Keyboard vs. Piano: Which is Better?

person playing the keyboard

Do I Need a Keyboard or a Piano for Lessons?

Keyboard or piano? That is the question often times when first starting piano lessons.  Parents of students and students alike ask us this question every day. And the short answer is if you are on a budget and want to avoid potentially paying into the thousands not knowing if you or your child is going to stick with it, start with a digital keyboard.

Decent starter electric keyboards will typically start around $130 and go up from there.

Unfortunately, there are a certain number of piano teachers out there who either strongly recommend purchasing or even require a student to buy a real piano before ever getting started.

We believe this philosophy is not only wrong but discourages students who would have otherwise enjoyed such a beautiful instrument and potential lifelong passion.

So, just because you don’t have a piano does not mean that you cannot get started with piano lessons.

That said, making the decision to purchase a keyboard over a piano or vice versa will depend on several factors and really comes down to your priorities.

Weighted Keys

When first learning how to play piano, one of those factors is the overall feel of the instrument. An electric keyboard is essentially an artificial piano. It sounds like, looks like, and even in some cases feels like a real piano, but very much is not.

A keyboard typically will have plastic keys and will feel quite different when pressing down as opposed to the real deal.

If the feel of the keys is something you are concerned about, but your budget is a little tight, you may want to consider looking for a secondhand piano on sites like Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, local community sites’ classified sections, etc. Sometimes you may even find people giving them away for free as long as you are able to pick it up. If that is the case, we recommend hiring a piano moving service if at all possible. More on that below.

If the overall feel of the keys is something that is important to you, an alternative to consider would be a digital keyboard with weighted keys. Although a little more expensive than your basic keyboard, the keys feel much closer to a real piano when pressing down. Not to mention, the sound quality is usually much better.

With a keyboard that has weighted keys, the student will gain finger strength much quicker like on a real piano.

There are two types of weighted key keyboards: semi-weighted and fully weighted. Semi-weighted keys usually take slightly more force to press down and generally have the feel of somewhere between a basic keyboard and a piano. A keyboard with fully weighted keys will feel and respond much more closely to that of actual piano keys.

Also, oftentimes weighted keys are of greater importance to people learning classical music vs. learning how to play pop songs.

Long story short, if feel is something that concerns you, either look for a keyboard with weighted keys or go for the real thing.

Keyboard Portability

Another factor to consider is portability. If you would like to ever take the instrument with you and perhaps play piano at a friend’s house, birthday party, social gathering, etc.- suffice it to say it may be a little difficult dragging around a giant piano. You’ll definitely want to go with a keyboard.

If you are considering purchasing a full piano, beyond the cost of the initial purchase, you will need to consider the additional expenses that come along with owning and maintaining the instrument. For one, you will need to hire a piano moving service to deliver the piano to your house. Piano moving costs will vary from area to area but typically start at $300 and go up.

You will also need to consider the cost of hiring a professional to keep your piano tuned and in good working order each year. According to ptg.org, you should plan on hiring a piano tuner to tune your piano 2-4 times in the first year, twice the second year, and at least once each year thereafter. This cost typically ranges from $95/tuning and up depending on your area, the technician, and the condition of your piano.

Budget

So, to sum it up, if you have a larger budget and feel and sound are a concern, definitely spring for a real piano. However, if you have a smaller budget starting out and feel and sound aren’t your greatest priority, then definitely go with an electric keyboard. Also consider the average price of music lessons, and what your total investment looks like.

Lastly, if you run into any piano teachers who won’t take you or your child as a student because you have a keyboard, we recommend moving on to the next teacher. The right teacher should be able to teach on either medium regardless of preference as long as there are at least 61 keys!