Acoustic vs Digital Piano: Which One is Right for You?

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As an aspiring pianist, you might be searching for the perfect piano. You need a piano that fits your goals, preferences, and budget.

Whether you’re piano shopping or simply curious about the piano options out there, this post is for you!

We’ll discuss the acoustic vs. digital piano options and why you might choose one over the other.

And by the end of the post, you’ll better understand the different piano options available today.

This post may contain affiliate links. As affiliates of the Amazon associate program, Modacity, Dr. Josh Wright ProPractice, Musicnotes, Playground Sessions, and Piano Marvel, I may receive a commission at no extra cost if you purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information and privacy policy. I take no credit for the images appearing on this page. All photos are courtesy of Canva.

What is an acoustic piano?

An acoustic piano is probably the type of instrument you think of when you think about a piano.

It’s made of wood, with steel strings and felt-covered hammers that strike those strings to create sound.

An acoustic instrument can come in all shapes and sizes, from small uprights to large grand pianos, but they all have the same basic design.

The sound of an acoustic piano is unique and beautiful. It’s the classic sound of a real instrument without any digital processing.

Upright vs. Grand

When shopping for pianos, you can choose between an upright and a grand.

An upright piano is what most people immediately think about when you say the word “piano.” They are smaller in size and take up less space.

Grands are larger instruments that offer a fuller sound.

Generally speaking, an acoustic grand piano is more expensive than an acoustic upright; however, the price often reflects the piano’s brand, age, and quality.

Benefits of an Acoustic Piano

The main benefit of an acoustic piano is that it’s a real instrument. It has a genuinely organic piano sound.

An acoustic piano also offers better tactile feedback than a digital keyboard, giving you more control over dynamics and phrasing.

And having more control over the sound leads to more extraordinary artistry and satisfaction with playing the instrument.

Finally, a real piano is often used in concert halls and performance venues, so an acoustic instrument may be your best bet if you’re serious about playing or performing classical.

Drawbacks of an Acoustic Piano

The biggest drawback of an acoustic piano is the cost. Acoustic pianos can be expensive up-front.

Acoustic pianos should ideally be tuned once to twice yearly. And because there are so many small, moving parts, they may need occasional repairs and regulation to maintain the best possible sound.

Piano tuning and repair is an art form requiring years of training and practice. Regardless of what the internet says, don’t try to tune or repair your piano yourself.

It’s always best to hire a professional piano technician to ensure your piano stays in excellent condition.

Acoustic grand pianos are not easy to move and require a great deal of space, another drawback if you have a small living area. Even an upright traditional acoustic piano is very heavy and difficult to move.

Finally, acoustic pianos are limited regarding sound capabilities, such as built-in speakers, internal sound samples, and MIDI capabilities.

And if you live in an apartment or want a late night practice session after your kids go to bed, you can’t plug in a set of headphones and play to your heart’s content.

Consider an Acoustic Piano if:

  • You love playing classical music.
  • Your living room has plenty of space.
  • You consider an authentic acoustic sound to be the most important thing.
  • You’re committed to learning the instrument.
  • You don’t mind keeping up with routine tuning and repairs.
  • You’re looking for an authentic playing experience.
  • You may be interested in upgrading at some point and want decent resale value.

Generally speaking, if you’re interested in pursuing the performance of classical music, stick with an acoustic. And if your budget allows, opt for a grand over an upright.

Remember that this doesn’t have to be your “forever” piano. Acoustic pianos generally hold resale value better than digital pianos, and you will likely be able to use your initial investment toward a higher-quality option in the future.

What is a digital piano?

A digital piano is an electronic instrument that mimics the look and feel of an acoustic piano.

Digital pianos are usually smaller and lighter than acoustic pianos, and they come in both upright and grand models.

The main difference between an acoustic and digital piano is that a good digital piano has sounds sampled from actual acoustic pianos. But the sound quality can vary dramatically from one digital instrument to the next.

Some of the best digital pianos on the market sound similar to the real thing. They also often have additional features, such as MIDI capabilities, built-in rhythms, and accompaniment tracks.

Digital Piano vs. Keyboard

You may have heard the terms “digital piano” and “digital keyboard” used interchangeably, but they’re not quite the same.

A digital piano is designed to mimic an acoustic piano in sound and playing experience. Digital pianos generally have 88 keys weighted to replicate an acoustic’s playing experience.

A digital keyboard often has fewer than 88 keys, usually 61 or 76. Keys on a keyboard are generally not weighted.

Although a digital piano is more portable than an acoustic one, they’re not designed to be moved from place to place or taken out to gigs.

But you can easily take a keyboard with you wherever you go.

Both digital pianos and keyboards generally come equipped with various alternate sound settings, but keyboards often have more options than digital pianos.

Generally speaking, digital pianos are designed to be an electronic alternative to acoustic pianos, while keyboards are designed for portability and creativity in sound production.

Benefits of a Digital Piano

The most significant benefit of a digital piano is the price. Digital pianos usually cost less than acoustic ones and require minimal maintenance.

Digital instruments are also easier to move around, as they don’t weigh nearly as much as a real acoustic piano.

You can even find battery-powered digital pianos for use outdoors or in places where there may not be an electrical outlet nearby.

Digital pianos also typically have many extra features that can be useful for musicians.

Many digital instruments come with accompaniment tracks, built-in rhythms, a USB port, and various sounds sampled from different instruments.

Digital pianos can also be connected to computers via MIDI cables to use sequencing software or virtual instrument plugins.

And if you’re interested in using an app to learn piano, several different options, once connected, give feedback on your playing.

Drawbacks of a Digital Piano

The main drawback of a digital piano is the lack of touch sensitivity and tactile feedback.

Digital instruments are often designed to be lightweight so that they can be moved easily. This also means that the keys have less resistance when you press them, which may not give you as much control over phrases or dynamics as an acoustic instrument.

Another potential drawback is the sound quality may not be as good as an acoustic piano, although this varies from one make and model to another.

Finally, some digital pianos come with pre-programmed rhythms and accompaniment tracks that can limit your creativity.

If playing around with different sounds is essential, you may want a model with more advanced features.

Overall, digital pianos offer many great benefits for those searching for an instrument, but understanding the pros and cons before deciding is essential.

Consider a Digital Piano if:

  • Your living space has limited room.
  • You want to play electronic music and must be able to produce various sounds.
  • You’re still determining whether you will stick with the instrument for an extended period.
  • You want to practice with headphones.
  • You’re learning the instrument with an online course or program that works best with a digital instrument.
  • You want to avoid the hassle of routine tuning and maintenance.

If you’re ready to explore digital pianos, check out my review of the best budget digital pianos for beginners.

What is a hybrid piano?

Several companies, including Yamaha, now also make hybrid pianos. As you may have guessed, the hybrid piano is a combination of features from both acoustic and digital pianos combined in one instrument.

Hybrid pianos offer the sound an acoustic piano produces with a digital model’s convenient recording features.

And if you want to practice at midnight while your family sleeps, plug in the headphones and play away without sacrificing the authentic acoustic sound.

Although the hybrid piano offers the best of both worlds, they are relatively new and carry a higher price tag than some acoustic and digital pianos.

Piano Shopping Tips

Remember a few general rules when shopping for your first piano.

Try Before You Buy

Although online reviews and videos are helpful, trying the piano out for yourself is always best before making a purchase decision.

Every piano has a slightly different feel. Some have a stiffer action, while others have a more bright tone.

Although I grew up playing my grandmother’s acoustic upright, I fell in love with playing grand pianos while in college.

Most of the Yamaha grand pianos I played in college had stiff actions and bright sounds. I became somewhat biased against the entire brand.

Several years ago, when I could finally upgrade from my grandmother’s upright, I was shocked when I tried out the Yamaha grand that would eventually become mine.

The action was perfect, as was the sound.

And if I had stuck with my distaste for Yamahas, I never would have found my dream piano.

Free Pianos are Everywhere

You’ll likely encounter the “free” piano in your search for an instrument. Craigslist and newspaper ads often feature pianos that you need only haul away.

Be cautious of these pianos. Many of these instruments need extensive regulation and repair to get back to a functional condition.

Generally speaking, grand pianos hold up better over time than uprights, but even an “antique” grand can wear out over time.

Pianos have been mass-produced in this country for nearly 50 years, meaning there are more junk pianos than good ones, especially if the piano is more than ten years old.

Free pianos are an option; however, you’ll probably need to invest money to get it to a playable condition.

And even then, there are no guarantees that it will be the piano it once was.

Generally speaking, avoid any piano showing evidence of water damage, soundboard cracks, or uprights over 20 years old unless they’ve had proper care and maintenance.

Consult an Expert

If you feel overwhelmed by finding a piano, consider asking for help.

Piano technicians are an excellent resource for helping you make an informed decision. In addition to tuning and repairing pianos, technicians often sell them or know of pianos for sale that may fit your buying criteria.

Technicians can help with pricing and determining whether the piano needs work after purchase.

If you’re taking piano lessons, consider asking your teacher for assistance with your piano search.

Your piano teacher might be able to help you decide on the type of piano that would best suit your goals and playing style.

Final Thoughts

Finding a piano is a very personal decision. It doesn’t matter whether it’s acoustic or digital as long as it’s a piano you love.

Take your time and learn as much as you can about pianos before making the purchase.

Be sure to try out several instruments and talk to a technician before deciding on an instrument that best fits your needs.

And with any luck, your work up-front will result in finding an instrument you love for years to come!

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