What's a good weighted electronic keyboard for my six year old's piano lessons?
January 16, 2007 6:28 AM   Subscribe

Daughter (age six) perhaps to begin piano lessons. Considering a weighted response electronic keyboard as a piano substitute. Seeking advice in brands, models, retailers, price, durability, and indeed, overall wisdom of this route over standard piano. All views even slightly extraneous welcome. Thanks in advance.

(Also unexpected advice in what to look for in a teacher and what pay is fair in greater NYC metro area.)
posted by IndigoJones to Education (25 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
While it might be okay for a beginner, a weighted keyboard is not a permanent replacement for a piano. You would need to find a teacher that was okay with it. My piano teacher forbade me from touching even a weighted keyboard because the feel is still different.

Also, you would need to acquire pedals that have the same effects as piano pedals--I think they sell sustain pedals that simulate the damper pedal, but I'm not sure about the other ones and I do think that the feel of a soft pedal versus whatever effect the keyboard pulled off would be pretty different.

If it's cost, rather than space, it is possible from time to time to find on Craig's list or some such thing someone who is giving away a piano to anyone who will come and pick it up.

All of that said, as a transient grad student I find that my weighted Casio is a pleasant substitute to a piano for just relaxing and playing and for your daughter to learn to read music and play beginning stuff it would probably be fine (at 6 she wouldn't be able to reach the pedals anyway).
posted by hydropsyche at 6:41 AM on January 16, 2007

You may want to start with a keyboard and then, if your daughter likes lessons and looks like she will continue with them, get a piano. There is still no substitute for a real piano, but considering the expense and the hassle of moving it etc., you might as well see if it looks like she'll stick with it before committing.

I don't know much about keyboards, but I know that the Clavinova series of digital pianos is excellent and would be more than adequate for a child starting out. You might want to try Craigslist or such for a used one, as they can be pricey.

As for a teacher, it may be obvious but the first thing you should look for is someone who's going to make things fun for your daughter. The hardest thing with kids and music, particularly at the beginning, is getting them to sit down and practice. They're less likely to do so if their teacher has them doing boring stuff like scales and exercises. The best teacher may not necessarily be the most experienced or resumed teacher - enthusiastic conservatory students can be great for kids, and will probably be less expensive, too. You might want to try calling some music schools in NY (Juilliard, Manhattan School of Music, and Mannes come immediately to mind, but there are more), which tend to keep lists of students who are interested in teaching. You could also try calling some established conservatory teachers to see if they have any students they think would be particularly good for a 6 year old child.
posted by walla at 6:46 AM on January 16, 2007

Bear in mind that acoustic pianos are the sorts of things that people quite frequently want to get rid of from their houses so it may be possible to get one for not too much money. You may also be able to rent one from a musical instrument store which could be a good option if she looses interest. This guide may be useful.
posted by rongorongo at 7:39 AM on January 16, 2007

I think a decent digital piano is perfectly okay for a beginner.

It's true that even the best weighted keys still feel very obviously not-like-a-real-piano to an intermediate pianist. But they're not so different that you can't learn the essentials of technique on one of them, and I don't think she'll be picking up any atrocious bad habits because of it.

A six-year-old learning the piano will be concentrating more on simply getting their fingures down in the right place and at the right time, learning to read music, and things like that, rather than nuance of touch.

Once she's a couple of years into it, revisit the idea of getting a real piano, even if it's a relatively low-end one. At that point you are starting to discover the subtle physical parts of piano playing, and having a real action behind the keys will make a difference. And you do hear stories of kids being re-invigorated in their excitement to learn the instrument once they can get their hands on a 'real' piano at home. If nothing else, it's fun to crack the case open and look at all the innards moving.

Finally, one of the privileges of being a pianist is that you're constantly having to adapt your technique slightly to whatever piano you find yourself playing on at the time -- they all feel slightly different, and it's not like you can carry your favourite one around with you. So perhaps it's not an entirely bad thing to be exposed to a few different pianos over the course of your education.
posted by chrismear at 7:48 AM on January 16, 2007

If you do go the keyboard route, try to get one with all 88 keys. It may seem like a 6-year-old can't possibly need the entire range of the keyboard (at least, this is what my parents apparently thought when I first started), but having to deal with absent keys is very quickly frustrating.
posted by pril at 8:02 AM on January 16, 2007

I used to have access to a studio and a piano all the time, now I make due at home with a Korg SP250. Full 88 keys with a pretty realistic key weight, great piano sounds, dual headphone jacks and the built in metronome are great for a player like me who's just starting to get more serious. It was about $1000. CAD.
posted by Ohdemah at 8:05 AM on January 16, 2007

Although not sure why you don't want a real piano, I will also back looking into one. In our case, we tripped over one for $300 (plus $100 to move it professionally to our house). No one in our family played and it sat there for seven years; we tried to get both our sons into it when they were younger, but not until our youngest was in middle school did he show any interest. We're glad we got the piano because now he's taking lessons and spending a lot of time with it.

If space is an issue, though, I can understand going electronic.
posted by Doohickie at 8:26 AM on January 16, 2007

Response by poster: Excellent, thoughtful, stuff all around, tossing up points that would not have occurred to me, so no possibilities for best answer. Many thanks to all, this gives me much comfort and food for thought - which is what one is always looking for. (Further thoughts welcome as well, of course.)
posted by IndigoJones at 8:31 AM on January 16, 2007

Response by poster: (Doohickie- space issues and fact that we are currently renting and are trying not to acquire stuff in general, esp. big, heavy, clunky, hard to move stuff - we could well go for the real thing once we're settled again, but for the time being....)
posted by IndigoJones at 8:34 AM on January 16, 2007

The Kawai ES4 is a great sounding digital piano and the action very realistic (it's like playing a really nice real piano). My friend and I spent a few weekends looking for the best fully weighted keyboard out there and this was the best we found under $2000. It even sounds good playing through the on board speakers.
posted by doctor_negative at 8:44 AM on January 16, 2007

I'm no music expert, but after some extensive research, the best value for the money seemed to be Yamaha's P60. It's an "electric piano," not a "keyboard," so it's very slim on features, although it does support MIDI. But the weighted action is basically the same as Yamaha's much more expensive products, which is supposed to be one of the closest simulations of a real piano available. It runs around $600. Since I got mine, it's been replaced by the P70, which is presumably pretty similar, and runs about the same price. You might be able to find some deals on the P60, since it's been discontinued.
posted by designbot at 8:47 AM on January 16, 2007

(I guess the official term is "digital piano," not "electric piano." Like I said, not an expert.)
posted by designbot at 9:04 AM on January 16, 2007

I like Yamahas too.

Scope out what you want, but one way to get a good deal is check out your local music store. I got my keyboard at a really good discount when someone returned it after two weeks-they had decided they really wanted something with more bells and whistles-although mine does have plenty. For a six year old beginner, a used instrument from a REPUTABLE store (that does repairs) is not a bad idea. Later on if she is really serious about her music you can always upgrade.
posted by konolia at 9:07 AM on January 16, 2007

m-audio prokeys 88 is

1. Good enough that you see pro's using it on stage
2. Full Scale
3. Wieghted keys
4 $500- $600 New
posted by magikker at 9:26 AM on January 16, 2007

My employer has a steinway baby grand, but is also very happy with his Yamaha s90es as a substitute. He also had one of the much cheaper DXG series and thought it was pretty good.
posted by Good Brain at 9:27 AM on January 16, 2007

magikker has the right idea. Definitely don't go for anything under $500, or it'll ruin your ability to play a real piano. Ideally, you should go for a real piano, though. Even a used console piano is better than a digital piano. They're just... different. Also, with an electric piano, you need electricity to play, and if the power goes out, you can't practice / play.
posted by fvox13 at 9:37 AM on January 16, 2007

We have a Yamaha clavinova (not sure of the model), and my daughter's teacher approves. IANA pianist, so I can't judge. But it is suitable for us because it is small enough for our small place, but still with a full sized keyboard. and best of all it has voume control and she can use headphones!
posted by pgoes at 9:38 AM on January 16, 2007

One can easily control loudness with an electronic instrument. Electronic instruments don't lose tune. Weighted keyboards mentioned above are quite within the variability of decent acoustic instruments.

The Kawai and other heftier electronic instruments mentioned above have much the same internal actions as regular pianos, though AFAIK without sensitivity to humidity. Issues with feel of electronic instruments may be psycho-acoustic. If you listened through headphones as you played any piano, you'd have similar issues. The Kawai, Yamaha and other instruments let you adjust "touch" and apply a "soft pedal". This only adjusts delay and overtones, nothing mechanical, but has quite an effect on my pleasure in playing a weighted keyboard.
posted by gregoreo at 9:54 AM on January 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

I started taking piano lessons when I was nine - with an electronic keyboard - and my parents, teacher, and I quickly realized I need a piano. You just don't get a piano's range and tone with a keyboard. And unless the teacher provides instruction at your house, you may end up lugging that keyboard back and forth to lessons. If you're concerned about cost and your daughter's commitment, you can always rent a piano for a few months.
posted by lunalaguna at 11:22 AM on January 16, 2007

I'll nth the Yamaha suggestions. I had a Yamaha P120 for a while that sounded and felt quite good. The action actually involves hammers and such, so it's not the same as a keyboard with weighted keys. The action was actually a bit heavier than most pianos I've played, but consistent with a Yamaha grand piano. I had to remember to scale back the force I used when I'd play my parents' upright piano.

Overall the electric piano was a real pleasure to play.
posted by knave at 11:34 AM on January 16, 2007

I used to have access to a studio and a piano all the time, now I make due at home with a Korg SP250. Full 88 keys with a pretty realistic key weight, great piano sounds, dual headphone jacks and the built in metronome are great for a player like me who's just starting to get more serious.

I also have one of these, and recommend it. I am an experienced piano player, and the weighting on these is good enough for me (though someday I hope to get a real piano). If anything the action is a little harder than my parent's upright, as it's supposed to match a grand. What I find to be less realistic is the sound, not the weighting -- a decent piano in your average room in a home just _fills_ the room it's in, and even when hooked up to a stereo, no electric piano I've heard can really compare. Not surprising if you consider the size of the sound board on a piano.

One thing to consider, that I would have if I'd known about this stuff at the time, would be to get a good 88-key weighted midi controller (i.e. a device that produces no sound, just controls a midi instrument), and get something like Native Instruments Akoustik Piano.

Also, FWIW I like the sound of almost any other brand better than a yamaha electric piano. I know they are hugely popular etc. but I still don't like them. Just have to throw my small lone dissenting voice in whenever this topic comes up. Their action seemed fine though. I have to wonder if the people complaining about the weighting of electric pianos have really tried a modern one?
posted by advil at 1:22 PM on January 16, 2007

Oh, music.

While much has been discussed about the technial aspects of various models and the tradeoffs between real vs. electronic reproduction that's the sort of thing of interest mostly to dispationate adults who can rationalize space vs. money vs. sound reproduction -- things that matter little to six year old girls. I must say that since I (re)learned on a real wood-and-strings piano that there is something infinately sexier about a real instrument than one will get out of the most exquisite piece of electronica one can find.

While one could quite easily exactly reproduce the sound of a given instrument given modern technology, electronic devices lack physical (if not tonal) warmth. Each piano your child will eventually play will sound unique and there is a certain thrill of discovering one in a forgotten corner of some house or business and finding out how it feels, exploring the soul of the instrument. Adventure is good for children, especially well-mannered ones who can play songs that are agreeable to adults. Also a consideration: will she play in recitals? Its a good idea to do so as a musician and if so, where will she get actual piano experience?

Tuning is not really all that bad. The tuners themselves recommend twice annually for broken-in instruments which'll run you $90 or so a tune, but you can get by with much longer stretches than that. I only got pissy about the tuning once I started getting into other instruments and noticed my pitches were a bit off. My particular instrument had gone an embarassingly long time since its previous tuning -- I'd guess like ten years and a move since it had been last touched -- and it sounded pretty good despite this. YMMV, of course.

And is tuning it sexy? Oh, you betcha ya. Consider it half an educational and entertainment expense each time, do it when you first get it, thence maybe annually and you'll be super well off.

Also, since I'm rambling and everyone has likely tuned out at this point, I'd suggest having some adult taking up the piano themselves, even if only to pluck out chords and to sing along (which is about all I get up to most days). Makes the learning experience less like taking one's medicine than being a part of the normal family experience. Also, if it doesn't pan out then the Adults will have gotten something out of it -- am I pushing Music-For-All enough?

In any case, I'd disregard the "buy crap and upgrade as necessary" advice you'll have to get rid of an instrument in any case and better ones depreciate less.

And I've convinced anyone to ditch their pricy electronic toy, please send it my way because there's been some recording I'd like to do...
posted by Ogre Lawless at 2:04 PM on January 16, 2007 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Not at all, Ogre. Music for all is a fine thing to push. (Actually, my mother tuned the piano we all too briefly had when I was a child. Oh, we're a DIY family from way back.)

Again, many thanks to all. Most useful and very much appreciated.
posted by IndigoJones at 3:12 PM on January 16, 2007

I'd say it depends on why she's taking piano lessons. If it's to learn music generally, you know, reading, harmony, rhythm, chord theory, the electric is fine.

She will most likely not become a good piano player learning on an electric. They play different. I learned on an electric, and while I can finger my way through some really tough pieces, my tone and expression, and dynamics are horrible on a real piano. Also, just the different feel of it throws me off enough to make mistakes I usually don't when I'm playing a real piano. I have yet to play an electric that has realistic (to my ear) key-strike volume dynamics as compared to a real piano.

Also, I don't think the "learn fingering and theory now, then get a real one later" is realistic if she's going to stick with it (but how can you know that now?). You don't learn it in discrete phases like that. Maybe you study it, focus on it like that, but you're learning it all all the time, subconsciously, from your very first piece.

On the other hand, I have had a real piano now for some time, and it's no better, because I always have to practice quietly (neighbors). So my expression and dynamics still suck. It depends on your particular situation what would be best.

So, rereading, I guess I really wasn't that helpful. Except for maybe this suggestion:

Can you take lessons from a student or professor at a community college or something, where you can sign up for their practice rooms a few days a week? Might be a pain in the butt taking her there, but depending on your circumstances, might be best, in combination with an electric at home.
posted by ctmf at 12:11 PM on January 17, 2007

A craigslist search will show you there are plenty of old upright pianos that cost less (even with moving & tuning costs) than midrange keyboards.

ctmf's points and suggestion of finding practice room space are great (unless you live in a home where your child doesn't have to keep quiet on the piano). At the major schools (Juilliard, Manhattan, Mannes), practice room space is at an extreme premium though, and there will be no such thing as renting it out to non-degree students. You might try to find practice-room space in the boroughs (at the Brooklyn-Queens Conservatory [which is a community music school], Brooklyn College Conservatory of Music [degree-granting but with more space resources], and any other City College campuses).
posted by allterrainbrain at 1:11 AM on January 23, 2007

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