What keyboard and instructional materials should I get to learn how to play a piano?
December 26, 2009 9:11 AM   Subscribe

So what keyboard and music book(s) should I purchase to teach myself how to play a piano?

I'd like to get some sort of grounding in music theory along the way that will help me appreciate music more, or understand what the hell a time signature is, or whatever. I also can't afford lessons.

I don't care about having a lot of different instrument sounds. All I want to do is learn how to play a piano. A headphone jack would be necessary so I can rock out quietly. Can I just pick up a cheap keyboard for $50 at Walmart? Or is there a minimum amount of quality/features that I'll be thankful to have six months into this?
posted by Number Used Once to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I think the cheap keyboards do not have the right weight or moderations in tone. Since much of piano is muscle memory, this might mess up your playing style on normal pianos.

I would recommend going for what I often see referred to as "digital pianos" which cost about $400-$1000. I played an accoustic piano for 7 years and last year got a casio px-120 for my apartment, which sounds and feels just great. You may want to get an actual set of pedals at some point if the piano you get doesn't come with them.

Others may chime in about their preferred brands of models, but I think any $400+ digital piano works just as well for beginner to intermediate.

I had some books for piano theory, but I think you can learn the basics on wikipedia. Things like scales, chords, and time signatures should be pretty well written there.
posted by tasty at 9:30 AM on December 26, 2009

If you want to be able to play piano, and want to learn on a keyboard, the two phrases you're looking for are "weighted keys" and "piano action". Weighted Keys are good - you'll get resistance somewhat similar to a piano when you press the keys, but piano action is better. A piano action keyboard will have the same collection of levers and weights that are used in a true piano to strike the strings, but instead of a string, you have an electric sensor. Weighted keys will be more expensive than a basic keyboard, and piano action will be more expensive than weighted keys. I've not been in the market for either in a while, so can't give specific recommendations, but you definitely want those two characteristics.
posted by frwagon at 9:33 AM on December 26, 2009

Teaching Little Fingers to Play
posted by hortense at 10:44 AM on December 26, 2009

I personally recommend John Thompson, and I've always hated Alfred, although I never had a reason. Choosing between the two though, all biases aside, I'd still go with J. T.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 10:49 AM on December 26, 2009

Response by poster: "Semi-weighted" keyboards are significantly less expensive than fully-weighted keyboards. Is it worth an extra $150 for fully-weighted keys?
posted by Number Used Once at 11:39 AM on December 26, 2009

Best answer: The Casio Privia series electric pianos are pretty good. I got the PX-310 a few years ago and I'm happy with it; the scaled hammer action keys mimic an acoustic piano well, and the sound is acceptable. The newer models have better software (more polyphony, for instance), though I don't know whether there have been any mechanical improvements.

Carl Humphries, The Piano Handbook, is a pretty good introductory self-taught manual. Michael Miller, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Music Theory, is a decent introduction to theory.
posted by brianogilvie at 11:47 AM on December 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

"Semi-weighted" keyboards are significantly less expensive than fully-weighted keyboards. Is it worth an extra $150 for fully-weighted keys?

It depends on what you're after. If you want to be able to play an actual (acoustic) piano one day, then it would be better to get a keyboard with weighted keys -- then the transition would be pretty much seamless. If you'll only be playing your keyboard in the foreseeable future, then it doesn't matter as much. Unweighted (or semi-weighted) keys have their charm too (you need less finger strength to play them, and you can play faster), but you give up some control over the sound.

Also, it depends on what kind of music you want to play. If your goal is to play Debussy, or something (where precise control over the volume of each note is important), then it'll sound bad on a cheap keyboard with unweighted keys. If you want to play Bach or rock, for instance (where dynamics aren't as important), then unweighted keys would be fine.

Another thing to consider is that the more expensive keyboards with weighted keys also tend to have higher quality speakers and therefore sound better.

I'd suggest going to a store that sells both kinds of keyboards and playing around with them. Get the one that feels and sounds better to you; at the end of the day, the process of playing it should be as fun as possible.
posted by epimorph at 12:45 PM on December 26, 2009

I just started research towards a similar end (although I have pretty good grounding in theory from childhood, and would really like to learn to sight read) -- Synthesia, which is like guitar hero or ddr, but uses a full keyboard and optionally shows sheet music, may be some help once you've gotten a keyboard. If you ever intend to use something like this, you might want to check to see if the keyboard has a midi input, or better yet, a direct USB input.
posted by condour75 at 3:38 PM on December 26, 2009

The Granuaid of UK has a series on piano, described as such: If playing the piano is just a hazy memory, or if you were wrapped over the knuckles once too often in your youth, now's the time to release your inner virtuoso with this fun, family-friendly guide to piano and keyboard. Our expert teacher, Pam Wedgwood, has devised seven step-by-step lessons that will take you from the very basics, right through to sight-reading. There's inspirational advice from the greats such as Jools Holland, and tips on which genre-defining artists to listen to.
posted by Gyan at 4:15 AM on December 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oops, forgot the link itself: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/series/piano-keyboard-guide.

[Mods may correct link and remove this post]
posted by Gyan at 4:16 AM on December 27, 2009

Response by poster: Just for purely practical reasons (money), I'm thinking of getting a cheap $100-$200 keyboard that probably has little to no resemblance to a piano's action. From there, if I don't lose all interest and actually learn some things, I'll upgrade to one of the much more expensive piano-like keyboards in six months or a year, because I'll have earned it.

Will I regret this? Will doing it this way hinder my learning in a substantive manner?
posted by Number Used Once at 6:29 AM on December 27, 2009

You'll be fine. Going from one to the other is not too bad. I have both a nice piano-like keyboard and a cheapo one with unweighted keys. I find that I can switch pretty easily between them.

Still, before you buy a keyboard, try it out, if you can. Even at the low end some of them sound and feel better than others. If you get one that sounds really badly, that might make you less motivated to play it.
posted by epimorph at 9:41 AM on December 27, 2009

The Yamaha PSR series has entry level keyboards in your price range. In fact, this seems like a pretty good deal. I played an older model PSR for several years and was very happy with its features and sounds. It's ideal for beginners, but has a lot to offer. Some of the sounds are quite good, too.
posted by abc123xyzinfinity at 2:09 PM on January 2, 2010

Best answer: I went with the Casio CDP-100, which is a full-size, piano-weighted keyboard that goes for $300 to $350 new.

Thanks for your help.
posted by Number Used Once at 8:27 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

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