A Pianists Guide to Buying a first piano

As a child, I loved playing the piano. When I turned 8 years old, I was finally given the greatest gift of all time, piano lessons! My family had an old upright piano made by the Thomas Organ Company. Honestly, the piano was so poorly put together that it probably never should have been manufactured. However, it’s what we had which meant that I had a piano to practice on. All I really cared about was playing the piano. I would have been happy with a $50 Radio Shack keyboard if it meant that I could take piano lessons. Luckily for me, I had a “real” piano in my home.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have access to a “real” piano today. In fact, a lot of new homes aren’t designed with a formal living room which makes finding a spot for a piano a bit more challenging. Pianos take up a fair amount of real estate in your home, and they’re not easy to move around. As a result, many people get a keyboard as their first piano. I don’t have anything against keyboards. In fact, I often play on my Yamaha P120 digital piano with Graded Hammer Effect weighted keys. That being said, a keyboard or “digital piano” is not a “real” piano.

It’s easy for me to switch to any keyboard because I started out on a “real” piano. Going from the weight and feel of a traditional piano to a keyboard is pretty easy, however, it’s much more difficult to reverse the order. I’ve found that keyboard players have a hard time adjusting to the touch of “real” pianos. The keys are a lot more resistant on a traditional piano. I’m glad that my parents had a piano for me to use. For the first several years, I played on our old Thomas upright. Eventually, the piano started to fall apart, keys would get stuck all of the time making it really difficult to play. My parents started shopping around for a different piano. We looked at a lot of different pianos and eventually settled on a beautiful Yamaha U1 upright piano with a nice walnut finish. The key element in picking the piano was taking the time to find the right one. I played on lots of different pianos before my family made a decision.

When it comes to picking a piano I think you need to ask yourself why it is that you want a piano?

If the answer is, “I want one because they look beautiful and I need one on display in my home.” my suggestion is to go online and find a turn of the century upright that someone is giving away for free. The woodwork is incredible on these pianos, and if someone doesn’t take it home, it will probably end up as firewood.

If the answer is, “I want to learn, but I’m not sure that I’m going to stick with it.” my suggestion is to invest in a good digital piano. Something by Yamaha or Roland with fully weighted keys. Alternatively, you may look into getting a good starter piano. I definitely wouldn’t suggest buying a brand new piano.

If the answer is, “I love the piano, I’ve always wanted to learn, and I’m determined to learn to play no matter what!” my suggestion is to do one of the following:

Get a starter piano – Take a pianist with you, talk to your local piano tuners, check out offerup, craigslist, or facebook. Talk to the local piano store about any used trade-ins they have access to. Take your time and get something that plays well.

If you’re ready to spend some money, get the best piano you can find that you can afford – If you have a few thousand dollars to spend or more, and you’re truly determined to learn the piano, buy something that plays really well, and looks really nice. You may even consider buying a brand new piano off of the showroom floor.

My personal preferred brand is Yamaha. I love the U1 upright. It has a bright pop sound. Mine has a practice pedal that places felt in between the hammers and strings to make the piano play much quieter, which I know my family greatly appreciated when I was learning to play. No two pianos are ever going to be the same. The tone and timbre of each instrument are unique. The touch and expression are also unique to each individual instrument. Likewise, no two pianists are the same. What works for me, might not work for you. That’s why it’s really important to determine what stage you are at in your life as it pertains to picking a piano. Are you just starting out? Are you planning on sticking with the piano for a short period or a lifetime? What kind of piano music would you like to play? Are you in a position to spend a good chunk of money today, or do you need to buy a starter piano with the intent to upgrade later on?

My suggestion at the end of the day is to figure out what’s right for you at this time in your life. Get the best piano you can afford. For many of us, that means finding a free piano online. However, don’t go in blind. Take a friend who plays the piano to help you determine the playability of the instrument. And lastly, don’t just take the first piano that comes along. Do your research, take your time and have fun figuring out what instrument is right for you!

Oh, one final bonus tip! If a $100k Steinway isn’t in your budget, don’t play on it until you’ve found your first piano. Try out pianos that are within your budget to keep the experience fun and enjoyable. Good luck piano hunting!

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