Choosing between a Digital and Acoustic Piano: A Helpful Buying Guide

Acoustic vs. Digital Pianos
Which should I buy?
You’ll have to answer this question for yourself based on your personal needs and preferences, but the
information below can help you make a good decision.
Let’s start with some key facts about the piano. Modern pianos have been around for over 300 years.
Bartolomeo Cristofori invented the first pianoforte in Venice, Italy using a hammer mechanism to produce a
sound from the vibration of the strings. While many musical instruments produce sound in this manner, the
way you cause the strings to vibrate will differ. You might pluck or pick the strings of your guitar. A bow
can be used to make the sounds that come from a violin or a cello. With an acoustic piano, you push down
on the keys to cause a hammer to hit and bounce off of the strings. This allows the strings to vibrate and
allows the pianist to give expression to the music played by varying the force, speed, release, etc. when
hitting the keys.
An acoustic piano typically contains over 10,000 parts and come in two basic styles: a grand piano and an
upright (or vertical) piano. Grand pianos range in size from 4 feet 7 inches to over 9 feet in length and are
horizontal. The strings on the grand piano are parallel to the ground. Gravity pulls the hammers back down
to their resting points after hitting the string or strings. Upright pianos can also be categorized by size and
include the spinet (36 to 39 inches), the console (39 to 42 inches) and the studio (42 inches or higher). The
console piano is the most common upright found in homes.
Digital pianos are electronic instruments that reproduce sounds that have been “sampled” and stored on
computer chips inside the piano. A digital piano has 61 to 88 keys, but no hammers, strings or any of the
moving parts you find in an acoustic piano. The sound is produced when the pressure you put on a key tells
the computer inside what sound to make. Good quality digital pianos may have a weighted key action
feature that tries to imitate the feel of an acoustic piano keyboard. Electronic keyboards and organs don’t
have weighted key action. You can hear the sounds the digital keyboard makes through built-in speakers, an
external sound system or headphones.
When deciding what type of piano to buy, try out as many good quality instruments as you can. Play pianos
in different price ranges and try both acoustic and digital types. Do some of the things listed below and
listen closely for what sounds best and feels best to you. Decide on a price range and what style you prefer
and you will be ready to choose the right piano for you.
- Play notes in the bass (to the left), the middle and the treble (to the right). Does the tone sound
even? How rich is the bass? What do you hear when you play the high notes?
- Play loud and soft in the bass, middle and treble. What differences do you hear?
- Press down on different keys, and then try playing a chord. How hard do you have to push to
make the sounds? Some people prefer a light touch (easy to push) and others prefer a heavy touch
(hard to push). The touch you prefer also depends on the type of music you play.
- Try some rapid trills and tremolos (two notes played alternately as quickly as possible). Play
notes staccato style (short, quick notes). Do the notes stop when you release the keys or do some
linger on?
- Press on the pedals with your feet (some digital pianos don’t have them.) Do all the notes you
play sound like they are sustained (resonating) when you push on the right-hand pedal? When you
press on the left-hand pedal, do the notes you play sound softer? On a digital piano, try out the
pedals to see how they affect the sound (volume, sustain, etc.)
- Play a song you know. Does the sound of the piano improve how the song sounds to you? How do
you feel when you are playing the song?
© 2006 Piano Technicians Guild www.ptg.org

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