A beginner with a digital piano

Discuss the digital alternatives to the acoustic piano

Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Mon Jan 17, 2005 10:28 am

Kittypalooza wrote:
The advice I give to my students, especially those who aren't sure if piano is right for them, is to get a keyboard for now (minimum requirements: 61 standard sized touch sensitive keys with the option of adding a sustain pedal. Regular price for one of those around here is about $400 Canadian). I recommend that while they're trying out piano lessons using theiry keyboard that they should start putting money away to buy a digital or accoustic piano in a couple of years.

I read your posts in this forum with great interest, since you started with a keyboard. One question I have: do you have any recommendations for parents who may not be able to afford or don't have a place in the house for an acoustic piano? Ideally, in the under $500, under $1000, under $1500, etc price ranges. We get a lot of questions of this sort. :cool:




Edited By Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Editor on 1105979368
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Mon Jan 17, 2005 11:12 am

In all the discussions about digital vs. acoustic, the topic always seems to revolve around touch. But what about sound? What about training the ears? I've spent half a lifetime trying to convince, or at least remind, teachers and students that training the ability to hear, discriminate, and produce the proper sounds at the piano is every bit as important as developing the dorsal and volar interossei and their companions. This is why I'm always pushing our correspondents to make students listen to music from an early age and on a continual basis.

So my feeling is that a good digital piano is better than a bad acoustical for both touch and sound, but matching up the best state-of-the-art digital with a fine acoustic grand is no contest. As for touch, organists feel the same way when they compare electrical to tracker (mechanical) actions in pipe organs, because they have more control over the actual opening of the air valves. Similarly, as good as some digitals are, we can do far more subtle things with dynamics, coloring and voicing when we have a good acoustic grand that is well regulated.

I think most pianists and teachers agree with that. But this is where the ears come in! You can't learn to make the marvelous variety of sounds possible on a good piano unless you've heard them, learned what they sound like, and stored them in your head. The great majority of piano students go all week without ever hearing any playing but their own--how can they develop the ability to interpret and be expressive in any imaginative way? If they don't get any significant exposure to the enormously varied world of music, it doesn't matter how sensitive the touch of their instruments are; they might just as well be turning the crank of a hurdy gurdy. We need to consider sound variety and control as well as touch (actually, they're inseparable) when deciding about pianos.

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Postby 75-1095335090 » Wed Jan 19, 2005 10:31 am

My suggestions for less expensive instruments:

My absolute lower limit when it comes to keyboards is that it *must* have at least 61 full sized keys, and be touch sensitive. I find this is "good enough" for the first couple of years of study (depending on how quickly the student progresses). The music I teach with doesn't leave that 61 key zone for a while for beginners.

I have found keyboards that meet these needs at Radio Shack, Costco, and various music stores (although, less music stores seem to be carrying them now... likely because of their availability elsewhere). I have my students bring their keyboard in to a lesson so that I can show them how to use it. One I saw recently at Radio Shack was priced around $350 Canadian. The keyboards that cost more than that had the same basics, but had more electronic features (more instrument sounds, more drum patterns, the ability to record yourself, etc).

As for digital piano options, I find my own information lacking. I grew up using Technics instruments, and find them to be superb. My brief stint with Yamaha digital pianos left me with a sense that they should stick with acoustic pianos (although, I've heard their technology has come a long way... I haven't had a chance to check it out for myself, though). The problem with Technics instruments is that they are more expensive than other brands, generally. My new piano, which is top of the line, retails for about $9000 Canadian.

There are digital pianos that have few features (only a handful of sounds, no drums, only two pedals, but a full 88 keys, and midi out/in) that seem good. These range in price depending on brand. Again, I'm biased towards Technics, but I've also heard good things about Casio and Korg.

If you come at it from an upgrading point of view, most of the digital pianos will be better than the keyboard. You want one with weighted keys, but not so heavy that it hurts to play.

The other problem with Technics pianos is that they're not making them anymore. I'm hoping that Panisonic will take over the line (they make the computer bits inside anyway). Until then, I need to do some research on which digital pianos are decent these days. (Once I do, I'll post that here).

I would expect to pay between $1500 and $2500 (Canadian) on a basic digital piano.

As to the question about the subtleties of acoustic pianos and encouraging our students to listen to great music as part of their studies.... I have a hard time addressing that. I have always had an excellent ear. Ear training was always my best class, I play by ear quite often, and I exercise it daily. I don't know if having a less trained ear would have affected how I look at digital pianos.

I do, however, encourage (if not assign) my students to listen to all types of music. We start with what they are already in to, and expand from there. We listen for various melodic lines, listen for each instrument (if there is more than one), and that sort of thing. I also do a lot of ear training with them, because I know how much having a good ear has helped me.

Finally, there's the question of the student. Each student has different needs. They all come to piano lessons for something different. If I had a student who was serious about classical studies, I would probably insist that they invest in a good acoustic piano. If they told me that they wanted to start with a keyboard, I would actively discourage them.

Most of my students are looking for a mix of styles of music to play. I find that until you get to a high intermediate or advanced level, popular music sounds better on a digital instrument... or, if not better, then more like the original version. However, the majority of my students this year are leaning more towards learning classical music (something that baffled me, actually... I'm just getting over it and dealing with it now. lol), so I'm not sure how we're going to handle the instrument question. I think we can keep on as we have been, and worry about going acoustic if the trend continues.


I hope that helped. ^_^
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Postby Beckywy » Wed Jan 19, 2005 1:52 pm

I believe the argument with training the ear is not the ear training in terms of recognizing chords and intervals, but being able to hear the differences in tone of a note. On an acoustic, to play with a legato touch, it's not just joining the notes, but depending on the music, training the ear is also learning to produce warm tones, and rich tones. On a good acoustic piano, we can hear the difference within a note by how we play them by how our fingers, hand, wrist, arm, shoulder, body is working together to produce a particular tone. It's not just pressing the note and producing a sound, but the way the key is pressed to the bottom, how the wrist is rotating, how our body is leaning into the keys. There's also a difference in producing a strong rich sound, and just playing loud.
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Postby 75-1095335090 » Fri Jan 21, 2005 7:42 pm

Well, I wasn't clear, I guess. I was also talking about the different tones you could produce by different playing techniques. The only whole in my knowledge was the exact technique required to duplicate the sound I was hearing. I'm filling that gap now, and fairly quickly.
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