Buying Your First Piano – Misconceptions Addressed and Common Questions Answered

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Buying a piano for the first time can no doubt be a daunting experience. An investment worth that many figures needs to be considered carefully, meaning it can be difficult for you to decide firstly on whether to buy an acoustic or digital piano. After that decision’s been made, to add to your headaches there are an abundance of options facing you at the end of that road about the make, model, height … the list goes on.

To make your life easier, we’re here to answer some commonly asked questions and clear up any misconceptions to hopefully ease the head pain.

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Acoustic vs Digital

The first thing to remember about this issue is that there is no right or wrong answer, only a matter of opinion. Depending on who you speak to, everyone will have different opinions and comments to make in regards to the pros and cons of digital and acoustic pianos and thus which one you should purchase. The ongoing maintenance and the costs associated with tuning and maintaining an acoustic piano’s upkeep is probably the major con that is brought up about acoustic pianos, which lends itself as a pro to the digital variety. Modern advanced technology means that the digital pianos of today are high quality competitors when compared to their acoustic counterparts. Acoustic enthusiasts on the other hand will argue that no matter how good the technology gets, nothing will ever beat the developing sound and feel of a real acoustic piano. Nevertheless it is worth visiting a piano store in person and seeing for yourself the many difference associated with the two to allow you to make your own, informed decision.

Here are two true, personal stories contributed to the Roland site regarding the same issue:

            ‘I grew up playing an acoustic upright piano. I purchased my first digital piano when I moved interstate – digital piano was far more practical as I was renting an apartment.  Having a digital piano meant that I could practice at any time of the day or night without worrying about the neighbours. The first digital piano I purchased was the ‘cheapest possible’ 88 note weighted digital piano.To be honest, I didn’t think that it would make THAT much of a difference, as long as the piano had 88 notes and had weighted keys. But I was wrong! I didn’t like the touch, I didn’t like the sound and I didn’t feel inspired to practice. I then upgraded to a far better quality digital piano.  Yes, it cost more but it gave me a far better playing experience and I continued to appreciate the better sound & touch of a better quality instrument.’

‘The quality of the instrument can impact on the person’s enthusiasm to play – just like driving a nice, brand-new vehicle versus an ‘old bomb’ with no power-steering and no air conditioner. If you have a nice instrument to play with a beautiful touch and tone, you will want to play it more… and show it off!

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Weighted vs Non – Weighted

Many piano teachers may recommend that your first purchase be a full size piano with weighted keys. A ‘full size’ piano refers to a piano (either acoustic or digital) that has the full set of 88 notes. This is generally recommended as the majority of music examination boards set these as minimal requirements to take exams. Furthermore, the presence of weighted keys in a digital piano mimics the weight of the keys found in all acoustic pianos. This weight is achieved by the hammer action used in acoustic piano to achieve their sound. Moreover the weighted keys help beginner players to develop the correct hand shape and arm and wrist motions in order to correctly foster the various movements required for differing dynamics when playing a piece. Weak fingers and as an extension of that, weak arm to wrist linkage will result in a physical struggle later on in playing pieces that require loud or louder passages; something that the muscles in the arms and hands are not used to.

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Tuning and other Maintenance

Just like a car, in order to keep your acoustic piano in tip top condition, regular tuning and other maintenance procedures are required.

Pianos go out of tune due to a combination of many reasons; however the primary reason is due to changes in humidity which alter the shape and strength of the wood used to make the soundboard and thus altering the tension between the tuning pegs and strings. Other reasons include simply playing the piano, having the piano moved or vastly differing climates in the area that you live in. Piano tuners recommend a tuning once every 6 months to keep the piano in optimal condition. The longer a piano stays out of tune, the more time and effort it will take for a technician to properly re-tune it. A regular tuning will usually cost around $150 dollars (more for grand pianos) which adds up to around $300 a year for tunings alone. Multiply that by the lifetime of the piano and you’ve got a hefty bill on your hands! Digital pianos will never go out of tune or lose their tone and sound colour, no matter what climate you put it in or how often you move it around.

Overtime, the felt on the hammers of acoustic pianos will harden from their previously soft and supple state. A harder hammer gives a brighter sound to it, much like a honky-tonk piano from Old Western films and ultimately become harsh and undesirable. Left to extremes, imprints of where the strings have continuously hit the hammer will appear. If this is un-addressed for long enough the whole hammer may need to be replaced. Voicing a piano is a costly and time consuming job, something that digital piano players will not need to worry about.

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Hopefully this has cleared up any questions or misconceptions you may have had on purchasing your first piano and you are now equipped to make a better and more well informed choice. Should you have any further questions on this article or any other general queries, please do not hesitate to leave a comment below or to contact the store.

Contributed by Roland Australia Blog

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