Buying a piano is a big decision and a large investment. One of the first considerations is whether to buy an acoustic piano or its newer sibling, the digital piano.
What’s the Difference – Acoustic vs. Digital
An acoustic piano is the piano you knew growing up. It produces sound through a soundboard and strings which are hit by hammers when the keys are pressed. Acoustic pianos can be either the smaller upright type or larger grand pianos.
Digital pianos are electronic instruments. They have no soundboard, strings or hammers – they plug in and produce sounds electronically. Technicians choose samples of acoustic piano notes and store these digitally to sound when digital piano keys are pressed.
If your child wants to begin piano lessons, a digital piano can be a great choice. Digital pianos vary widely in price, but are generally quite a bit cheaper than acoustic pianos.
Digital pianos are also much lighter and easier to move than acoustic pianos. Have you ever tried moving an acoustic piano? I have many memories of my dad trying to round up 3 or 4 other men to help him move my acoustic piano into and out of various apartments I lived in. It weighed hundreds of pounds. If you plan to move frequently, this can be an important consideration.
Digital pianos, being digital, never go out of tune. I pay $100 or so annually to have my acoustic piano tuned, so over the years you can save quite a bit by avoiding this expense.
Digital pianos have many perks that you may enjoy. You can play with headphones, so that you won’t bother others with your music-making. You can also push buttons on your digital piano to make it sound like various other instruments. Many digital pianos have recording capability. They may have built-in metronomes as well to help you with rhythm.
Having said all that, why would anyone buy an acoustic piano? Many reasons. Most seasoned musicians and purists would only consider acoustic pianos. Have you recently seen a philharmonic concert where the keyboard being used was digital? The interaction of the soundboard, strings and hammers in an acoustic piano is a complex process that produces a sound that most agree is much richer than that produced by digital models, although digital sound is improving. Additionally, acoustic pianos can blend many notes to create rich harmonies. Digital pianos suffer in comparison, with a limited number of sounds that can be heard simultaneously.
Acoustic pianos also have a different (most musicians would say a better) “feel” as well. The “touch” produced when one presses the keys on an acoustic piano differs from that used for a digital model. Digital pianos lack the ability to control volume by touch – they simply have a sliding volume control. This takes volume control – an important skill for pianists to learn – away from the pianist. Manufacturers are working on improving this aspect of digital pianos, but they still have a way to go.
Acoustic pianos hold their value much better than digital. While an acoustic piano can become a family heirloom, digital models tend to lose their value quickly once a newer model comes out.
Digital or Acoustic?
As you can see, there are advantages and disadvantages to both digital and acoustic pianos. Consider your situation and needs to make the best decision for you.