How to Find, Choose, and Buy a Piano

Advice about how to beg, borrow, or buy a piano; recommendations for digital pianos and accessories; and links to our tales of piano joys and woes.

Wood-and-strings vs. Digital

Electronic and digital pianos are not bad when you are playing music that is somewhat percussive, such as rock, pop, jazz, and blues. But if you want to play classical music that is chockful of melody, such a keyboard is not as satisfying. You can certainly start out on a digital keyboard as you learn the basics of music, but as you progress technically, a flesh-and-blood acoustic piano will become your instrument of choice.

  • Choose an inexpensive spinet over than an electronic keyboard, if you have the choice.
  • Go electronic when:
    • portability is an issue
    • you want to explore other instrumental sounds
    • or hook up with your computer
    • or if other people are bothered by the sound of your playing (With an electronic keyboard, you can practice silently with headphones, but it’s not the ideal aesthetic experience, nor very good for your hearing).
  • If you don’t have enough money for a decent digital piano, and, for whatever reason, can’t get a used wood-and-strings piano, then buy the best 88-key keyboard you can afford, find a friend or a church with a piano you can use, and alternate between the two.

Buying an Acoustic Piano

  • Don’t worry about getting a top-name, expensive piano when you are starting out. A playable one will do fine. As you progress in your studies, you can sell the starter and get an upgrade.
  • Use the classifieds and ask around. Some people give away their old family pianos!
  • Have a concert pianist — or even better (and probably easier to find if you don’t live in New York City!), a piano technician — come along to make sure it’s a playable instrument, or easily repairable. As an added bonus, he or she might also be able to test-play it with more confidence or skill than you have at the moment.
  • The most important consideration is: Do you like how it sounds? Does it inspire you? If you are a true beginner and really can’t play, you can still learn a lot about a piano just by playing a key and listening. Here’s how: Go ahead and sit down. Play any key, or group of keys, softly, loudly, and something in between, and listen. Play keys to your left (low sounds), to your right (high sounds), and in the middle. Listen.
  • The second-most important consideration is: Do you like how it feels to play? Just for fun, try playing all the keys, starting low or high, and find out if they all work (although they might be easily fixed). “Play around” like this, sitting down, and notice if you enjoy how it feels to play. You might notice that it is hard to play, easy to play, or maybe even “spongy” or “springy.”
  • Do you like how it looks? (Okay, this has nothing to do with sound, but truthfully, we do have a soft spot for a stylish piano from any century. Oh, and we’re Mac users too.)
  • Remember that you can sell and upgrade. Joan has had a handful of students that became so engrossed in piano-playing that they sold their no-name uprights and bought Steinway grands. It could even happen to you!

Buying an Electronic Keyboard or a Digital Piano

  • If you are learning to play piano using our book, Piano, Body and Soul, then you will need an 88-key keyboard. The music in the book is written using very high and very low keys, to give you the full expanse of the piano, and so you'll feel the full Pianodance. You won't be able to play this music with 61 or 76 keys.
  • To get any sense of playing a real piano, you'll need a keyboard with weighted keys that mimic the action of a piano. On cheaper models you can actually feel the spring that pushes the key and your finger up as you release it—piano-playing reduced to button-pushing! This is so unlike a real piano action that you should use it only if absolutely necessary to get started.

Our Digital Piano Recommendations

We recommend the Yamaha P70 ($599.95 at zzounds, our preferred vendor)

Joan played it and liked it very much. Peter Dembski, Anna's brother, jazz pianist, and composer of "The One-Note Melody" in Piano, Body and Soul recommended it to us. They were both somewhat amazed at the quality of both the sound and the action (the weighted keys).

When we began our reseach for this page we thought that a decent digital piano would have to cost over $1000. Happily, the Yamaha P70 is an uncompromising choice for a digital piano at a very reasonable price.

Featuring Yamaha’s Graded Hammer Standard piano action, this instrument is a close facsimile to a flesh-and-blood piano. The sounds are basic (two grand piano sounds, electric piano, organ, harpsichord, vibraphone, strings) but true-to-life, having been sampled in stereo.

Yamahas are well-known for their durability. This particular model is popular with pianists who need a second instrument to travel with or for silent practice. You won’t need an amplifier—the built-in speakers are adequate, and perhaps you will use headphones more often anyway.

The P70 comes with a one-year warranty from Yamaha, a power adapter, a music rack (they call it a “music rest”), and the FC5 foot switch (This is not really a pedal—it doesn’t look like one and doesn’t behave like one either. You can use it for a few months of study, but upgrade to the FC4 when you can.)


You will need several additional items in order to sit down and play:

A Stand for the Keyboard

Yes, you can put it on a table, but a stand will give you yet more portability and the advantage of height adjustment. We recommend two “double X” style stands:

If you find that your legs or feet bump into this style, return it within 30 days and get a table top-style stand:

A Bench for You

You can use a chair you already have, but an adjustable bench is helpful as you get acquainted with the physical in-and-outs of playing piano. Three models by QuikLok are good:

  • QuikLok BX8 ($34.95) allows three height adjustments
  • QuikLok BX12 ($44.95) allows five adjustments.
  • QuikLok PB120 ($99.95) is most like a traditional piano bench which opens for music storage. It features adjustable legs for uneven floors, but it is not height adjustable.


  • Sennheiser HD212 (59.95) We purchased Sennheiser headphones a couple of years ago, and really like them. The model we got is no longer available, but the HD212 is quite similar. It’s a good deal for $59.95 and comfortable to wear for long practice sessions.


  • As mentioned above, upgrade to the Yamaha FC4 ($24.95) as soon as you can for the experience of a real pedal.


Always fun to have around the house, a metronome can support your efforts at keeping good time. carries several brands. The Quiktime models give you the beat with a light and with sound. We recommend:

You can also use a free metronome on your computer.

Of course, we hope you will freely Slap/Clap/Tap to establish your own personal sense of pulse!

Why we recommend Zzounds

Anna has been buying music equipment from Zzounds for over five years and uses them whenever she's buying online. They are friendly, fast, guarantee the lowest price, with inexpensive or free shipping, have a very good selection of music equipment, and a 30-day return policy. What more could you ask for?

Links to more technical info

Here’s a link to a web page with more advice about electronic pianos. It's old but still has a lot of good information. Headphone reviews for audiophiles and sound engineers.