CPTP121: The Digital versus Acoustic Divide - Creative Music Education

CPTP121: The Digital versus Acoustic Divide

By Tim Topham | Creativity

Mar 09

Where do you stand on the digital versus acoustic issue? Do you encourage your students to get acoustic pianos or are you more open to high quality digitals?

While I think good acoustic pianos are fantastic for students to have at home, a lot of the time digital pianos are actually the better option. When parents are purchasing a practice instrument for a beginner, they’re unlikely to want to invest enough to get a really solid acoustic piano. 

And a digital piano wins over an old beaten-up acoustic every time.

Take a listen to today’s show to hear about what sparked this topic, why I recommend digital pianos to my students, and which ones are my favourites.


If you’d like to download a PDF transcript of this episode, please click below.

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In this episode, you’ll learn

  • Where competitions fit in my piano teaching philosophies
  • What I would recommend for a student’s practice instrument
  • The types of pianos and keyboards and how they compare
  • Why I don’t agree that students need to start at 3 or 4 years old
  • When and why a digital piano is better than an acoustic

Links Mentioned

Today’s Sponsor

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Where do you stand in the digital versus acoustic divide?

Do you notice a difference between your students who practice on digital pianos? Do you think Fanny Waterman was right to point the finger at these instruments?


About the Author

Best-known for his blogging and teaching, Tim is also a well-respected presenter, performer and accompanist based in Melbourne, Australia. You can check him out on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

  • Rachel Monk says:

    Hello Tim,

    Thank you for another very useful podcast episode on the digital/acoustic divide. They make great listening during my regular “constitutional” walks. Plenty for me to think about in terms of answering questions from potential students and parents, relating to what instrument for them to buy. I have been recommending digital instruments for some years now, and your “reviews” of what is on the market at different price points really work for me.

    In relation to your thoughts on Dame Fannny’s comments, I know it might sound trite, but what you said is very similar to what I have been thinking for years. My personal experience of competitions was broadly positive. Having said that, I did not enter myself into any at the international level, as I believe that they can be less positive, if not handled in an inclusive and realistic way. I guess there is a place for various views on what age to start children on piano, what type of instrument and whether to enter for competitions and so on. Knowing what I do about the general “position” of the Observer newspaper, it is not difficult to imagine that some of Dame Fanny’s comments may have been either nuanced or potentially taken somewhat out of context. I prefer the arts columns/interviews in more “centreist” newspapers for this reason. Coming back to your comments and ethos, though, I have to say that I am with you on maintaining a focus on life long enjoyment of playing piano/other instrument. I usually say that there is no age too late to start piano.

    Your podcast interview with the chap who trained at conservatoire here in Europe and then decided on a change of direction also springs to mind. I see a connection potentially between his description of his experiences and some of the possible negative sense of Dame Fanny’s comments. I guess it might possibly come down to the tradition of piano virtuosity and composition and performance especially here in Eurpoe that is part of the issue. Hopefully you can come back to some of these topics in a future series of your podcast. Chopin and Liszt’s legacies live on – a whole other topic for another day!!!

    • Tim Topham says:

      Hey Rachel – how lovely to hear from you and thanks so much for taking the time to reply.

      So glad that the podcast provided food for thought and that it sounds like we’re on the same page. It’s such a great discussion to have openly and I think piano teaching/performance is slowly shifting ground 🙂

      Keep up the wonderful work and I’ll think about how I could follow-up some of those topics down the track.

  • May Lauren Brinkman says:

    I just listened to the podcast and loved your take on the article! There are 3 things that I’d like to add to your thoughts:

    1. Often, when parents do purchase an acoustic upright for beginners, they spend next to nothing and end up with a very stiff-actioned piano with keys that stick and that can’t hold tune anymore. Those students have a far harder time playing with dynamic sensitivity than students who start on weighted digital pianos. Also, if the piano’s out of tune, students’ ears won’t develop properly.

    2. Digital pianos are not maintenance free. Electronics eventually do break down and have to be repaired or replaced. As a secondary instrument, I once owned a Yamaha P-80 that had its motherboard go bad after the warranty expired. Replacing the motherboard was going to cost more than I originally paid for the instrument, so I didn’t have it fixed. I bought a new Yamaha P-255 instead. No one ever talks about the life-span of a digital instrument, but it definitely needs to be part of the conversation with parents.

    3. External speakers / amplifiers are extremely prudent purchases even if digital piano has built-in speakers. For many digital pianos, the piano itself has realistic action and is very capable of producing gorgeously nuanced dynamics, but the built-in speakers are not capable of playing the full glory. They’re too tiny to authentically create the sound. But if you play through headphones or connect to an amp, you can hear all of the nuances. For my students who play on digital pianos, practicing with headphones or with an external amp has solved the problem of nuance in their dynamics.

    • Tim Topham says:

      Hi May – sorry I missed your comment. Thanks so much for taking the time to reply.

      Totally get what you’re saying about the digitals. I think you were unlucky with a motherboard failing – I’ve personally never experienced that – however, I do realise that electronics do fail and need work sometimes too!

      And you are so right about the external speakers. I personally love to practice with headphones on because of the aural experience. I think the speaker and sound-scape is something that really only impresses when you invest $10K + in a hybrid so for the smaller digitals, having good quality external speakers can be a great investment.

      Thanks for your input – lovely to hear your thoughts 🙂

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