With many of us locked down at home, now seems like a good time to start learning piano. But where’s best to start and what kind of keyboard or digital piano is best?
Whether it be drums, piano, keyboard, guitar or anything else you have always wanted to be able to play. There are lots of great resources out there to help, in the form of pre-recorded lessons or one to one tuition from professionals (on Zoom or Skype).
Even famous musicians are now allowing you into their previously hidden worlds to pass on their secret recipes for becoming a great instrumentalist. I’ve been playing piano since the age of five – so almost 40 years now! – and that one decision by my folks to start me off with piano lessons (despite my initial resistance!) was literally life changing and has defined my entire musical career.
I meet many people who say to me “I wish I could play like you” or “I used to play a bit and wish I hadn’t stopped” and I have to admit my heart sinks when I hear this.
Having the ability to play any instrument is such a huge game changer for anyone’s mental health, cognitive abilities and general happiness at any age and it can help you through tough times, provide joy too and connect you to people and the world in ways you never thought possible.
Along with all the people you meet through your connection with music and your instrument, whether that be other musicians in bands, or educators, dancers, artists and other creatives, there is no time like the present to start on – or rejoin – the path to learning an instrument.
Best Digital Pianos For Beginners
Our pick of the best instruments for a range of needs and budgets.
- Roland FP-30 Digital Piano (Bet Under 500)
- Yamaha NP32 Portable Digital Piano (Best Under 300)
- Casio Privia PX-S1000 Digital Pianos (Best Under 2000)
- Korg SP280BK 88-Key Digital Piano with Speaker (Best Under 1000)
As we’ve already mentioned, keyboards and digital pianos can vary wildly, from slight and portable with a focused feature set, to beefy all-in-ones with sizeable speakers and no end of bells and whistles.
Picking the perfect piano for your needs shares more in common with selecting a new smartphone than it does choosing an acoustic instrument, as the sound, functionality and play style each offers is as unique as the potential pianist playing them.
To help you out, we’ve put together a medley of some of the best pianos and keyboards available for beginner and intermediate players, highlighting each of their respective fortes.
1. Roland FP-30 Digital Piano (Bet Digital Piano Under 500)
The FP-30 offers a ton of useful functionality at a fair price. First off, its full-size 88-key ‘Ivory Touch’ keyboard adds a grain to the surface of the keys for a more piano-like feel. Coupled with 2 x 11 watt speakers, 35 decent ‘bread and butter sounds’, Bluetooth connectivity, an ideas record, playback of audio files from USB stick, dual headphone jacks and a microphone input, there’s a lot to work with.
2. Yamaha NP32 Portable Digital Piano (Best Digital Piano Under 300)
For those who might struggle with fully weighted keys but still want full-size keys/standard finger spacing. The 76 keys here still have enough resistance for practicing and accurate playing. In addition, there are features for beginners too. There are 10 good basic sounds onboard, a metronome for timing practice, it’s battery power-able and has a built-in recorder. A great learning piano on the way to fully weighted keys.
3. Casio Privia PX-S1000 Digital Pianos (Best Digital Piano Under 2000)
Casio’s weighted actions are generally nicely balanced. This particular model has plenty for beginners and more experienced players, including 18 high-quality sounds onboard. It’s fairly light, has a scaled hammer action keyboard (acoustic pianos feel heavier at the low end and lighter at the top), split and layer functionality, two front-mounted headphone sockets, Bluetooth, metronome and 60 built-in practice exercises.
4. Korg SP280BK 88-Key Digital Piano with Speaker (Best Digital Piano Under 1000)
Korg produces quality machines full of great sounds and this is no different. It’s a little more exciting looking compared to others and fairly portable. The keyboard has 88 notes with a hammer action and the loud 22 watt speakers face you, giving a nice immersive sound. There are 30 layer-able sounds onboard from Korg’s well-respected library and it comes with a piano stand, music stand, pedal and two headphone sockets.
Why Pick Piano?
But why go for a piano or keyboard and not another instrument? Well, firstly, the piano is a relatively easy instrument to learn with a pretty shallow learning curve – though of course, like anything, to be really great you need to really put in the hours.
There’s also a ton of great learning resources out there for people of all ages/abilities, including books, apps and videos. Compared to string instruments where you have to contort your hands into all sorts of unnatural feeling positions (at first) and where you have to physically make contact with the string with your hands to create the sound, the piano keyboard does a lot of the ‘heavy lifting’ work for you.
In the most basic way, all you have to you is press a lever (the key), which then triggers a hammer (real or virtual in software) that hits a string and hey presto you’re off. Essentially, the way a piano or keyboard works means that anyone from a toddler to a pensioner can make a decent sound by simply pressing a key and listening to the beautiful note that rings out.
Piano keys are also comfy and nicely spaced for our human hands (again unlike the guitar) and so as a starter instrument it’s ideal. The piano keyboard is a thing of absolute genius, not just physically but visually too; it’s very easy to visualise how chords and scales are built and how everything relates.
Learning how to play an instrument is good for many things, including your mental health
Once you’ve learnt how to play one octave then you’ve learnt all the octaves: they are all the same spatially but just at different pitches. What’s more, the piano keyboard (whether in an acoustic piano, electric piano, keyboard or piano app) has become a ubiquitous ‘industry standard’ interface because of its clear visual feedback and ease of use.
Many of our homes will have some sort of keyboard and most commercial or home studios will have a synth-action unweighted keyboard or a weighted piano-like keyboard, either with its own sounds built in or to use as a MIDI controller connected (via USB, Bluetooth or a MIDI cable) to a computer running music software.
When starting out, most of us often don’t have the $3k+ budget to buy a decent acoustic piano. So for your first approaches at learning piano you’ll likely want to start off with a good quality keyboard or digital piano.
However, whilst unweighted keyboards are good for learning the notes and theory, and often have tons of sounds and features, for learning piano you need to build technique, so full-size weighted keys are ideal.
It’s imperative that finger strength and dexterity is taken seriously (even for younger players) as the more exercise you give your fingers, the fitter they will become and the more capable they will be for every musical task in the future.
Whilst the smaller or unweighted synth action keys found on most keyboards are undoubtedly easier to push down, they don’t give your fingers the workout they need to build strength and accuracy and if you end up graduating to a real acoustic piano, you will likely struggle.
Now that we have established that the ideal instrument to learn on (if you can’t afford or don’t have room for an acoustic) is a weighted digital piano with full-size keys rather than a keyboard with lightweight or smaller keys, it’s important to work out what you really need feature-wise in order to make learning fun and engaging.
The first consideration is your budget. Expect to pay $200-$400 for a decent unweighted portable keyboard and upwards of £500 for a weighted digital piano. Action-wise, keep in mind some like a heavier feeling keyboard whilst others prefer lighter-feeling keys.
Again, it’s ideal if you can get to a store (after this present lockdown has ended) that has several of the leading brands on display so that you can make an informed choice.
The best instrument to learn on is a digital piano with full-size weighted keys
Be aware that buying sight unseen online for yourself – or for someone else – is risky, as the keyboard action may feel too heavy and end up impeding your/their learning.
Thankfully, the leading brands in keyboards and digital home pianos, such as Korg, Yamaha, Casio, Roland and Kawai, generally have nicely balanced weighted actions that feel very piano-like, so if you have to buy sight unseen I would always try to go with a long-established brand.
Also, many of these bigger manufacturers have learning/support apps that work in sync with their digital keyboards and pianos via Bluetooth or USB so be sure to check out whether the piano has good learning resources included, or at least a discounted subscription.
In addition, always try to get a height-adjustable stool (that can accommodate two people) included with your keyboard/piano. One big problem I come across (as a player and teacher of piano myself) is bad posture caused by sitting at the incorrect distance and height, which can lead to all manner of back or neck problems and ultimately lead to poor technique.
Next, make sure your keyboard or digital piano has an adjustable music rack for putting sheet music or an iPad on: not all of them include this.Then be sure not to overlook the speaker system onboard. Is it loud enough? Does it sound warm and lush or horrible and tinny?
You have to decide these points for yourself but you’ll know when your ears are smiling when you test in person or audition sound clips. In addition, you have to make sure that any keyboard/digital piano fits within its surroundings but thankfully most manufacturers offer a variety of finishes, from gloss black and white to wood.
It’s essential to have solid rhythmic support and a metronome helps
In terms of the sounds, a broad range of bread and butter sounds is important (organ, strings, guitars, woodwinds, brass, clav etc) but the most important thing is a great piano sound. EQ and reverb are also great for customising sounds and the ability to layer two sounds is handy too.
In addition, a pair of audio outputs is necessary if you want to record or connect to a mixing desk/PA system and having two headphone sockets enables your good self auto accompaniment will improve your timing, get you listening and improvising (and on the path to jamming with real humans) and allow you to work on your harmonic language/ideas too.
Finally, the ability to record your performances to internal memory as audio, an external memory stick, or an onboard sequencer is very handy. These features all allow you to record yourself, then listen back and hear where you are going wrong: this will only aid and speed up the learning process and as a bonus you can show off your performances to your friends and family too.