How Much Should You Pay For a Beginner Piano?

Buying a piano is sometimes the only thing standing between a family and piano lessons. Maybe you want your children to learn how to play, or perhaps you want to study the piano yourself. But spending several thousand dollars on a piano isn't feasible for everyone.

The good news is that you don't have to pay all that much to get a great piano. In fact, all the pianos in our studio were purchased at a considerable discount, but are still outstanding pianos. You get what you pay for, to a certain extent, but there are many cost-effective options available, and you can often find a good deal if you know where to look.

If you would like to start piano lessons in Vancouver, WA, or if you are interested in music theory lessons and composition, please get in touch. We serve students in and around Vancouver, and want to hear from you!

Can a Beginner Learn on a Digital Keyboard?

Yes, a beginning pianist can learn on a digital piano. Though it's not optimal, a digital piano is a serviceable option that can bridge the gap between having no instrument at all and purchasing an acoustic instrument later on. As with acoustic pianos, there are some important considerations to make to ensure you have a keyboard that allows your student to take full advantage of their musical study.

First, any keyboard you buy should be full size, which means it should have 88-keys. Some keyboard manufacturers produce small electric pianos with less than 88 keys (61 keys is the most common size), but all young pianists should have access to a full size keyboard, both during lessons, and at home for practice. It takes time to become comfortable with the full range of the piano, and being able to find the keys on the piano that exactly correspond to the notes on the page. Your spatial awareness at the keyboard will not develop well if you practice on a 61 key keyboard during your early stage in lessons.

Furthermore, a short time after beginning lessons, students begin learning to read music on the staff where each line and space maps to a unique key on the piano, and students will not have access to all the keys they need. With a smaller keyboard, students may also inadvertently play notes in the wrong register (higher or lower than written in the piece) because their keyboard does not look like the piano in the teacher's studio. A young student likely will not have developed the sensitivity to high or low sounds well enough to know if they are playing in the right register on the piano. All piano students need to learn on a full-size keyboard so they develop a sensitivity to range, and can map each unique line and space on the musical staff to each unique key on the piano.

Second, weighted keys matter. You can only develop a healthy technique, learn to play with dynamics, and other musical elements of playing the piano if the keys on your keyboard at home respond physically in a similar way to the teacher's acoustic piano in the studio. Many cheap keyboards do not have weighted keys, but instead have keys that behave like keys on a QWERTY keyboard, where you get the same result no matter how much weight you use when you lower the key. On the piano, this means no matter how fast you lower the key, the sound is always the same volume. This causes a variety of musical and technical problems, including a lack of dynamics and general sensitivity to sound, weak fingers which cannot control the keys on an acoustic piano, the inability to practice playing with arm weight, and poor execution of articulations. Playing a keyboard without weighted keys does not translate well to playing on a real piano, and it will cause problems for the student's sensitivity to touch and sound.

Third, the digital keyboard should have a pedal, or at least a pedal port if the keyboard you're considering doesn't come with a pedal. Ideally, you want the pedal to mimic the feel and placement of a real piano pedal – many cheaper pianos have small plastic squares that serve as a pedal. These are not ideal, but are serviceable if it's all you can get. However, for students beyond the beginning stage, a pedal of this kind is limiting. The pedal on an acoustic piano is not just on or off. It has a gradient, just like a gas pedal on a car. For advancing students, access to a piano that responds to partial depression of the pedal is necessary in order to render a performance which represents the students highest level of achievement and musicianship, and the student will need a piano at home to facilitate practicing with a high level of refined control of the pedal.

If you know that an acoustic piano is not an option for you, here are some good digital pianos and keyboards to consider:

Yamaha Clavinovas are the best all-around digital piano consoles for beginners, and Casio keyboards are the best for families on a tight budget. Roland instruments have the best action of any digital keyboard manufacturer on the market. Though they are more expensive, the touch response on a Roland digital piano is closer to a real piano than any other manufacturer today.

This Roland Keyboard is an excellent deal for the features:

How Much Should You Pay For an Acoustic Piano For a Beginner?

You can purchase a high quality used acoustic upright piano from a retailer for under $3,000 from manufacturers like Yamaha, Baldwin, Kawai, or another respected mid-tier brand. Used Steinway uprights may cost up to $20K, depending on the condition and retailer.

You can also find a previously owned upright or grand piano from Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist, sometimes even for free! But, when investigating a piano from a private third party, bring a piano technician with you when you look at the instrument. It is very easy to pay more for the piano than it is worth after factoring in moving costs and any maintenance needed after the move (like a tuning, which is standard after moves). There are often mechanical or structural problems that come with pianos which have not been well cared for over their lifetime, which would require further expenditure to get the instrument in good practicing and playing condition.

Used grand pianos that have been refurbished and listed by a local retailer are another great choice. You may pay $5,000-$8,000 for a used Baldwin or Kawai, around $10K for a used Yamaha grand piano, and north of $25K for a Steinway, though you can find good deals on all these brands (and others) if you keep a careful eye on your local secondary marketplaces. Though they are smaller instruments, sometimes the used Steinway baby grand pianos (S models) cost more than larger models – there is more demand for them. More than anything, age is a significant factor in the pricing of pianos. Their valuations are typically based on the original purchase price adjusted for inflation. Since new piano prices have appreciated much more than the rate of inflation, looking for older instruments that have been well cared for can sometimes offer a better value than looking for a new instrument, or a recently manufactured used instrument.

There's Really No Such Thing as a "Beginner Piano"

A piano's quality is defined by its craftsmanship, tone and resonance, touch at the keyboard, and resale value – not the level of the pianist. The piano is not like a tuba, in which case you need a beginner model that is smaller and requires less breath support from the student.

If you plan to have the piano as part of your family life for the long term, it is absolutely worth investing in a high quality instrument that you will love for decades. Many people pass pianos down as heirlooms. In fact, one of the pianos in our studio is a well maintained family heirloom! Do not fall into the trap of buying a cheap “beginner piano,” then needing to buy another one in a few years.

If you have any questions about instruments, please feel free to get in touch. We teach piano lessons in Ridgefield, WA and the surrounding areas, and we'd be happy to hear from you.