They’re also very large, very loud, and very expensive.

So, when is it a good time to get an upright, a grand, or neither? Let’s compare their differences in detail.

Differences Between Grand Pianos and Upright Pianos

The size and price differences between grands and uprights is obvious, but less obvious are their differences in key action, sound quality, and pedals.

Key action. In grand pianos, the hammer returns to its original position using gravity because the strings are laid horizontally. Upright pianos require springs to return hammers to rest. This means it’s easier to play fast and repetitive notes on a grand piano than it is on an upright.

Here’s a demonstration by Yamaha:

Grand piano horizontal key action.
Upright piano vertical key action.
Close up of three pedals

Pedals. Grand pianos typically have three pedals: the una corda (left), the sostenuto (middle), and the sustain pedal (right). Upright pianos usually lack a sostenuto pedal and have a lockable silent practice pedal instead that significantly reduces volume. Sostenuto pedals are rarely used, even in advanced music, so if you’re a beginner, don’t worry too much about lacking one.

Sound quality. Experts tend to agree that grand pianos have superior sound quality due to their size and shape.

In a grand piano, sound leaves the piano from the top and bottom of the instrument. They’re also larger. These features give grand pianos superior tone and resonance.

Upright piano in wood finish in white, empty room against wall.
Closed lid grand piano in white spacious room with circular window.

Grand pianos also have the same shape as other resonant instruments like violins and guitars. Box-shaped upright pianos, on the other hand, don’t conduct sound as well.

Other Types of Pianos

Interestingly, there are several types of piano “in between” uprights and grands. Baby grands are one such species, but they’re somewhat controversial in the piano world. They seem bigger and grander, but their strings may be shorter than that of a good upright. Some experts argue that it’s better to buy a high-quality large upright than a baby grand. Others disagree.

Manufacturers understand that there are serious piano players who simply don’t have the space for a grand piano. If that’s you, a grand-like upright like the Yamaha YUS-5 (my personal piano!) may be a good choice. It has a sostenuto pedal, a practice lever, and the action is designed to feel like a grand piano’s.

So…should you buy a grand or an upright?

If you’re a beginner, start with an upright piano if you want to buy acoustic. An upright piano is more affordable, takes up less space, and its acoustic features should be enough to help you develop your technique.

Experienced pianists and performers can benefit from the key action of grand pianos. If you plan to play on other people’s pianos (such as in a concert hall), it would make sense to practice on a piano as similar to that as possible.

2.2 Cost of Acoustic Pianos

The cost of acoustic pianos is sometimes difficult to find because manufacturers and retailers obscure prices on websites.

Here are a few MSRPs of beginner uprights courtesy of The Piano Buyer:

PIANO (ACOUSTIC UPRIGHTS)MSRP (NEW)
Kawai K-15$5,500-$6,000 USD
Yamaha U1$11,000-$14,000 USD
Yamaha B-series$4,000-$9,000 USD
Essex EUP-108C$5,890
Source: The Piano Buyer

2.2 New vs. Used Pianos

Buying a used piano can save you a lot of money and net you a high-quality piano. Plus, recycling is good for the planet!

But buying used pianos can be intimidating. And it’ll take work. The best way to go about this is to shop with a professional or at least someone who’s experienced with pianos.

Close up of keyboard of a slightly worn Yamaha upright piano.
An old, slightly worn piano, but seemingly in good condition. It’s also from a reputable, recognizable brand.
Very old and battered upright piano keyboard.
You probably don’t want this piano.

You can also visit your local music store and ask about trade-ins. Sometimes, people trade-in old pianos when they upgrade to a better model. These pianos should have been inspected by the store. If you’re not sure how far you’ll go with piano, ask your store about renting or rent-to-own programs.

How to Assess a Used Piano

A demonstration on how to inspect an old piano.

Some tips to get you started:

  • Most experts put an acoustic piano’s lifespan at 40-60 years.
  • If you don’t like the cabinetry of the piano, know that it will be very difficult to refurbish.
  • If you can afford it, buy a used piano from a reputable brand you recognize.
  • Always play a piano before you buy it. Test the tone, key action, and whether some keys are terribly out of tune.

Ask questions like how often the piano was played, how often it was tuned, and how the original owners cared for the piano. You may even want to know the general environment the piano was housed in (ie. did it live in a humid area?).

It’s also best to open up a piano and inspect the insides. Ideally, you’d have a professional do this, but if you’re keen on DIY-ing it, Piano Buyer has a very detailed step-by-step guide on how to do this yourself.

Buying an acoustic piano is an expensive and time-consuming task. It can also be rewarding. But don’t forget that today, we have a vast array of digital pianos to choose from too.


CHAPTER 3: HOW TO BUY A DIGITAL PIANO

Close up of Roland V-Piano grand keyboard showing controls.

3.1 Types of Digital Pianos

Not too long ago, learning on anything but an acoustic piano was frowned upon. Not anymore. Today’s digital pianos and keyboards are very sophisticated instruments with incredible tone quality and authentic key action. They’re also portable, packed with features, and make it easy to record and practice quietly.

But it’s also an enormous and overwhelming market. Let’s define a few things first.

“Digital Pianos” vs. “Keyboards” vs. “Synthesizers” and Everything Else

Many different instruments fall in the “digital piano” category. The term “digital piano” is sort of a catch-all term for keyboard instruments that are not acoustic pianos.

For ease of understanding, I’ll refer to all electronically-powered keyboard instruments as “digital pianos” in this article. While there are no official categories, in general, most pianos fall into one of these groups:

White console digtal piano in a clean room with floor plant.
A typical home console piano.

Home console pianos often mimic an acoustic upright’s cabinetry and finish. These are ideal for beginners, families, and hobbyists who want a piano that fits in nicely with their home.

Slab keyboards are very portable and can be set on a stand. These come in a range of quality, from beginner-oriented, bare-bones keyboards like Roland’s GO:KEYS to high-quality stage pianos like the Yamaha MX88 for professional use.

Hybrid pianos use a combination of acoustic action and digital technology. These pianos tend to be pricey, but they satisfy discerning pianists while providing modern convenience.

Synthesizers and workstation keyboards are jam-packed with music production features like different tones and special effects. These keyboards often don’t prioritize key action, but some higher-end models do.

MIDI keyboards are essentially controllers and tend to be quite small, with very basic key action.

3.2 What to Look For in a Digital Piano

So, what should you look for in a digital piano? Well, this depends a lot on your particular needs. But for most beginners who want to develop a good foundation in piano technique, we have a few tips.

Number of Keys

Try your best to get 88 keys. This is the standard number of keys on a grand piano. Having 88 keys at your disposal will allow you to play any song on the piano without running out of notes.

Bird's eye view of keyboard in wood finish.

While you may think you don’t need all 88 notes as a beginner, you’ll develop the capacity very soon to require all notes.

Weighted, Touch-Sensitive Keys

When you’re first starting out, it’s vital to get authentic, weighted, touch-sensitive keys. That’s because touch is a skill you want to develop from your first day. Knowing how to manipulate the keys to produce nuanced, dynamic sound is a fundamental skill that you don’t want to lose out on by learning on a sub-par instrument.

As we mentioned before, there are several types of digital piano key action. Here’s a review:

  • Fully-weighted action keys use a counterweight to simulate the feel of an acoustic piano’s key resistance.
  • Unweighted (synth action) keys are spring-loaded and feel more like pressing buttons. They are most often used in synthesizers and workstations.
  • Semi-weighted keys combine characteristics of spring-loaded and fully-weighted keys. Folks who don’t require fully-weighted keys and some Hammond organ players may choose semi-weighted keys.
  • Hammer action keys are a newer innovation and use an actual hammer. These digital pianos are even closer to the touch and feel of an acoustic piano.
  • “Graded keys” refers to how, in an acoustic piano, lower note keys are heavier and higher note keys are lighter. Some digital pianos also imitate this.
Close up view of synthesizer keyboard with controls.

Tones and Polyphony

“Tones” refers to the unique sounds a digital keyboard is capable of making. Common examples include grand piano, electric piano, harpsichord, strings, choral, and drum kits.

“Polyphony” (poly = many; phony = voices) refers to how many notes can be played at the same time. While there are only 88 keys on a keyboard, things like backing tracks, layering, and other effects may count as a voice.

MIDI

Synthesizer keyboard and laptop on a coffee table in front of a couch in a cozy, wood and exposed brick home.

MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a universal “language” that instruments use to “speak” with each other. It takes information from an instrument you play — such as how hard you play and at what pitch — and relays this to other instruments or a computer.

Most digital pianos and keyboards these days have built-in classic MIDI ports and/or USB MIDI ports. With a USB port, you can plug a keyboard directly into a computer and start playing. With older MIDI ports, you’ll need an interface between the instrument and the computer to relay the message.

MIDI capability is something you’d want to look for if you want to get into music production or learning with an app.

3.3 Hybrid Pianos

Hybrid pianos are exactly what they sound like — they’re a hybrid between acoustic and digital pianos.

Hybrid pianos really are the best of both worlds. They often have features like headphone, MIDI connectivity, and different tones, while giving an authentic, acoustic experience. Some hybrid pianos even use real hammers and real soundboards.

So what’s the downside with hybrid pianos? Well, they’re pretty expensive — anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000. With this amount of money, you can buy a very good quality upright piano or even a baby grand.

Still, hybrid pianos are perfect for people who demand the tone and key action of an acoustic piano but also desire the convenience of headphones, recording, and a smaller instrument. Hybrid pianos tend to attract experienced musicians with space limitations.


CHAPTER 4: BEST PIANOS AND KEYBOARDS FOR BEGINNERS

Blue Yamaha MX61 keyboard.

4.1 Top Piano Brands

Here’s a question you may be mulling over: does the brand of your piano matter?

Pianos are similar to cars in the sense that the most well-known brands are European, American, and Japanese. Chances are, you’ve heard of these names: Steinway & Sons, Bösendorfer, Yamaha, Fazioli, Hoffman, Bechstein, Kawai.

Are some piano brands better than others? Not necessarily. Are they different? Yes.

Brand and Sound

Brands certainly sound different.

For example, Yamahas have a brighter sound while Steinways have a warmer, mellower tone. Yamaha and Kawai dominate the hybrid piano market, while Roland, Casio, and Nord are the big players in the keyboard and synthesizer markets.

These differences appeal to different people, and there’s no right or wrong answer to which brand is better. The only thing that matters is what matters to YOU.

Solid Brands for Beginners

Now, some brands are more reputable than others in the sense that they’ve been in the business longer and have had more time to innovate. These days, you can find many cheap, mass-produced instruments from brands you’ve never heard of.

The prices of these instruments may be tempting — and if you’re not picky, they may be just what you need — but remember that you get what you pay for. On the other hand, here are some established, dependable brands to look out for as a beginner:

Digital PianosAcoustic PianosHybrid PianosSynthesizers
YamahaYamahaYamahaMoog
RolandKawaiKawaiKorg
CasioHoffman, Zimmerman (by Bechstein)Yamaha
NordEssex, Boston (by Steinway)

While knowing brands can be helpful, many of these brands (such as Yamaha) cater to a wide clientele and it can be overwhelming to sift through their entire catalogue.

That’s why we’ve decided to share our experience and knowledge and give you solid examples of piano models you can consider!

4.2 Best Pianos for Beginners

You May Also Like: Does Price Matter? Comparing Cheap vs. Expensive Digital Pianos

Many beginners who dabble with piano first before committing will start with a digital piano or keyboard, so let’s look at keyboards first.

Digital Pianos for Beginners

Roland GO:KEYS ($329 USD)

The Roland GO:KEYS is a compact and lightweight portable keyboard. It’s perfect for beginners just sussing out the piano or more experienced hobbyists who want a portable keyboard to toy with. This 61-key keyboard has made a welcome appearance in many of our videos, and for good reason! It’s dependable, it looks cool, and it does the job.

Lisa playing red Roland GO:KEYS while sitting in a canoe in the water.
Up close view of Yamaha P125 - sleek, black, simple.
Yamaha P125 ($649 USD)

The Yamaha P125 is another solid, dependable keyboard that’s perfect for beginners. It has a good-sounding bass and is capable of producing a wide dynamic range with its weighted, touch-sensitive keys. While the features are pretty basic, if you want to master the fundamentals, this is a solid keyboard. You can see Lisa’s review of the instrument here.

Casio Privia PX-S3000 ($849 USD)

The Casio Privia PX-S3000 is a beautiful, sleek instrument. It also comes with more features than the previous keyboards with 700 tones and 200 rhythms. This keyboard also has a nice, authentic, textured finish. You can watch Kaitlyn and Lisa talk about the Casio Privia here.

View of Kaitlyn's hands trying a shiny Casio Privia PX-S3000.
Yamaha P-515 ($1,499 USD)

If you want to level up from the P-125, consider the P-515, which takes piano authenticity up a notch. It features samples from the Yamaha CFX and Bösendorfer Imperial pianos, both well-known and beloved concert grands. This piano also includes escapement and more authentic, wood-feel keys.

Roland FP90X ($2,199 USD)

The white model of this keyboard is absolutely gorgeous. When Kaitlyn (a beginner) tried several pianos and was asked to pick one, she chose the FP90X without hesitation. She noted that the playing experience was “smooth” and the sound “full.” At a higher price point, the FP90X should satisfy both beginner and experienced pianists.

Kaitlyn and Lisa in front of white Roland FP90X.

For more thorough reviews of these pianos (and others!) check out these reviews we’ve made:

Does price matter? Lisa and Kaitlyn check out keyboards across a wide price range.
Lisa reviews three popular beginner keyboards and explains what to look for.
Lisa takes a field trip to the music store and walks through how to pick a piano (and later, a pumpkin!).

Acoustic Uprights for Beginners

We don’t endorse any acoustic uprights in particular, but there are a few solid models that have graced the living rooms of families for generations.

Reviewing a $4,000 Yamaha U1 from the 1980s.
Yamaha U1 ($11,000 -1 4,000 USD)

The Yamaha U1 is a popular entry-level acoustic piano that you’ve probably seen in a childhood friend’s home if they had piano lessons. It’s a solid, dependable piano and it lasts a long time. Folks who want to level up can choose the U3.

Different models of the Yamaha B series.
Yamaha B series ($4,000 – 9,000 USD)

The Yamaha B series is another affordable, beginner-friendly series of instruments. These pianos are very compact, which makes them ideal for people who live in smaller spaces who still want an acoustic piano. Bonus: you can add the ability to plug headphones into these pianos!

CHAPTER 5: PIANO ACCESSORIES & MAINTENANCE

Up close photo of three pedals at a diagonal angle.

5.1 Accessories

Most pianos are pretty self-contained. Beginners don’t absolutely need amplifiers, wires, or even music stands. Still, you may be interested in what accessories are available to augment your experience.

Stands

Some digital keyboards have built-in music stands, but if yours doesn’t, you’ll want to invest in a reliable, hardy stand. Seriously — invest in a good stand! As anyone who’s played in a school band can attest to, flimsy stands that flop over the moment you turn a page are no fun.

If you play on a slab or portable keyboard, you’ll also want to invest in a good stand to place it on. Again, make sure it’s not too wobbly. When you’re a beginner, you want to focus on your technique; avoid being bogged down by unreliable gear.

Metronome

Most digital pianos come with a built-in metronome, but if you have an acoustic piano, you’ll want one. I know, students hate metronomes, but they do make you better! Today, there are metronome apps you can download for free and Google even has a free metronome tool if you search “metronome.”

Behind a man, backlit, playing slab keyboard while standing.

Pedals

The sustain pedal creates the signature piano sound. If you play with a keyboard and don’t have one, sooner or later, you’ll want a sustain pedal. The sustain pedal can also make you sound better when you’re first learning a song! (Obligatory remark: some teachers frown upon using the pedal too much because it’s “cheating,” but in my opinion, if you’re just playing for fun, you might as well sound good!)

Benches

While you technically can play the piano sitting on anything, having a dedicated piano bench will significantly improve your experience. Once you advance a little, you’ll need a bench that can handle you moving around, tilting, and stretching your body.

Some piano benches allow you to adjust the height too, so everyone from your 6’4″ uncle to your kid sister can play the same piano!

Midi keyboard in front of a computer screen displaying a digital audio workstation.

Software

If you plan to get into recording and you have the gear to do so, you may want to look into digital audio workstations (or DAWs). DAWs are software for recording, mixing, and creating music. Sort of like Photoshop for sound!

Music production is its own world with its own language. If you plan to get into production, prepare to do lots of research (and shopping!). Some DAWs like Audacity (free, open source) and Garageband (free for Mac) are very accessible and quite powerful. Professional quality software like Ableton and Logic Pro will cost more.

Want to write down your arrangements? Musescore (free!) and the free version of Sibelius can help you make music notation quickly, easily, and painlessly.

5.2 Piano Maintenance and Tuning

Digital pianos are pretty low-maintenance. They also never go out of tune! However, acoustic pianos require a little upkeep to maximize their lifespan.

How to Clean Your Acoustic Piano

Here are some cleaning tips from two top piano manufacturers, Steinway & Sons and Yamaha:

Wood finish upright with lots of stuff on top of it.
Don’t put stuff on your piano! Especially drinks!

Disinfecting. After Covid, it’s a smart idea to keep high-touch surfaces nice and clean, especially if you have many people and visitors using your piano. Steinway recommends hydrogen peroxide as a safe cleaning agent for piano keys, while Yamaha warns against using alcohol-based cleaners. Whichever you choose, wipe the piano dry when you’re done.

Polishing and finishing. Since different pianos have different finishes, consult with your seller on how to best care for your piano. Both Yamaha and Steinway seem to agree that if your piano can be cleaned with water and then wiped dry, stick to plain water.

General upkeep. An occasional, simple wipe-down with a dry, microfibre cloth — like the type used to clean glasses — should keep your piano in good condition. Also avoid placing objects on the piano; this can affect both the instrument’s finish and its sound.

Piano Tuning

Get your acoustic piano tuned by a pro. Pianos are complex (and often expensive!) machines, so you don’t want to risk harming your instrument with DIY.

Here’s a fascinating video on what goes into a piano tuning. Interestingly, tuners aren’t after a scientifically accurate tuning per se. Rather, because of the way our ears work, the tuner’s job is to create the impression that a piano is in tune.

Most sources I consulted recommend that acoustic pianos be tuned once every six months or twice a year. How often your piano should be tuned can depend on your local climate, and new pianos may require more frequent tunings in the first few years of their lives.


CHAPTER 6: FAQ

black and white photo of a man playing grand piano under an outdoor wide domed roof.

6.1 FAQ

Are acoustic pianos really better?
How do I know if a piano is good if I’m a beginner?
How do I buy a piano for a child?
Are old/used pianos worth it?
How do I move a piano?
How long do pianos last?
What’s a piano’s resale value? Are pianos good investments?
How can I resell an old piano?
How much should I spend on a piano?

Are acoustic pianos really better?

20+ years ago? Yes. Today? Not really.

There will always be piano purists who think acoustic pianos are superior, period. Indeed, digital pianos will never match an acoustic’s sound because they’re not acoustic!

However, digital pianos are giving acoustics a real run for their money. Today, they feature authentic feels, great sound, and are compact and packed with features.

So, while experienced and professional pianists should definitely consider an acoustic grand, a hobbyist — even an advanced one — may never need to graduate from a high quality digital piano.

🧠🎹 Food for thought: Digital pianos are making music more accessible. Indeed, for most of history, piano was a hobby exclusive to the wealthy. So we’re very excited for a world where more people can play!

How do I know if a piano is good if I’m a beginner?

A music store with pianos and guitars.

This is a great question. If you lack experience with pianos, it may be tough to figure out what to look for.

Definitely go to a real-life piano store and try as many pianos as possible. If you can, bring someone with more piano experience with you.

Talk to salespeople from different stores — if they have your best interests in mind, they’ll take the time to explain the differences between instruments instead of just pushing the most expensive option at you.

At the end of the day, piano quality is very subjective. Some people like the sound of Kawai; others, Bösendorfer. Someone else may want a Steinway because Billy Joel plays a Steinway. As you progress further into your piano journey, you’ll develop your own taste.

If procuring your first piano feels stressful, opt for a low-cost, entry-level model from a reputable brand like Yamaha or Roland and you should be in good hands!

How do I buy a piano for a child?

Avoid buying your child a toy piano. Toy pianos are just that — toys. Piano keys are a standard size and, unlike violins which come in different sizes for different bodies, there’s just one standard size piano. Knowing how to play a standard keyboard from day one will allow young players to avoid problems later down the road.

When shopping for children, consider how many people in addition to the child will make use of the piano. It makes sense to invest in a better piano if mom or dad wants to learn too! If your kiddo is the only one interested, then it may make sense to get a cheaper model and see where their interest is a year or two down the road. After all, kids’ interests can change quickly.

Woman with long blonde hair playing piano with child on her lap.

Keyboards are probably better choices for children because you can get a height-adjustable stand. A height-adjustable bench and a footrest will also keep your child comfortable and reinforce good technique and posture.

Are old/used pianos worth it?

Maybe. It really depends on the piano’s specific circumstances. How old is it? How well was it maintained? What’s the brand? Take a look at the new vs. used section of this article for more information on buying used pianos.

How do I move a piano?

Sometimes, people forget to factor in the transportation costs of an acoustic piano. I can’t recommend employing a professional enough, both for your safety and the safety of your instrument. Moving a piano may also require re-tuning.

If you absolutely must move a piano yourself, invest in the right tools and get help! This video from the Home Depot offers some good advice.

How NOT to move a piano!

How long do pianos last?

Averaging out the numbers I have seen, a typical acoustic piano lasts about 40-60 years. A heavily used piano may not live as long, while a well-taken-care-of antique piano could be working well after 100 years.

Digital pianos are trickier to estimate lifespans because technology changes so quickly. A cutting-edge keyboard today may be obsolete in five years’ time.

Like many other answers on this page, the answer is honestly “it depends.”

What’s a piano’s resale value? Are pianos good investments?

Like cars, pianos tend to depreciate. This can be due to a myriad of factors: the condition of the instrument, how it was stored and maintained, the brand, the original retailer, etc.

An old, slightly worn upright piano in wood finish.
Treat used pianos like used cars.
An old white pick-up with graffiti "I used to be pretty."

Some pianos can hold their value very well or even appreciate. But this is very rare and only if the instrument is of a prestigious brand, is very unique, or something interesting happens to the market.

Piano Buyer has a helpful schedule of estimated piano depreciation according to different factors. This all being said, if you have an old piano lying around, don’t necessarily give it away for free! Consider reselling it.

How can I resell an old piano?

Many music retailers have trade-in programs where you can upgrade from one instrument to another by selling back your original model and saving on your next model.

But what if you’ve inherited an old piano and are blurry about its origins? Unfortunately, older pianos can be difficult to sell, especially if they’re out of tune or are made by an obscure brand. Factoring in moving costs, buyers may be reluctant to spend too much on a used, low-quality piano.

A very old broken, burnt grand piano with graffiti and a broken leg, laying on an angle.
If your piano looks like this, it’s probably ready to sell as scrap!

🔥🎹 HOT TIP! The Pierce Piano Atlas is a thorough database of almost every piano ever made, perfect if you’re unsure of the origins of your piano.

If, after advertising on Facebook or Craigslist, you can’t find a good price for your piano, try selling to a dealer. If that doesn’t work, consider donating your piano to an organization in need. Community centres, churches, schools, and after-school youth programs may appreciate a free piano!

If all else fails, consider selling your piano for scrap.

How much should I spend on a piano?

We’ve mentioned that beginners should aim for a $500-1,500 first digital piano, give or take personal preferences. In general, a $500-1,500 digital piano should provide you adequate key action, number of keys, and basic features.

The prices of new acoustic pianos can be opaque. Retailers often obscure prices on their websites and ask you to call in. Here are the manufacturer suggested retail prices for a few popular entry-level models:

PIANO (ACOUSTIC UPRIGHTS)MSRP (NEW)
Kawai K-15$5,500-$6,000 USD
Yamaha U1$11,000-$14,000 USD
Yamaha B-series$4,000-$9,000 USD
Essex EUP-108C$5,890
Source: Piano Buyer

Further Resources

For such an important purchase, there is a wealth of information online on how to buy a piano. Check out the awesome resources mentioned in this article to learn more:


Closing Thoughts on How to Buy a Piano

Whichever piano you choose, your top priority is getting an instrument that will encourage you to pursue music for many years. For some people, this may be a synthesizer. For another person, a concert grand.

Find an instrument that you’re happy with, that will make YOU happy! Best of luck and happy practicing!


Charmaine Li is a Vancouver writer who has played piano for over 20 years. She holds an Associate diploma (ARCT) from the Royal Conservatory of Music and loves writing about the ways in which music—and music learning—affects the human experience. Charmaine manages The Note.

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