• Erin Su

Piano vs. Keyboard

Let's talk about one of the most common questions I get from my students: is it necessary to buy a piano, or can I get by with an electronic keyboard? Well, if you are serious about playing classical piano at an advanced level, I strongly believe a real piano is necessary. I have never met a serious classical piano student who did not have an upright piano, if not a full grand.

Although the layout of the keys is the same, there are huge differences between a piano and a keyboard. The sound and feel of a real piano key, for instance, is easily discernible from an electronic key. With a piano, there are endless nuances in sound that you can produce from playing at a different angle or applying a different amount of pressure. Loud or soft, passionate or sweet, a single phrase can mean so many things depending on how you play (this is why pianists practice for hours a day, often working to make a few notes sound perfect). A keyboard, on the other hand, is programmed to produce a uniform sound for each key, no matter how you play. Even on the most advanced pressure-sensitive keyboards, the difference in touch is obvious. Practicing on a keyboard is fine for technique, but if you truly want to play music to touch people's hearts, you must invest in a piano.

If you are still conflicted, consider this: let's say you put $1 into a jar for every hour you practice. Depending on how dedicated you are, this could result in anywhere from $300-$500 (for 1-2 hours on most days). Assuming you continue piano for many years, this would build up to thousands of dollars. Now, considering the cost of an upright piano ($5,000-$10,000) and an electronic keyboard (a few hundred dollars), let me ask you this: if you are willing to invest this much time into your music, why not invest in a piano that is worth as much as this time that you have "paid"?

Of course, paying thousands for a piano is a daunting commitment, and there are many benefits to owning a keyboard: portability, electronic sound options, and size are a few that come to mind. I play on an electronic keyboard during church worship services, and for that setting, it works beautifully. The different sounds and pads are perfect for the type of "background" comping that I play.

But there's a reason why bands list their piano players as "keyboardists" and not "pianists": it's almost like playing two different instruments. When I play in church, my job is to play chords to back up the rest of the worship band. As a classical pianist, on the other hand, there is so much more to my music than just playing the right notes. The right notes are not the end goal, but rather a means to convey the emotion and message I wish to express. For a serious classical pianist like me, if you are willing to spend hours of practice to perfect your music, you must reward yourself for your dedication by investing in a piano.

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