88 key imposters are taking over piano studios and homes all over the world. They look like pianos, they sound strangely “pianoesque”. They are cheaper, lighter, never need tuning. They are brought to life by bolts of electricity. Open one up and you will see a maze of wires and circuits. These musical aliens are everywhere and the scariest fact of all is that no one seems to know the difference! Almost no one, that is.
Digital Pianos are everywhere. They are creeping into music stores, homes even churches and synagogs! Parents are being convinced to buy them and children want them. But why? And are Digital Pianos the best choice for students? Do Electronic Pianos have any place in the realm of piano study?
Digital Pianos have been outselling Acoustic Pianos since about 1997. They are less expensive to buy and piano dealers can make money with them. Studios can purchase many DP’s and they are probably the best choice for studios with multiple teachers or studios teaching group lessons.The selling points for the Digital Pianos are numerous: they never need tuning, take up less space, are easy to move, you can turn them down, plug in headphones, and you can hook up your computer or iPad to a DP. So why get an Acoustic Piano?
The Digital vs. Acoustic piano debate has haunted the piano community for years. Acoustic piano advocates (of which I am one) feel very passionate about their position that their is no substitute for a real flesh and blood (I mean hammer and string) instrument. While Digital enthusiasts will cite the convenience, consistency and accessibility of the Digital Piano.
I always encourage my students to buy Real Acoustic Pianos if possible. When you play an Acoustic Piano the strings vibrate and the overtone series can be heard. The combination of the wood, copper and steel produce a (super) natural sound that is a tiny bit unique to each instrument. When accompanying or playing in an ensemble there is an interaction between the other instruments and the strings of the piano. These factors bring the music to life. Many of my pianist colleagues describe the Acoustic Piano as a living instrument.
As for the Digital Piano, how is it described? In a word, Dead. It’s not a Piano at all, it is a computer, a sampling of sounds represented in binary code. It’s only a representation of the sound of a real piano. An android piano. It is limited in the ways it can be played. I find it frustrating to try to work with my students on tone or pedaling when using a DP – it just does not work as well especially with inexpensive DPs. For these reasons I believe Acoustic Pianos are better for students in most cases.
It is true that Digital Pianos that approach the touch, sound and feel of an Acoustic Piano do exist but you’re going to pay for them. The Yamaha Corporation puts out a really cool Digital Piano called the Modus it starts a $8,000.00. My own Kawai mp8ii retailed for about $2,500.00 when I bought it in 2011. Surely for that price, one could purchase a decent used upright Acoustic Piano. I also own a Kawai Baby Grand that I use for teaching and practicing.
So should piano students have Digital Pianos at all? Let’s face it. Digital Pianos dwell among us and they are here to stay. Most of us (myself included) use them. In a perfect world, I would like all of my to students have decent Acoustic Pianos. I just think they are superior for learning.
I must admit I am kind of sad to see Digital Pianos taking over the piano world. I think of days gone by when steel and copper strings rang through parlors and halls and homes. Have the sounds of acoustic instruments become mere memories, lingering in the past like their ghostly players. And what of the future? What comes along with electronic musical instruments? Maybe, Computerized Teachers?
Don’t look now, but I think they are already here!