When deciding between a digital and acoustic piano, there are a few things you should consider. It’s an increasingly difficult decision to make as the line between traditional acoustic and digital pianos blurs with the advent of so-called hybrid pianos. In an ideal world the answer would be to buy both and enjoy the organic sound, feel and looks of a beautiful acoustic piano as well as take advantage of the flexibility and creative opportunities offered by the amazing digital instruments on offer today. Sadly, very few of us have the resources and space to accommodate both simultaneously and so a decision must be made either way.
If you or your child is solely focused on learning and playing classical music, you will almost certainly feel that an acoustic piano is a requirement at some point. Whether or not a digital piano is a temporary or permanent option depends on the following factors.
Musical experience - tone and touch
Your chances of enjoying and sticking with the piano are greatly improved if you have access to a quality instrument. In most cases the experience of playing and listening to a good acoustic piano surpasses the equivalent digital piano experience. Digital pianos most definitely have their place, but their benefits lie in areas other than pure musical tone and expression. Having said this the quality of sound produced by digital pianos has and is improving all the time.
A beginner will not be significantly held back in the elementary learning phase by the touch and tone of a digital instrument, although the difference between their home experience and playing an acoustic piano at their school or teacher’s music studio will be noticeable.
If the objective is to play classical piano, a digital is a wonderful learning tool and a fantastic way to increase your home practice options. It won't however adequately carry you through the entire learning process and so is not a long term solution if you progress well. You should expect a digital piano to suffice until grades four or five after which the nuance required to perform the required repertoire is difficult to achieve on a digital piano.
Opportunities for general creative musical expression
A traditional acoustic piano is just that; a piano. It can never sound like anything else and it takes some work in the early learning phase to make a pleasing sound. Contrast this to the digital version with its wide variety of instrument sounds, backing tracks, microphone hook-ups, recording features, and countless other features. If purchasing for a child, it’s often these additional ways or interacting with the instrument that catch and hold their attention, bringing a level of engagement which can be hard to achieve with an acoustic piano.
Digital pianos are a more affordable way of acquiring an quality instrument. For this reason they are a great option if there is budgetary pressure or if there is some uncertainty about whether you or your child will continue learning or playing the piano.
Space & visual appeal
Acoustic pianos take up a large amount of space and are items of furniture as well as musical instruments. There is nothing quite like a beautiful acoustic piano to add atmosphere to a room, but in many situations the reduced space requirements of a digital piano appeal to space conscious buyers.
It’s hard to move a heavy acoustic piano weighing hundreds of kilograms whereas digital pianos are usually portable or easy movable.
Privacy and freedom of expression
Most people feel self conscious playing the piano if there are other people in earshot, and this can be particularly acute in the early learning phase. The ability to lower the volume or play through a set of headphones is a huge and sometimes undervalued benefit of digital pianos, allowing the pianist to lose themselves in their playing without worrying about who is listening. If living space is tight and if you have close neighbours, the added benefit is that you can happily play a digital instrument without affecting those in close proximity.
Longevity & investment value
A decent acoustic piano will last and can be enjoyed by several generations if well maintained, and a reputable brand will retain and possibly increase in value over time. Digital pianos will not hold their value in the same way and will also not last anywhere near as long as an acoustic instrument.
Tuning and maintenance requirements
Like cars and bicycles, acoustic pianos are complex machines that need regular loving care and attention to continue operating optimally. Tuning and servicing is an essential part of a piano’s regular maintenance schedule and should not be ignored. Digital pianos on the other hand are wonderfully simple to operate and they never go out of tune which is a huge advantage as you will know if you’ve ever played an out of tune instrument. Apart from the challenges of ensuring a reliable power source, not to be underestimated you might say, there are no ongoing servicing requirements for a digital instrument which is a very significant pro both musically and cost wise.
If you would like to discuss any of the points raised in this article or discuss particular digital or acoustic piano models, please give us a call on 021 788 9389 in Cape Town and 011 234 7555 in Johannesburg. For any other inquiries please email Kim email@example.com.
This video provides a useful summary: