With their fingers moving quickly across the keys, showcasing an unfathomable suppleness and dexterity, the virtuoso pianist leaves their mark on the listeners of any performance.
Ray Charles, Nina Simone, and Stevie Wonder have all left their mark on the world of music, and their melodies have provided a backdrop to generations of fans. The way they play keys, press the pedals, and that expression on their face as they play all seem to exude a certain enigmatic sensuality. But does a musician’s performance depend on whether they’re playing a piano keyboard or an electric piano?
A 2010 study by the chamber of instrument sellers in France found that the total market for musical instruments came to about $300 million per year.
Out of this total however, it’s interesting to note that the total cost of acoustic pianos being sold was slightly less than money from digital piano and keyboard sales, making up 15% and 16% respectively.
Keyboards and digital pianos are now an integral part of the music market today, especially given the amazing success of different Japanese and Korean brands.
The Japanese Casio and Yamaha brands, for example, have become synonymous with children's first piano lessons. They specialize in models like the Clavinova or the Silent system, and make up a whopping 15-20% of total revenue from instruments sold in 2010.
There are many reasons the professional pianists and amateur piano players alike would choose to play digital pianos instead of the heavy, expensive, and bulky acoustic piano models. Are acoustic pianos perhaps destined to become extinct, relegated to public gardens and middle school music classes in favor of Yamaha arias and Casio privia?
It’s another good reason to consider learning to play the digital piano and how to take advantage of all its features in order to become a modern, 21st century, piano virtuoso.
Can the digital piano replace the acoustic piano?
Is a digital keyboard appropriate for beginners?
Is the sound of a digital piano as good as an acoustic piano?
What are the main differences between electronic keyboards and acoustic pianos?
How does the price of an 88 key digital piano compare to a traditional piano?
Do music professionals play digital pianos?
These are all common questions when you start reading through the online forums and chat rooms about keyboards and digital pianos.
We know very well that in order to practice your scales, chords, finger placement and technique, it’s best to have a piano at home. Could a keyboard or digital piano be the solution?
In this case - and especially given the amount of space you may or may not have if you’re living in a major American city - keyboards are a good alternative to acoustic pianos.
Electronic pianos have many features without a lot of the inconveniences of an acoustic piano. Keyboard pianos have a built-in digital sampling of different sounds produced by full acoustic pianos that were made with traditional materials.
Better brands and models usually mean an increase in features on the digital piano, as well as an increase in price. You can even find digital stage pianos, complete with a sustain pedal.
It’s worth noting that when we’re talking about keyboards in this article, we mean those that have weighted keys and are also often called digital pianos. Playing them will have almost the same feel as an acoustic piano.
We aren't talking about synthesizers here, but they’re a good way to start learning before you progress to a full piano, and are also part of the portable keyboard family.
Created to replace an acoustic piano, the digital piano is a good compromise for those learning to play the piano, because it offers:
- More space - it doesn’t take up much space, especially when compared to an acoustic piano.
- More mobility - most keyboards weigh less than 30 or 40 pounds and are much easier to move. They can be ideal for performances.
- Less fragile - much more durable and less likely to break or need retuning, keyboards are much more robust than traditional pianos
- A believable sound - they’re always well tuned, and you won’t get any echoes or other problems to affect the sound of your playing.
- Less noise - thanks to the ability to plug in headphones or turn down the volume, keyboards let you practice your playing without disturbing the neighbors.
- Lower cost for lessons - you won’t need to spend any of your lessons on maintenance, or pay for someone to come check your keyboard.
- A wide variety of sounds and notes - you’ll have your choice of different piano sounds and other instruments to play.
- The software on your keyboard lets you record your playing and even create little arrangements with different instruments and recordings playing simultaneously. It’s a good way to practice a piece of music with other instrumental accompaniments in the melody.
- An internal electronic metronome is built into the keyboard and will help you keep time as you play.
- More affordable - keyboards are much friendlier on the budget than an acoustic piano, and you can easily find a new top range model for less than $2000.
- Easier to record your playing, and even share your music on the internet thanks to the build in computer.
- Reading sheet music - some digital pianos can even help you understand and decode complicated pieces of music by scanning a simple piece of paper.
- Transposing music to other instruments is much easier thanks to the built in repertoire of instruments on the keyboard. You won’t need to rewrite the notes or learn the piece of music by heart in order to transpose it.
Different ways to learn to play the digital piano
Not to disappoint you, but there is no way to become an instant expert at the digital piano. However, there are a few tips and tricks that can help someone learning to play the piano for the first time. Learning to play a digital piano is much the same as learning how to play a grand piano.
Learn to read music with music theory
With a reputation for being difficult and joyless, music theory is often a topic that’s avoided as best as possible by budding musicians, whether they’re studying music at a conservatory, music school, or teaching themselves.
Despite it’s reputation for being boring and overly academic, music theory is an incredibly useful tool for people learning how to play the piano.
A key part of learning music theory is learning solfège (pronounced soul-fezh), a scale system that you’re often already vaguely familiar with from children’s music lessons. Part of solfège are the syllables assigned to musical notes - the do re mi fa so la ti do you’ve probably heard countless times.
In time, learning these scales will help you read, understand, and write your own sheet music.
Learning music theory, and solfège specifically, will help you when you’re studying piano, and it’s also useful for other instruments like guitar, saxophone or violin.
If you recognize the syllables “Do Ré Mi” you’re probably already familiar with the basics of solfège. What you now need to learn is how these syllables translate to your white piano keys.
Follow this checklist to select the right piano for you...
Learning to play the digital piano by ear
New technology has changed many things, and this includes the way we learn to play instruments. Today, many would-be piano players can find free online piano classes, videos, and tutorials online. Other students still prefer to learn to play the digital piano by ear.
Although this is a much more difficult way to learn to play the piano at first, over time this will strengthen your ear for music and ability to improvise and compose. Basically, you’ll be learning to play the piano by reproducing pieces of music.
To do this:
- listen to a piece of music
- play around with the keys of your digital piano until you find each of the notes with your fingers, and can faithfully recreate the song.
Learn to play the digital piano using sheet music
There are many useful books out there about learning the piano, even if they’re now considered rather low-tech and unexciting.
To track down one of these old fashioned books:
- Head over to your local music store, or have a look in the music section of your library.
- Explain to the customer service assistant what kind of music you want to learn how to play
- Follow their advice to find the right music for you.
These books will include some notes and guidance with each segment of sheet music, which can prove priceless wen you’re trying to learn to play a new piece of music.
You can also often find piano tabs, which will break down where each finger of your hand should rest on the keys, and for how long.
Learn to play the digital piano with private lessons
Whatever your level of natural music talent and however much motivation you have to learn the piano, it’s often still a good idea to find a piano teacher to help you on your journey.
You can find a piano teacher through word of mouth - recommendations from friends or music stores, or from checking the noticeboards in libraries, post offices, and coffee shops.
Don't bother doing an Internet search for piano lessons online...
If you’re feeling a bit hesitant about your search for the perfect piano teacher, we can help. Superprof has a huge database of thousands of piano players who offer lessons internationally, with many piano teachers also available in major US cities and suburbs.
These teachers generally offer classes close to your home, or can even come to your house, and they usually have a degree in music from a conservatory or previously worked as a professional pianist.
Through Superprof, it’s easy to do a bit of background research on your prospective piano teacher - you can check out their profile and read reviews other students have left.
Private classes can cost anything from $10 to $75 per hour, depending on circumstances, location, and teacher. Your first piano lesson will normally be free to give you and your prospective teacher a chance to evaluate your preferred learning methods and level of playing on the piano.
If you still aren’t sure, you can also check out all the reviews left by former students of these piano teachers in order to get a sense of the quality of their classes, teaching methods, and how quickly their former students have progressed.
Digital pianos are also a great way for children to learn to play the piano.