How to Buy a Digital Piano, A Parents’ Dilemma

Your VCR is a mystery, you can’t text message, you’re unfamiliar with Facebook, and you’re still wondering why your portable telephone has a camera in it.  Worse yet, your child’s piano teacher wants you to buy something called a “Clavinova.”  You’re buried in electronics you can’t even pronounce – let alone operate!  What do you do? 

Marc Yu plays a Roland

Child prodigy, Marc Yu, plays a concerto on a Roland digital grand piano.

First of all, sit back and take a deep breath.  While it’s true that – from now on – your life will be a gauntlet of digital gadgetry, it’s also true that you will eventually adjust to this new, electronic pace.  The trick to making your transition easier is to do a little research before you face a salesman half your age with twice your digital knowledge and dollar signs in his eyes. 

In the case of digital pianos, there are a few guidelines that you should write down and take with you to the piano showroom.  You want to make sure you’re getting the instrument that best fits your needs, but you also want to make sure that your investment in sound will be (if you’ll forgive me) a sound investment.  Here are a few tips for you first-time digital piano shoppers: 

  1. Know what you’re looking for.

    Certain name brands like Clavinova (pronounced “Cla-vi-NO-vuh”) are very well known, but the correct name for any piano that you have to plug into an electrical socket is “digital piano.” 

  2. Make a list of the things you need your piano to do.

    Here are some things I would suggest: 

    • Realistic Piano Sound – Some brands offer a tremendous number of flashy lights and cool features, but poor quality piano sound.  The features may be cool, but – like video games – your kids will get tired of them and quickly lose interest.  Since Steinway pianos are the standard by which all pianos are judged, it makes sense that you should select a digital piano that records a Steinway for its piano sound. 
    • Gravity Hammer Action Touch – “Weighted Key” simply means the keys have springs in them to push against your fingers.  A “Gravity Hammer Action,” however, correctly simulates a grand piano action using a counterweight system.  You push down and the counterweight rises.  You let go, and the counterweight (with gravity’s help) returns the key to its original position.  For the sake of longevity and proper piano-playing technique, make sure your instrument has a “Gravity Hammer Action” with no spring in the key.  This action will help your student learn better technique and the action won’t wear out over time. 
    • Properly Weighted and Graded Touch – The hammers in the bass section of a piano are bigger than in the treble.  Thus, it takes slightly more force to push the bass keys down than the treble.  Good quality digital pianos will mimic this “grading.”  Also, your sales rep should be able to use a technician’s key weight to prove that the digital piano you are about to buy is properly weighted to match a grand piano action.  These things will ensure proper muscle development in your child’s fingers.
    • Headphones Jacks – This may seem like a small detail, but it’s amazingly helpful for students to be able to play whenever they want to and (after they have practiced their lesson materials) whatever they want to.  For your sake and for theirs – have a good set of headphones near the piano so they can create at will… and you can still enjoy that episode of Law and Order.
    • Built-in Recorder – Have you ever heard your own voice on the answering machine or in a recording somewhere?  For some strange reason, we always sound different in recordings.  Piano playing is the same way.  Students who record themselves and evaluate the playback learn faster than students who don’t.  With a built-in recorder, your student can even learn one hand at a time.
    • PC Interface Device –If I lost you there for a second, don’t worry.  The “PC Interface Device” can be a floppy disk drive (the square ones), a CD drive (the round ones), or the USB flash drive (the new ones).  Since floppies are old technology and CDs aren’t super flexible, I recommend finding a piano that has a USB flash drive port.  The USB flash drive port will allow you to hook up a USB flash drive (called a “jump drive” or “thumb drive” or “memory key”, etc) to your piano and record music to it or play music from it.  You can also hook it to your computer and print that music.  Since almost every lesson book out today comes with files that will work on your USB flash drive, this can be a tremendous tool for both kids and adult learners.  You can hear the song, play with the song (at any speed), and even use the background music like piano karaoke – playing every exercise with a full band!  This is a fun and inexpensive feature that makes practicing more fun. 
  3. Built-in Flashcards and Lessons Software

    An adult piano student works on the Roland digital piano.

    Many adult hobyists enjoy the built-in lessons on some digital pianos.

    Remember.  Your kids are used to video games.  The digital dialect is their primary language.  Finding a piano with digital flashcards, ear-training software, and built-in piano lessons can help them learn up to 60% faster!  These software elements incorporate all the student’s senses in a captivating and entertaining training course.  This doesn’t take the place of a qualified piano teacher, but it helps your student to spend more time on the piano at home – which only leads to quicker, better learning. 

  4. Resist the Temptation to Get Lost in Useless Features

    Flashy, “follow the lights” features, hi-speed internet access, and a myriad of demo songs are nice “sizzle” features, but try to focus on “the steak”.  Find a durable, well-known name brand that emphasizes core features (sound, touch, workmanship, recording, software, etc) that you will actually use – rather than features that may look cool in a demo, but offer little or no real value to students. 

  5. Look for Upgradeability

    You only want to buy one piano.  However, digital pianos are like computers.  They go out of date as new technology comes out.  To prolong your piano’s usable lifespan, make sure that you buy an upgradeable instrument.  The better digital piano companies will offer free software upgrades online.  Some will even have special “set-top” boxes that upgrade your piano’s hardware. 

  6. Buy From a Reputable Dealer

    Never buy a digital piano online or from an out-of-state company.  Regardless of how durable or well-known a digital piano brand may be, it’s important to know that good customer service, FREE technical support, in-home training, and warranty support are in your future should you need them.  The little money you might save online is money you’d gladly pay for the service you need to get the most out of your investment. 

  7. Get a Valid Warranty

    Make sure that your digital piano comes with a warranty (5yrs parts and labor is the industry standard) and make sure that the company you are purchasing it from will honor that warranty should you need service.  

Laday Gaga performs on a Roland digital grand.

Pop Music Icon, Lady Gaga, performs on a Roland digital grand piano.

With these thoughts in mind as you select your digital piano, you should be able to find a fantastic instrument for your lessons student.  In fact, if you are very careful during your selection process, you should be able to develop a great relationship with the dealer in your area – who can come to your home and train you on all the electronic aspects of the new instrument.  You won’t find that at Best Buy! 

If, however, you’ve gone through all these criteria and you still haven’t found the right mix of product features, warranty service, and good sales staff, I’d like to invite you to spend an hour with me.  Email me or give me a call at (502) 451-1831 or toll free at (800) 451-1831 and schedule for a personal “digital piano orientation.”  I’d be happy to help you take the first step toward solving your digital dilemma.

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