Updated: Jan 4, 2022
In my ideal world, each of my students would have access to a well maintained and well tuned acoustic piano. There is just nothing like the sound of an actual hammer hitting strings and resonating in the room and the vibrations that you feel in your fingers as you play… But there are situations where a digital piano is really preferable.
The biggest advantages of digital pianos are:
They take up less space
They don’t need to be tuned on a regular basis
They are portable (no need to pay for expensive movers when moving)
They are less sensitive to humidity and temperature changes (so they can even be kept in a basement)
They have a volume control (or can be used with headphones) when you’ve heard enough of your child practising the same piece over and over!
The preference for digital pianos is so prevalent that you can often find acoustic pianos being given away for free on sites like Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace. (So this isn’t a bad place to look if you have the space for an acoustic piano and the funds to move and tune it! Just be sure it has been well maintained and doesn’t need too much work..)
Unfortunately there are a lot of cheap keyboards with poor quality sound on the market. These are uninspiring to play, can’t be played with dynamics (loudly and softly) and they often have keys that feel nothing like real piano keys, so students struggle when trying to play acoustic pianos in lessons and concerts.
What Features Should You Look For?
If you are considering buying a digital keyboard for piano lessons, choose one with the following features:
88 Keys, like an acoustic piano. If you have budgetary constraints or less space you can opt for one with as few as 61 keys but the student will eventually need a full sized keyboard.
Choose a keyboard with touch sensitivity so that the piano keys can be played loudly or softly, depending on how hard you press on them. This is important even in the first months of piano lessons.
The keys should be the same size as an acoustic piano so that the student can learn correct finger spacing and so that they are comfortable playing acoustic pianos (ie. at lessons or in concerts)
Choose a keyboard with weighted keys (weighted hammer action), which imitate those on an acoustic piano. This builds finger strength and proper technique and also eases the transition to playing on acoustic pianos.
Eventually students will need a sustain pedal.
I would opt for a digital piano that comes with a realistic piano sound and decent speakers to recreate that sound.
And finally, choose a keyboard made by a well known brand that has a good reputation for making quality keyboards
The digital piano brands that are most often recommended by musicians and piano teachers are Yamaha, Roland, Casio (newer models only), Korg and Kawai.
Why should you spend a little more on one of these instruments instead of buying that unknown brand that looks like such a good deal on Amazon?
These keyboards have been played by1000s of musicians so any faults will be well known.
Should you need to sell the keyboard, you will get a bigger percentage of your initial cost back because these are trusted well known brands.
If you choose an unknown brand keyboard that is only available online, you most likely won’t be able to try the instrument before purchasing it or know anyone who has tried it.
If repairs need to be done, it may be easier to find parts for a well known brand keyboard as well as technicians familiar with the instrument
These keyboards have 88 fully weighted keys and touch sensitivity. They are portable and some need a separate keyboard stand:
The Casio CDP S100 from Costco is a good economical choice for a beginner ($529 CAD). The package deal from Costco includes a console-like wooden keyboard stand, a bench and a music stand.
(You may want to eventually replace the damper pedal for this keyboard with a better one.)
The Casio Privia PX160 also has a very good reputation. Unfortunately it has been discontinued but can be found on the used market.
The Yamaha P45 is the least expensive fully weighted keyboard sold by Yamaha. It is also highly recommended by piano teachers:
The Yamaha P125 is the digital piano we chose to have as a second keyboard in our basement studio. It is more expensive at $899
The Roland FP series keyboards are used by many large music schools. Roland has a reputation for having great piano sounds and a touch that is similar to acoustic pianos. They are priced at $799 CAD and up. https://www.long-mcquade.com/126850/Keyboards/Digital-Pianos/Roland/FP-10-Portable-Digital-Piano-w-Speakers---Black.htm
Remember that the models above (except the Casio at Costco) don’t come with a keyboard stand, which you will need so the keyboard is at the correct height (a table is too high). Make sure it comes with a music stand to put your music books on and ideally a piano bench, although a chair can be used if necessary. So add these items to your budget!
If you want to read more in depth comparisons of some of the above models check out this article: https://www.pianodreamers.com/best-digital-pianos-under-500/#cdps100
Keyboards with Built in Consoles
Are you looking for a digital piano that will look good in your living room? The Yamaha Arius at $1500 CAD and the Casio-PX-870 Privia at $1400 are good options to consider.
If you are looking for a digital piano that truly looks like a traditional piano, the Yamaha Clavinova CLP has a very good reputation. The least expensive upright model is $2300 CAD and the price goes up to $16,300 CAD for the baby grand version.
Shorter Keyboards with Semi Weighted Keys
If you have limited space or a limited budget, the 61 keyed Yamaha NP12 ($270 CAD) or the 76 keyed Yamaha NP32 are decent options for beginners but they do only have semi weighted keys as opposed to the preferable fully weighted keys found on the models mentioned above.
New or Used?
The benefits of a new digital keyboard are:
A warranty in case something goes wrong
Newer keyboards use newer technology which can result in better sampled sounds (ie sounds more like a real piano)
If your keyboard does need to be repaired down the road, parts will be more accessible.
That being said, I would choose a used digital piano (perhaps a few years old) if it means being able to afford a model with 88 weighted keys and in particular, one made by a reputable manufacturer.
The benefits of a used keyboard are:
You may spend less money
You may be able to afford a better instrument within your budget
A used instrument has a track record of reliability (or not) and you can easily find reviews of its quality
In general, buying anything used is better for the environment (no packaging, less transportation and one less item in a landfill.)
If you aren’t sure how old an instrument is, Google the model, and see when the first reviews on the instrument were written. Often you can find the sequence of model numbers that have replaced older ones. Try to buy the newest one you can.
Before You Buy:
If you can, go and play any instruments you are considering in order to compare how the keys feel under your fingers, the piano sound and the speaker quality. Buy a model that has been recommended by your piano teacher or at the very least, one that is recommended by a large number of professional musicians.