A question that I get asked a lot as a piano teacher is "what kind of piano or keyboard is the best one to buy for at-home practice?". There are a ton of options, which can be overwhelming, but there are ways to narrow your search and still get a great instrument that is exactly what your musician needs.
First, ask yourself a few questions:
1. What is my budget?
2. How much space do I have for a piano or keyboard?
3. Do I want a temporary or longer-term instrument?
Before I get into the options for these questions, I want to give an at-a-glance look at the difference between electric keyboards and acoustic pianos.
You can buy either an acoustic or electric keyboard within whatever budget you have! An acoustic piano is expensive if you buy it new or if you're looking for a grand or baby grand model. However upright pianos are OFTEN posted for free on Craigslist/FB Marketplace! Because they are difficult to move, most people just want someone to take it off their hands if they don't need the piano anymore. Have your young musician play on the piano before moving it to ensure that they like the "feel" of it and the way it sounds.
Keyboards can be as inexpensive as $60-300 if you are looking for a beginner model. They are typically 68 keys long instead of a full-sized 88 keys and may not have weighted keys (more on this later), but these types of keyboards will definitely work for beginners. You can find great keyboards, new and used, at a local music store (I shop at The Music Stop, a locally-owned small business!) or online retailers (Sweetwater.com is awesome!). You can also find good second-hand keyboards at a great price by keeping an eye on Marketplace sites.
Here are a few links to keyboards at various price points:
** Reputable Quality Piano Brands **
Yamaha, Steinway, Baldwin (and any sub-brands made by these companies!)
Roland, Yamaha, Korg, Casio
As pointed out in the pros and cons list, space is a big factor with these different pianos! If possible, putting the piano or keyboard in a room where there won't be a lot of distractions and chaos during practice time is ideal!
SHORT TERM vs. LONG TERM
The two main reasons that you would want to buy a short-term keyboard is (a) to keep cost low up front or (b) if you're unsure whether your young musician will stick with piano. Both are great reasons to start with a less expensive option. However my opinion is to only buy a small, inexpensive keyboard if you are seeing it as a temporary instrument. Also keep in mind that if your musician is a little older, a small keyboard may feel too "kiddie" and will discourage practicing and ultimately progress and enjoyment. Soon after I started piano lessons my parents found an upright piano for me to play on - this made me take it more seriously! The instrument really can change a musician's mentality!
What does "weighted keys" mean?
Weighted keys are going to feel the most like a real, acoustic piano. There is a little resistance when you push them down, which allows for more nuanced and dynamic musicality while you play. Semi-weighted keys are a great alternative, as they still feel similar to an acoustic piano and allow for dynamics but aren't quite as heavy. Non-weighted keys are definitely suitable for a beginner, especially if they have "touch response" which allows for dynamics (loud/soft playing)! Without touch responsive keys, at-home practice can be frustrating - especially since loud and soft playing is a concept we learn early on in lessons. I would advise to only use unweighted keys for beginners and young students and to upgrade to semi-weighted or weighted as they get older and/or more advanced.
What makes an expensive keyboard "good"?
Long story short, more expensive keyboards are made to feel and sound like a really great acoustic piano! As mentioned above, the weighted keys are typically on more expensive keyboards. Certain brands have their own "touch technology" to try to recreate the acoustic feel as close as possible. The internal sounds will also be better quality - meaning the "grand piano" sound effect will be more and more realistic and less like a toy piano sound. So yes, a keyboard for $1200 sounds expensive - but it may feel and sound very similar to a $12,000 baby grand and it will take up much less space!
Can my student learn piano without a keyboard at home?
Some students enroll and begin piano lessons before purchasing an instrument for at-home practice. This is typically acceptable for the first 1-2 months of lessons. Our students do learn all of their music IN their weekly hour-long lessons, however their at-home practice is what solidifies new concepts and strengthens their musicality! This is integral in keeping our students learning at the accelerated pace that we are known for! Student's who go longer than 1-2 months without a piano or keyboard for at-home practice often become frustrated in lessons and make much slower progress. Practice is what makes them feel prepared and excited to learn more, and a keyboard or piano at home is the key to that preparation!