Today’s article addresses a question I get asked all the time:
What is the best digital piano I would recommend for my students to purchase?
It’s a question that teachers are likely to be asked fairly often, especially if they take a modern view that digital piano technology is rapidly catching up with acoustic and that there is nothing wrong with recommending digital pianos.
In fact here’s a example of a specific question that I received recently from a teacher:
I have a student parent that is wanting to purchase a keyboard for her daughter to keep in her room. They have an acoustic piano in their living room that she plays on daily, but she is a junior and wants/needs something to take with her to college that will be semi portable. What do you recommend? She is early advanced and will definitely keep playing. They have a $750-$1000 budget. Thanks in advance! Jenny.
Of course, one response to this question might be: “Why aren’t you looking to buy an acoustic piano?”
The reality is that parents often loathe making a large up-front investment in an acoustic instrument and many simply don’t have the means.
So if the alternative is that the child doesn’t learn an instrument, I’m all for recommending digital pianos, but let’s make sure we recommend the right models and for the right reasons.
Why I recommend digital pianos over acoustic and hybrids
- Upfront investment – while Hybrids are great, they tend to be expensive and out of the reach of most parents.
- Ongoing maintenance costs – basically nil.
- Touch and sound – improving every year and the differences between acoustics and digitals is rapidly becoming imperceptible.
- Using headphones – yes, you can get an acoustic piano with “Silent Piano” feature (eg. Yamaha), but again these are more expensive than many parents wish to spend. Having the option to play with headphones gives families much more flexibility when it comes to practice time and allows the piano to still be in the main room of the house.
- Portability – no need to hire moving companies for both inside the home and if kids want to gig or if they move to college.
Four levels of digital pianos
When we talk about digital instruments, there are four main types. Here they are in ascending order of quality, cost and suitability for students:
- Stage Pianos
- Digital Pianos
- Hybrid Pianos
You can write-off keyboards right away.
They are usually cheaply made, have unweighted keys, no pedals and often only a few octaves. While cheap, they are not suitable for any level of student studying formal lessons, in my opinion. My only exception to this is if parents choose to purchase a keyboard for a student to explore music before lessons – no problems if it’s encouraged their desire to continue!
Stage Pianos are great if you’re a performer and need a portable, powerful, indestructible instrument for gigging. The biggest downside is they generally don’t have in-built speakers making them far less versatile for student use and parents will need to invest in amplified speakers. They generally don’t come with firm wooden stands, either.
While the Roland FP Series (see my recommendation below) could be classed as a stage piano, they turn into a quality digital piano when purchased with the custom wooden stand.
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Digital pianos are the most suitable to recommend to students as they are of a high quality, generally have excellent actions and sound production and yet aren’t as expensive as a Hybrid Piano, which I think is unnecessary for most students.
You can read more about my thoughts on hybrid pianos here: Hybrid Pianos: The Best of Both Worlds? Note that while hybrids are overkill for most (non-advanced) students, they make great studio teaching instruments.
How to tell a digital piano?
I classify digital pianos as having the following characteristics:
- It’s a well-known brand eg. Yamaha, Kawai, Roland, Casio, etc.
- It has a full, 88-key weighted action
- It has a case that is made of wood (or similar) that holds it steady and makes it look like a piano
- It has three pedals, preferably attached to the case
I recommend that, as a minimum, teachers specify these as clear requirements for their student purchase. In fact, when you stipulate these requirements, you’ll find that you very quickly restrict the purchase to “digital pianos”!
My top recommendations for the best digital piano for a student
Here’s what I recommend when teachers ask me about digital pianos.
Please note that these are listed in approx ascending price order and prices and models are correct as at Feb 2018. Prices in $US. Please check with Amazon or your local retailer for current details and prices.
- Yamaha P115 88-Key Weighted Action Digital Piano with Sustain Pedal, Black $599
- Roland FP-30 Digital Piano Black $650 + $100 stand
- Kawai ES110 88-key Digital Piano with Speakers $750
- Yamaha YDP103R comes with stand and 3 pedals as standard for under $1000
- Kawai CA Series are built with full wooden keys (good bridge between digitals and hybrids)
- Casio 70 Series cabinet pianos
- PX770 ($1,100)
- PX870 ($1,600)
- AP270 ($1,250)
- AP470 ($1,800)
My personal favourite is No 2, the Roland FP series. I have an older FP7F as my second studio instrument toady and still love it. You can read more about it here: Read my article which gives a closer overview of the Roland FP Series.
What about second-hand digital pianos?
When it comes to buying a digital piano second-hand, it’s similar to buying an acoustic piano.
If it’s more than 10 years old, it might not be worth buying. Technology updates quickly with pianos so it would be worth paying extra for something newer that will last a lot longer.
Avoid the old op-shop bargains too as they often have keys that don’t work. But, if you can test it out before you buy it, then that’s great and really the only way to tell if the product you are buying is worth the money.
If finances are tight, it might be well worth searching Gumtree, eBay or through your local paper. Just remember, always try and test out a second-hand digital piano before you buy one.
Your recommendation to parents will likely depend primarily on cost, so you’ll need to provide solutions that fit within their budgets if you’re to get them away from keyboards!
There are options for parents to rent digital (and acoustic for that matter) pianos from music stores. You could form an agreement with a local store for your own rental arrangements.
Let me know what you think of these recommendations below and if you’ve got any others to add to the list, please feel free to add your thoughts.
As a student, I was stuck in digital pianos. I had no idea which to buy and which one is perfect for me. After reading your blog, all clear. Thanks for this. You made my day 🙂
Yeah, coach. Valuable info you got here.
I would like to add a digital piano to create a piano lab for my studio. Thank you for your recommendations. I’m looking into the Yamaha P115. I currently like to record my students playing their best pieces throughout the year and then I put together a CD to give them at Christmas. Does the Yamaha P115 have the ability to record and then put that recording onto my computer?
Yes, it looks like it has on-board recording. Just checked the spec sheet: https://usa.yamaha.com/products/musical_instruments/pianos/p_series/p-115/specs.html#product-tabs
It also has USB out so you can transfer to your laptop.
But please do check this with a retailer before purchasing. If this is something you want to do a lot, it might be easier finding a digital with a USB port on the front that you can use with a thumb drive to make the transfers easy.
Thank you, Tim, for the article. I’d like to add a few digital piano models suitable for beginners, 1)Yamaha CLP 635 (20 built in rhythms,new feature virtual resonance modeling)
2) Roland 501R ( bluetooth function)
3) Casio AP 460 ( Concert Play feature but no LCD screen)
The above are popular brands. In my opinion the CLP 635 and Roland 501R the keys are fairly quiet whether playing with or without sound as compared to Casio AP460. Is worth checking these models out from your local dealers.
Thanks Su. Yes, the CLP series has some good options for parents – thanks for sharing 🙂
Most welcome Tim, I’m looking for one within my budget which is CLP 635 (plastic keys) and I quite like the CLP 645(natural wood is used for the white keys, 4 speakers and Bluetooth available ). Suitable for beginner to intermediate. CLP 645 cost a few hundred dollars different frm CLP 635. I’m still considering. I welcome any comment or feedback.
If you can afford the 645, I’d go for the wooden keys as they’ll likely feel more realistic although I haven’t directly tested it.
Several years ago, I had a high school age piano student who had a high end digital keyboard with headphones in his bedroom. He would practice on it for hours at night when his parents thought he was sleeping.
While I don’t advocate children disobeying their parents, this is great!!
Needless to say, he progressed very rapidly. I doubt he would have practiced as much if he only had an acoustic piano. I think he liked the privacy.
Dear Tim & Dorane,
Thanks for the article although I am a bit sceptical here. My child has learned piano for over 4 years, about to go for AMEB exam and I wish we could upgrade our YDP45 to some acoustic piano. Dad keeps saying that we should stop dreaming about it.
Sure – if you can afford it, acoustic is great. However most people can’t afford it and so buy an average acoustic when they could get a fantastic digital. That’s what I’d be saying 🙂