St Albans Music Academy

Buying Advice

Keyboards and Pianos


One of the most common questions we are asked when a student is learning the piano, is what instrument should I use at home for practice. There are many keyboards and pianos available, so it is hard to know what is the best instrument to use and at what stage, given a certain budget. Obviously, everyone has different priorities, budgets and space, but our advice for a typical student is as follows:

The dividing line between what is a keyboard versus what is a digital piano is not totally set in stone and some manufacturers may use the terms more loosely than others, but for the purposes of clarity, our definition is that a keyboard does not have weighted keys, whereas a digital piano does. This definition usually means that a digital piano will also have 88 keys and fixed pedals, but not always.

A piano (digital or acoustic) will always be preferable over a keyboard, but it is not essential at the lower grades, it just becomes increasingly more helpful as the student gains more experience. The main reasons are that a (suitable) piano has weighted keys (including better key action), better sound and proper pedals. All of these will mean that a student can develop their technique as intended rather than being limited by the instrument they are playing, leading to better technique, faster learning and better enjoyment of playing. Therefore, when buying, you are usually intending long-term use and so from that point of view it makes more sense to buy a piano rather than a keyboard.

Despite this, if you are restricted by budget or need to move (or store away) the instrument regularly then a keyboard will be ok for a few terms, maybe more, but if the student starts needing to use the pedals then that is the latest stage at which you should switch to a digital piano. Pedals can be attached to keyboards, but they are loose and tend to slip around during use, so the reasons to switch to a piano with fixed pedals becomes even more compelling. Equally, whichever instrument you buy, it is usually a false economy to buy low spec or low quality model considering you are already paying for lessons. If you are on a budget, then it is more advisable to buy a secondhand quality model, than a new low quality one.


If you are looking to buy (or hire) a keyboard, you choose one with at least 76 touch-response* keys (* this means the sound is louder the harder you press the key). Recommended makes are Yamaha or Casio. A good choice is the simple, piano-orientated Yamaha NP30/31/32 series. There is not much between these three models, just age. You will also need a stand, adjusted to a height that means your elbows are at right angles when you hold your hands in the "ready-to-play" position above the keys.


Whilst a high quality acoustic piano would be the ideal instrument to learn on, in the real world very few people have the space or budget to have this as a realistic option. Instead that is more likely a long-term aspiration if a student develops to a high standard over time. Digital pianos these days offer very credible alternatives and indeed offer many advantages over acoustic pianos including: lower price, less risk, lower maintenance effort/cost, reduced size and greater manoeuvrability. We will only cover advice for standard digital pianos here, as it is assumed that if you are in the market for acoustic (or high-end digital) pianos, then you will already have a reasonable amount of experience with pianos and/or you will be going to some specialist shops to discuss your requirements about which model to buy. Therefore, in this section we will discuss the recommended options for digital pianos for a budget of less than £1,000.

When buying a digital piano, your minimum requirement should be for one that is by a respected brand, with 88 weighted keys and a fixed pedal board. Note that at this level you don't need to worry about how many (or which) pedals a piano has - invariably only 2 at most are ever used even at high levels and no fixed-stand digital piano will ever only be supplied with one.
Recommended brands include Yamaha, Casio and Roland. Kawai also make good digital pianos but can sound bright to some ears, so you should demo the models first to confirm you are happy with the sound before buying. Of these, Yamaha is usually considered the most premium brand, but your choice will probably depend on a variety of factors.

Of the various digital pianos available, we particularly like the Casio and Yamaha slimline models. A slimline piano is less deep than most other digital pianos available (and usually less wide too), giving them a smaller footprint and also less weight for easier manoeuvrability. Specifically:

  • Yamaha : This means "S" models in the Arius/YDP range (e.g. S34/S35/S54/S55) or some of the "P" range (e.g. P45/95/121/125 but only ones with the fixed pedal packs).
    Note that Yamaha haven't got as many slimline models and haven't been doing most of them for as long as Casio. Secondhand prices also tend to be higher. The YDP range is better than the P range and if you're looking secondhand, it's hard to find P range models with fixed pedal boards as they are more aimed at the portable market. Also, some of the older models like the P105 aren't that great for the price.
  • Casio : This means anything in the Privia/PX range. For the budget we are discussing, they offer a high quality of instrument at a sligthly lower price than Yamahas. Nowadays Casio only sell the top end of this range (PX700 and PX800 series), but you can buy second hand models in the lower end of the range (100/300/500 series) - the key to the model numbers is that the higher the "100" part of the number, the higher the model is in the range and the higher the "10" part of the number, the newer it is. So, a PX100 is the oldest base model and the PX870 is (currently) the latest flagship model. Expect to pay about £200 for a secondhand PX100 (but make sure it has pedals), up to about £800 for a new PX870.

As previously mentioned, if you are looking to buy an instrument for the longer term, it will be worth investing in a better instrument rather than looking to get the cheapest one. Also, if you are buying secondhand, bear in mind that newer models will (in general) have better features/sound and remember to factor in the time and petrol cost of collecting it too. Also test all the keys before leaving.

Non-Slimline Model - If you have the space or indeed prefer a larger instrument, then there is no reason not to get one of the other recommended-brand digital pianos that are larger (e.g. a Yamaha Clavinova or non-"S"-model YDP series).

Testing - If you are looking to buy a new digital piano in this range and would like to try the model you are going to buy, then there are a few shops that might have some to demo, but as they are likely far away then you should phone to confirm before travelling. The nearest shops that might stock the Casio/Yamaha models are likely in London, or there is also Bonners in Milton Keynes. Alternatively, you can try a close model from our hire range to help give you an idea what your new piano might be like in relation to that.


If you are unsure of which model to buy then we have suitable keyboards and digital pianos available to hire, try or even buy (subject to availability). See our Instrument Hire page.