Piano or keyboard – which is better for a beginner? At Piano Motivator, we’ve seen both work – or not work. Rather than leave you with “it’s up to you,” here are ten key questions; once you have answered them – brutal honesty only please – you will be fully prepared to make this important decision.
1. How shy are you about your playing?
How well you learn to play will depend on how much you practice – and if you’re bashful about people hearing you stumble, the only thing you will practice is making up excuses.
2. Who else will hear you – and how will they feel about it?
How many people do you live with? How close are your neighbors? The sad fact is that everybody will not love to hear you play – no matter how good you become! Even now, in my early ‘60s, I look back with regret, knowing that, with a keyboard and headphones, my dad and I could have gotten along so much better. A few random clickety-clacks behind a closed door would have been so much less irritating than the majestic thunder of the family Steinway baby grand emanating from the living room and positively vibrating the rest of the house. Years later, I am still incredibly reluctant to play solo acoustic piano in most restaurants. Even if you don’t have to wear headphones, keyboards and their adjustable volume allow you to avoid overwhelming the room, annoying diners and servers – and losing your gig!
3. What time(s) of day will you be ready to practice?
This is a logical follow up to Question No. 2. Acoustic pianos have a way of preempting that question with a warning along the lines of “Hey, we get quiet around hear after 10 p.m. and before 7 a.m. — You got that? How many working adults are actually free to practice during these hours? With work, kids, cooking, yard work, errands? When you have a keyboard with headphones, all sorts of forbidden “wee hours” become instantly available.
4. What kind of physical space do you live in?
If you have any pals with serious carpentry skills, you will eventually hear the old adage, “Measure twice, cut once.” That admonition goes double for ambulating any-sized acoustic piano into your home. Sometimes, they just won’t fit in the door. Other times, once you get them in, you’ll marvel that they consume almost the entire room.
5. What kind of climate do you live in?
A big difference between pianos and keyboards is how they respond to climate issues. Surprised? Well, take a minute and try to recall the school science topic of “thermal expansion.” In a typical four-season climate, that same expand-when-warmer-contract-when-cooler phenomenon can cause piano strings to go out of tune. That’s why a lot of piano tuners get busy between Halloween and Thanksgiving, and, again, before graduation and wedding season in June. Since keyboards are all comprised of electrical impulses, weather is mostly irrelevant.
6. Where else will you want to play besides home?
Even if you don’t play for money, you will be surprised how many away-from-home environments are BYOK. Just because “oh sure, we have a piano,” doesn’t mean it’s in tune, all the keys work – you get the idea. Of course, some keyboards are more portable than others, and you will want to consider how your keyboard (and carrying case) will fit in our chosen vehicle. Again, measure twice . .
7. How Do You Feel About High Maintenance Generally?
Acoustic pianos have to be tuned (see climate above). Their “guts” will need periodic cleaning and, as with any elegant wood furniture, you’ll want to keep the outside clean and shiny enough to be “a nice reflection on you.”
8. How Will Your Instrument Fit Your Decorating Scheme?
For better and worse, an acoustic piano is both a musical instrument and a piece of furniture. On the bright side, pianos are frequently very handsome pieces of furniture, with stunning black and white keys that contrast with the deep color tones – and gran patters – of some of the prettiest woods, or a magnificent black or white of their own.
9. How Will Your Instrument Fit Your At-Home Lifestyle?
Some families still do a lot of gathering around the piano in the living room. The hollow piano bench is stuffed with sheet music that people like to take turns singing. Other people are active in church or school music, which means a large handful of singers or other instruments dropping by and maybe a regular passel of kids sitting out on a sloped front lawn listening. Still others do a lot of entertaining and, even if they never play a note, like to bring in a solo pianist to ad a hip, upscale tone to their gathering. Unfortunately, in these special instances, keyboards just don’t set the tone.
10. Who else should participate in the decision?
To answer this question, go back and review all your answers to this point. Even beginner pianists do not take long to build – and get wrapped up in – their own little world. Unfortunately, buying a piano or keyboard is not a “minding my own business” proposition. Other people are always involved, particularly if you want a piano. Talking to them ahead of time, even if you don’t like all of what they have to say, is your best option.
One thing is certain: When you finish weighing the pros and cons of the piano or keyboard question, you will never be a beginner again. At Piano Motivator, we’re cheering for you all the way – and don’t forget to enjoy the journey!