Which is better to own, a keyboard or a real piano? I grew up using both. My Kawai upright piano received daily hammerings of Bach, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, and provided more hours of enjoyment than did my keyboard. Maybe that’s because my keyboard was a Technics late ‘80s model with a piano patch that sounded something like a cheap zither. But you could add a reverb effect. Which was cool as long as you were looking that airport public bathroom sound.
Well, times have changed and keyboards are better than ever, making them a tempting substitution for acoustic pianos (acoustic means real, by the way). But are keyboards really the best choice? And if you decide on a piano, should you buy an upright piano or a grand piano?
Maybe my short list of pros and cons will help.
- You Never Tune It. Since a single tuning can cost $60-$200 (depending on the quality of your piano tech), and since acoustic pianos should be tuned at least once per year, this could be a significant savings.
- Many Sound Choices. Keyboards often come packed with a lot of onboard sounds. So if you are the creative composer-type, this could be really fun for you.
- Tech-ready. With a $7 midi cable, you can connect your keyboard into your computer, enabling you to use Garage Band, piano-learning software, writing and scoring software, or cloud-based music programs.
- Silent Feature. Just plug in headphones and you won’t annoy family or neighbors with your awesome music.
- Low Resale Value. The same thing that happens to your computer happens to your keyboard. Time ticks off dollar value, making it hard to sell your keyboard in the future.
- Unnatural Sound. As great as keyboard technology is, the sound still projects from a speaker instead of a large spruce wood soundboard, making it much harder to create nuance and “color” when you play. This is especially a drawback if you want to play classical music.
- Unnatural Touch. The action (touch) of all but the very most expensive keyboards is not the same as an acoustic instrument. This can negatively effect the muscle development of students, and makes it hard to adjust to an acoustic piano.
- Takes up Very Little Space. An upright piano is not very deep in its dimensions, so pushing it against a wall makes for easy placement. The height of the piano can vary by model though, so take that into consideration.
- Natural Sound and Touch. Upright pianos provide a natural sound that emanates from the entire soundboard, while the touch offers a certain amount of resistance which helps develop your control and touch. Upright pianos do not have as much resistance as grand pianos, however.
- Affordable. Whether buying used or new, you can definitely find an upright piano that fits your budget. A good used piano is around $1500-$2,000, while you can spend $3,500-$10,000 for a new one.
- Good Resale Value. Uprights do fairly well in holding their value. Used pianos especially tend to hold their value.
- Tuning and Repairs. Since tunings and repairs are a normal part of the life of a piano, this financial obligation may factor in as a con.
- Limited Dynamic Range. Most upright pianos don’t quite deliver quite the big, powerful sound that many pianists prefer. But a rule of thumb is that the taller the piano, the better and bigger the sound. This is because the strings are longer and the soundboard is bigger.
- Dud Potential. There are lot of bad upright pianos out there. Old pianos and short pianos top the list of duds. If you are in the market to purchase an upright, try looking for pianos from the 1960s or newer that are at least 48 inches tall. But don’t discount other pianos—there can be some real gems out there, particularly pianos made before 1929. Older pianos have a higher likelihood of having major issues, but a good look-over by a registered technician can tell you everything you need to know. This holds true for both uprights and grand pianos.
- Beautiful Aesthetic. Who hasn't wanted a grand piano in their home?
- Great Sound. As long as at the piano is longer than 5’ 10’’, the quality of sound is great in grand pianos. Pianos over six feet long have a wonderful bass, and pianos seven feet and longer and the perfect spectrum of sound from low to high.
- Great Touch/Action. Grand pianos have a better touch than uprights because the hammers--connected to the keys--have to overcome gravity when pressed. This provides a heavier (or harder) action and is very beneficial to students who still have developing muscles in their forearms and hands.
- Good Resale Value. Like uprights, grands have a good resale value. High-end brands like Steinway and Bösendorfer even grow in value over time.
- Large Size. If you have a small space, grand pianos aren’t a good option for you. Grands less than 5’ 10’’ generally have a poor quality of sound, so do not purchase one if the instrument is primarily for playing (as opposed to being strictly a furniture piece).
- Tuning and Repairs. Like uprights, if the maintenance of a piano is a financial burden, this could count as a strike against a grand.
Hopefully this list will help you decide what kind of instrument is right for you. If you are looking for a good piano tuner or piano moving company, you can learn more here.
Adam & Anna Bendorf are piano teachers in Santa Clarita, CA. Adam is extremely geeked out on pianos and often engages in boring piano conversations with other piano geeks.