Buying a Keyboard

We know a lot of parents who are ready to start their child in piano lessons, but don't have a piano in the house. So we put together this quick-and-dirty buying guide, to help parents make the best decision for their child's piano instruction.

But first, a note on the three characteristics that we think are the most important when buying a student's first piano:

  • 88 keys: A "full-size" piano has 88 keys. However, you can find keyboards with 76 or even 61 keys. When possible, we believe a beginning piano student should start on a keyboard with all 88 keys so they can explore the full patterns and sounds of their piano, both their through lessons and in their own discovery. In addition, having a full-sized piano means never having to say "I don't have the right size keyboard to play this song!"
 An "inside look" at an upright piano - keys at the bottom, hammers just above them, and strings at the top!

An "inside look" at an upright piano - keys at the bottom, hammers just above them, and strings at the top!

  • Weighted keys: To make a sound on a grand piano or upright piano, a pianist will press a key, which triggers a hammer, which hits a set of strings -- that's how a sound is made! In order to make all this happen, there is some "heaviness" associated with playing those keys. As a result, we always recommend buying a keyboard with fully weighted, "hammer action" keys because it's closest to the real thing; it also builds up strength in students' hands and fingers, which allows them to transition to an acoustic or grand piano easily. After practicing on fully weighted keys, playing non-weighted keys feels like playing with a child's toy! (Disclaimer: There are some good uses for non-weighted keys, we just don't recommend them as a student's first piano).
  • Headphone jack: This should come standard on most keyboards now, but just in case we wanted to include this here. It's an invaluable option when you need to keep things a little quieter around the house, but still want your child to be able to practice and enjoy their music. Most headphone jacks take a 1/4 inch plug, so be sure to buy an adapter for your headphones (for reference, most headphones have a 3.5mm plug).

Ok, now that we've got those out of the way, let's get to our recommendations. We made sure all of these were playable at Guitar Center (but please call your local store to see if it's in stock first). We'll start with our #1 recommendation and then go down the list:

 The Casio CDP-135

The Casio CDP-135

  • 1st CHOICE: We highly recommend the Casio CDP-135 for beginning piano students. It is an excellent keyboard for the price ($349 at Guitar Center), it has good sound, weighted keys, a full 88 keybed, a headphone jack, plus MIDI connectivity, which allows you to connect your keyboard to your computer, opening up a whole new world of musical exploration. Getting a decent piano with all these features for under $400 is hard to do, which is why we love the Casio CDP-135. You would still need to get a simple "X" stand, bench and sustain pedal with this keyboard, but those accessories should only add about $70 total.
 The Yamaha P-45

The Yamaha P-45

  • 2nd CHOICE: The Yamaha P45 is our second choice. It's got all the features of the Casio CDP-135, with a bit better sound, and a bit higher quality "weightiness" on the keys. I'm a huge fan of Yamaha keyboards (you'll notice all the rest of our recommendations are Yamahas) so if you want to spend $100 more than the Casio for something slightly better, go for this option at $449. However, you would also need to buy a stand, bench and pedal with this purchase.
 The Yamaha NP-12

The Yamaha NP-12

  • BUDGET CHOICE: If you're not sure if piano is going to "stick" for your little one and you want something passable to give piano lessons a test run, you could pick up the Yamaha NP-12 for $179 at Guitar Center. This keyboard still has a nice piano sound, however the biggest drawback is that the keys aren't weighted, they're "semi-weighted" (so it won't feel like a real piano the same way that the others will). The other big drawback is that it doesn't have a full 88 keys, it has 61 keys. That said, it's a great choice if you think your son or daughter may not want to stick with the piano. Similar to the other items on this list, you would also need to buy a keyboard stand, bench and sustain pedal for this keyboard.
     The Yamaha YDP-143

    The Yamaha YDP-143

    • THE "MONEY ISN'T A PROBLEM" CHOICE: And then there's the Yamaha YDP-143 ($1099), or it's big brother, the YDP-163 ($1499). These are beautiful digital pianos that come complete with a stand (which makes the piano look more like a piece of furniture than a keyboard). It has an incredible sound, using an advanced audio engine that delivers high-res recordings of a Yamaha concert grand piano. It also uses a digital pedaling technology that recreates the depth of tone of an acoustic piano. And it's weighted keys are so close to the real thing! The biggest difference between the YDP-143 and 163 are two-fold: the 163 version has a more professional weighting of the keys, and it also has ivory key tops.

    The final word.

    Going with a "middle-of-the-road" option like the Casio CDP-135 or the Yamaha P-45 allows your child to play a piano that's going to sound and feel great, which is important because that will improve the chances that they'll fall in love with their instrument! But these options also don't totally break the bank either. And if you're young student really takes to their piano lessons, you can reward them with a higher quality piano like the Yamaha YDP-143 or 163 a few years into their training as a reward for all their hard work!