Choosing between an acoustic or digital piano

When it comes to choosing a piano, first decide on whether you want an acoustic piano or a digital piano. There are advantages to both, but sales of digital pianos are increasing as they offer many practical benefits over their acoustic counterparts, which means they are more suitable for modern lifestyles.

Upright Digital Pianos

Let’s start with the acoustic piano. An acoustic piano uses hammers to strike strings which vibrate and generate a sound. This is the basis on which many instruments work – Violins have strings which vibrate when bowed, guitars have strings which vibrate when plucked and pianos have strings which vibrate when struck. An acoustic piano comes in two styles – a grand piano which you usually see on concert hall stages and an upright or vertical piano which are mainly seen in the home.

Digital pianos have no hammers, strings or any of the moving parts usually found in an acoustic piano. So how do they work? The sound of a world class acoustic piano is digitally recorded or sampled using high quality microphones and that sound is then reproduced through amplifiers and speakers each time a key is pressed.

Choosing between an acoustic or digital piano | Roland UK

Digital Pianos vs Electric Pianos & Keyboards

Digital pianos are sometimes incorrectly referred to as electric pianos. The two things are different. Electric pianos use a combination of mechanical and electronic parts to generate their sound and were popular with bands in the 1970s. They eventually died out when the digital piano became affordable.

Digital pianos should also not be confused with keyboards. Often seen as a cheap alternative to a digital piano, a keyboard will have keys that are very light and springy and often only over a 61 or 76 note range – a digital piano has an 88 note range. Keyboards are fine for having a bit of fun but not as a serious alternative to an acoustic piano.

Choosing between an acoustic or digital piano | Roland UK

Benefits of a Digital Piano

So what are the key benefits of a digital piano over an acoustic piano? In no particular order:

The volume can be adjusted and headphones can be used. This allows practice where (and when) the sound of the instrument would disturb other people. Some pianos even have twin headphone sockets that allow a parent or teacher to listen in on the student.

An acoustic piano will usually need tuning once or twice a year. A digital piano is maintenance free – there are no hammers and strings to produce sound so there’s no tuning required. Not only does this save you money, it also means that they are less sensitive to room climate changes so can be placed against radiators or in basements.

Digital pianos include a huge variety of sounds suitable for playing many different genres of music. For instance, J.S. Bach actually wrote many of his pieces for harpsichord, not the piano.

Unlike acoustic pianos which usually weigh a ton, a digital piano is significantly lighter which makes it easier to move it around. Digital pianos are also often half the height of an acoustic piano allowing placement under windows etc.

Digital pianos will often include features that help the learning process such as a built in metronome for keeping time or a recorder for self-evaluation of your performance. They can also be hooked up to a computer for composing.

And finally, a quality digital piano costs considerably less than a quality acoustic piano.

Read more posts from our beginner piano series

Free Digital Piano Guide | Roland UK