When it comes to purchasing a digital piano or keyboard, there are literally hundreds of options on the market. It’s very easy for a pianist to become overwhelmed with the options available. There are just so many choices for all price ranges and all abilities. You could just as easily drop $100 on a cheap electronic keyboard as you could $7000 on a hybrid digital grand piano. Of course, the product you get is obviously very different.
One thing that separates the different models and different manufacturers are the features you get. Of course, you’re going to get significantly more in the way of features on a more expensive instrument. This can be very overwhelming if you’re a beginner. Advanced pianists and keyboard players generally understand the piano market and their own abilities well enough to make a judgement on what features they will use and what features they need on their new piano.
Beginners do not have this luck; they are very often confused as to which kind of digital piano will serve their musical progression best. On top of this, you have to take into consideration build quality, manufacturer warranty, portability, etc; it’s a lot to take in. This is where sites like mine come in. I intend to make this choice a bit easier for you by narrowing down the options to a select few pianos, which you can then go and try out and make an educated, informed decision about which piano to buy.
Who is this list for?
What I’ve done here is rounded up 5 of what I believe are the most sensible choices on the market today for a beginner pianist. By beginner I don’t mean a total beginner; for a total beginner you are probably better off buying an electronic keyboard to see whether the interest remains after a few months. These pianos are ideal for the beginner who is past that stage, who has decided they want to keep playing the piano and they need a proper instrument to practice on. They will have outgrown a small keyboard, and require something more substantial to serve their musical development.
Just a note: I actually owned a Roland F-140R, as well as a Yamaha YDP-140, which is very similar to the YDP-144 listed here. The rest of these models I found in a local music shop to try them out.
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The 5 Best Digital Pianos for Beginners; In-Depth
Our #1 Choice: Yamaha Arius YDP144 Console Digital Piano
Our Rating: 4/5
You’ll notice that Yamaha is a brand that I feature consistently on this blog, for two main reasons. Firstly, I believe in their products; I’m a huge fan, and I think that the build quality and feature set you get for the money you pay beats out their competitors 9 times out of 10. Secondly, they make a huge range of products. It seems that whatever you want to get out of your musical instrument, Yamaha always makes something suitable.
This Arius YDP-144 model is no exception. Yamaha makes two ranges of digital piano; the Arius range, which is their lower end, beginner to intermediate range, and the Clavinova range, which is their professional grade range. I like to think of the Arius range as almost “Clavinova-lite;” both ranges share significant similarities, and the build quality is broadly the same across all models.
This particular model has a great feature set for the price. It includes Yamaha’s Graded Hammer Standard (GHS) keyboard action, which is the action they put in their lower-end pianos. They do make a better action which they call the Graded Hammer Effect (GHE), but this is geared primarily towards professional pianists and teachers, and while it’s exceptionally good, I think it’s overkill for our target market here. The GHS keyboard is more than good enough for a budding pianist to build their technique and finger strength in a way that a non-weighted electronic keyboard just won’t allow them to do.
The quality of sound you get on this piano is brilliant. The speakers are a bit weak, and the loudest volume setting is quieter than I would have expected, but there was no audible crackling or distortion even when playing loudly at the highest volume. Top marks, Yamaha. The piano sound you get with the YDP-144 is probably the second-best piano sound ever created for a digital piano, in my opinion. It’s the sound they use across their digital piano range; even up to the most expensive Clavinova piano you can buy. As long as you use it with headphones, it’s actually quite difficult to tell from a real piano.
One criticism that I do have about this piano is that it’s quite difficult to operate. Changing the voices, using the metronome, any of the other features all require you to press two buttons and then some corresponding keys on the keyboard. These aren’t marked, and require you to rely on a diagram included with the piano. This really isn’t the most user friendly way of doing things, and I’d much prefer a set of buttons on the piano; at the very least for the metronome.
Other than that, this is an excellent choice for a basic digital piano, and one that you won’t go far wrong with.
Our #2 Choice: Casio Privia PX770 Digital Home Piano
Our Rating: 3.5/5
This is the least expensive piano on this list, and serves as a good entry point into the digital piano market. The main selling point of this instrument is the fact that while being a full digital piano in its’ own right, it is extremely compact and lightweight, making it easy to move around if necessary.
This piano features all the standard features you’d expect from a piano at this price point; it includes a graded, weighted hammer action keyboard, which in my opinion is not as pleasant to play as Yamaha’s or Roland’s, but it is perfectly acceptable and will not hinder your musical development in any way. It’s certainly a significant upgrade from a non-weighted electronic keyboard, if that’s what you have at the moment.
The sounds this piano produces are more than adequate; a good quality grand piano sound and a range of other voices, including organ and harpsichord. The speakers really aren’t amazing Many of these cheaper models compromise on this aspect seeing as it’s so easy to plug headphones in, and this model is no exception. At lower volumes it’s fine, but when you crank up the volume, you start to hear some distortion and crackling, which is not so good. However, if you plan on using this for mainly private practice, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
As far as build quality goes, you shouldn’t have too many problems with Casio; they’re a renowned manufacturer of digital pianos and keyboards (along with many other things) and know what they’re doing. One thing I will say is that the stand felt a bit flimsy, probably because it’s so lightweight. This shouldn’t impact your playing, however; the piano didn’t move about at all while I was playing it. I don’t know how well it would hold up to being disassembled and reassembled several times, however.
Overall, this is a budget model with budget performance. It’ll serve you well, and will be more than adequate for a beginner looking to develop their musical skills, but don’t expect miracles.
Our #3 Choice: Yamaha P125 Portable Digital Piano
Our Rating: 4/5
Another entry from Yamaha now, and one that I like very much. This is essentially the same piano as the YDP-144, containing pretty much all the same internals, just in a slightly different and more compact design. This might be useful for a beginner who lives in a small apartment, without the space to accommodate a large digital piano.
As mentioned, the P-125 is pretty much the same as the YDP144, and offers essentially the same features. There are a few key differences beyond the form factor, however, that set this model apart. For one thing, the usability is much improved; the P-125 contains buttons to change the voices and activate the metronome, which I appreciate very much; it means you don’t have to worry about fumbling around pressing different key combinations to get the piano to do what you want it to do.
The main thing that sets this piano apart is the portability. It’s extremely versatile in this regard in that you can purchase a furniture stand for it, and set it up so that it looks very much like a digital piano with a case. However, should you so wish, you can take the keyboard off the stand and take it somewhere else. If portability or space is a concern, this could be an excellent choice for a beginner.
My one gripe with this model is that it comes with a very basic sustain pedal, which I don’t think is too helpful for a beginner. A sustain pedal on a piano is not just a switch; the level of sustain varies depending on how far the pedal has been depressed. The basic sustain pedal included with this model doesn’t simulate that. Coupled with this, you don’t get a left pedal as standard. I think it’s important for a beginner to have this equipment, so I was left feeling a bit disappointed. However, Yamaha does sell a pedalboard as an optional extra, so if you do decide to go for this model you may also want to think about purchasing one.
Other than this, the P-125 is pretty similar to the YDP-144, and will be just as good for a beginner looking to embark on a serious musical journey.
Our #4 Choice: Roland RP102 Digital Home Piano
Our Rating: 4.5/5
The first Roland on this list. Roland are known as a premium manufacturer of keyboard, digital pianos and audio equipment. I’ve owned Roland instruments before and have been very impressed; I think highly of the brand and the products they produce, and this RP102 is no exception.
Firstly, let’s talk about the piano sound. I was extremely impressed by the quality of the piano sound. Roland doesn’t publicise which piano this is sampled from; I suspect it’s a Steinway, but I don’t know for sure. Whatever it is, it sounds fantastic, and the way Roland have managed to implement it here is excellent. The other three piano sounds are acceptable; not anywhere near as good as the default, but they’re perfectly adequate and get the job done.
The real selling point of this piano is the action. I was so impressed by the robustness, the feel and the overall quality of what Roland have managed to deliver here. It’s extremely realistic, and feels very pleasant to play. What Roland have been able to do is simulate features found on a grand piano keyboard that you don’t usually get on digital pianos. For a beginner pianist, this is all you will ever need, and you won’t have trouble adapting to a grand piano.
The onboard speakers are good, and deliver plenty of depth to the sound and enough volume. No cracking or distortion was present when I turned the volume up to maximum. The pedals are also up to the job; they weren’t terribly accurate, as this piano is only capable of half-pedal detection and full-pedal detection, but certainly for a beginner this is more than adequate. There was a good weight to both pedals; not too heavy and not too light.
One thing I will say is that beginners might find the action a little heavy. This is part and parcel of getting used to playing a real piano, and the action on this digital piano is no heavier than you’d find on a quality upright piano.
Our #5 Choice: Roland F140R Digital Piano
Our Rating: 5/5
Another Roland for our list, and this is the one I’ve picked as my winner. You’ll see why; it has pretty much all the features of the RP102, except slightly more refined. It is the most expensive one here, but I believe it’s the best value; this is the only piano on this list that I think a beginner would be able to keep playing until they were at least Grade 8 ABRSM and even further. In fact, I even owned one of these briefly; I maintain it’s the best digital piano I ever owned.
As on the RP102, the piano sound on the F-140R is fantastic; it feels lifelike, organic and natural, and not synthetic or artificial. However, what sets this model apart is the action and the keys. The keys are actually made of a hybrid of wood and plastic, just like a real piano would be. They feel tactile, robust and the weight is just right. They are, for all intents and purposes, real piano keys; they would not be out of place on a real piano. The action is also phenomenal; grand piano features such as escapement have been simulated very well. The keys and the action combine to produce one of the best digital piano playing experiences I’ve had, and that includes on models that cost twice this one does.
This piano comes with the same 4 piano sounds as the RP102, except the F-140R also comes with 305 other tones that you can play around with. I personally don't see much value in this, but if you think this will enhance your piano playing experience, then it may be worth considering this model.
The other thing I’d like to comment on is the compactness of the design; Roland have done an excellent job with this, as it really doesn’t take up much space at all. It’s very easy to stick it in a corner and forget it’s there, it’s so small. Despite its small size, that doesn’t detract from the exceptional piano playing experience you get.
My one criticism would be the robustness of the stand, especially if you put it on carpeted floor. It does like to rock around a little bit. This is mitigated somewhat if you put the piano on hard flooring, but I have to say I think Roland should have put some more effort into including a higher quality stand.
How many keys should a piano have for beginners?
As we’ve discussed, this list is geared to the pianist that has spent a few months learning the piano, and is now ready for the next step up. They’ve proven that they’ll stick at the piano for long enough that it’s worth investing in a quality instrument. For this kind of piano player, I recommend any of the models on this list, all of which have 88 keys. You may as well go for this, because anything smaller will eventually be outgrown.
I would only recommend anything smaller than 88 keys for a total beginner, who might want to buy an electronic keyboard at a very cheap price to ascertain whether they will stick at playing the piano, or someone with a specific use case; perhaps a gigging musician who needs something smaller than the full 88 keys for ultimate portability.
Realistically a beginner isn’t going to use the full set of 88 keys straight away, but you would be surprised how quickly a learner can outgrow a smaller keyboard. Plus, the smaller models tend not to have piano-like features, such as weighted keys and proper sustain and una corda pedal simulation. It’s my advice not to risk being short-changed by a smaller piano that you might have to upgrade in a year or two because it’s too small.
Hopefully you decide to check out some of the piano models I’ve featured here. If you’re a beginner looking to get serious about your music-making, any of the models here will be a wise investment.