Best digital pianos for students

By Tim Topham | Buying a new piano

Jul 06

best digital piano

What’s the best digital piano?

Perhaps you say, “Just get one with weighted keys and a pedal”, or maybe you advise students to, “buy a digital piano that has a stand and three pedals that looks like a real piano”?

Whatever your current level of knowledge about digital pianos, if you find it hard to give specific recommendations about good options for your students, this article will hopefully be of interest.

When parents can’t see the point!

Encouraging families to upgrade their instrument can sometimes be an on-going battle, particularly when they can’t see what’s wrong with Grandad’s 100-year-old untunable dinosaur or the Casio keyboard with plastic keys and 4 octaves they found in the attic.

Of course, there are plenty of parents happy to invest, provided their child shows interest and continues to practice, but we all know that fewer and fewer parents these days are prepared to fork out for a real acoustic piano. Given this, having some knowledge of digital pianos is vital for any modern piano teacher.

Which digital piano to recommend?

When it comes to upgrading , I normally first send parents and adult students to my article Buying/Renting Pianos and Keyboards. Unfortunately this article is already becoming out of date but it does give parents the initial options of buy versus rent, digital versus acoustic and basic things to look for.

I have to say that I used to think that digital pianos were a seriously poor substitute for the real thing (and they often were), however times are rapidly changing and technology is fast bringing the acoustic and digital worlds together.

There is no denying that digitals have a number of benefits for modern families: students can practice with headphones (note also Yamaha’s “Silent Pianos” which are normal acoustics that can also be silenced and played with headphones), they are more portable, they take up less space, they are cheaper to buy and maintain and don’t need tuning, etc. etc.

Indeed the boundaries are now being completely blurred by Yamaha’s “Hybrid” Avant Grand which is a digital piano that has a complete acoustic grand piano action inside and is as good as the real thing, say the pros.

My best digital piano recommendations

My top recommendation for students and parents now is any Roland digital piano featuring the “PHA III Ivory Feel action with Escapement”. Roland has been developing this action over many years and I believe they are now making the best digital piano actions currently available (and no, I’m not affiliated!).

This action is available in the following Roland pianos:

  • HP 507 and 505 (see new HP series 500 brochure)
  • HP307  – given that this piano has recently been superseded by the 507, they are being offered at excellent prices in many locations.
  • FP7F (see my previous post about this instrument), but not in its younger brother the FP-4F which has the “Ivory Feel-G Keyboard with Escapement” and nor the older FP7 or FP4. The FP7F is my second studio instrument and one that I find myself practising on more and more in preference to my acoustic (especially when it needs a tune!). UPDATE Oct 2014: The FP-7F is now known as the FP-80
  • RD700NX – This is very much a stage performance piano with no internal speakers and is not one I’d recommend to piano students.

In my opinion, there are four important things that set this action apart from others currently on the market:

  1. The “Ivory Feel” key tops are a blast to play on. In fact they remind me of the touch of the newer Yamaha C-series grands with “Ivorite” keys. They feel great and don’t get sweaty.
  2. The escapement action. This mechanism faithfully reproduces the escapement characteristic of a grand piano, with the slight “click” one feels when slowly depressing a key (not found on uprights). This is a mechanism which allows faster repeating of notes and is much more in keeping with performance-quality instruments. It definitely allows faster and more successful repetition than an upright piano and so I use it for practising pieces with repeated notes.
  3. Importantly, the action also has three sensors (there are usually two).  Three-sensor pianos are better at responding to fast repetitions without sacrificing control of dynamics which is important given the escapement.
  4. Perhaps the best thing is that Roland’s new digitals come with the SuperNATURAL Piano Sound Engine which produces an unbelievably full and encompassing sound, particularly through headphones. In fact the SuperNatural sound is one of the key reasons that I enjoy playing my FP7F so much – you really feel like you’re playing a Steinway Model D in the middle of a beautifully reverberant concert hall. Here’s a great article about it: Can Roland SuperNATURAL Pianos Replace The Real Thing?
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c6zHr5-aDNI]

If you’re a teacher, I highly recommend checking out this action for yourself over the holidays.

Also check out AZ Piano News blog – he does great reviews on all the latest student digital pianos.

What piano do you recommend?

Follow

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.

(15) comments

Add Your Reply