Throughout my time teaching and playing the piano, I’ve often come across this question. It’s usually from advanced students, who are looking to take their music-making seriously and want to progress as quickly and efficiently as possible.
They’re often concerned that the instrument, often a digital piano, that they’re practicing on might hinder them. And they’d be justified to be concerned about this – but not for the reasons you may think.
In short, a digital piano is an invaluable tool. It should never replace an acoustic piano, but it’s a godsend to many people who don’t have the budget or the space for an acoustic piano. But is it harmful to your technique?
Is the fact that it’s basically a computer with a piano keyboard going to harm your ability to make music? Are you better off making the space for an acoustic piano? Let’s find out.
What Are the Main Differences Between Digital and Acoustic Pianos?
First off, if you don’t know, let’s explain the key differences between acoustic and digital pianos.
The acoustic piano has been around in its current form for over 100 years. Uprights and grands work in slightly different ways, but the fundamental function is the same.
When you press a key, it causes a hammer to strike a string, which transfers vibrations to the soundboard, and makes a noise. The volume of the sound is determined by how hard you press the key and how hard the hammer hits the string.
A digital piano doesn’t work like this. Digital pianos have been around since the 1980s, and the technology behind them has evolved and transformed since then, but the fundamentals are the same.
When you press a key on a digital piano, a sensor is activated at the bottom of the key bed. When the sensor is activated, it triggers the onboard computer to play the sound corresponding to that note, which is heard through speakers. How hard the sensor is pressed determines the volume of the note.
So Why Might a Digital Be Better for You?
Firstly, if you need to practice late at night, most digital pianos have the ability to adjust their volume. If you’re a busy working professional, or have grumpy neighbours, this can be invaluable to get some practice time in late at night or early in the morning without disturbing anyone.
Secondly, digital pianos are often cheaper. Of course, you can get some really expensive digital pianos, but you’ll typically pay around $1500 for a really high-quality digital piano, whereas to get the same kind of quality in an upright or grand, you would spend at least $5000.
If you or your child is just learning, and you don’t know whether buying an acoustic piano is going to be a worthwhile investment, a digital piano might be a better option.
Digital pianos are also cheaper because they don’t require maintenance. An acoustic piano will require tuning and regulation, and this can often cost a few hundred dollars a year. Digitals stay in tune and won’t require any kind of maintenance.
Take a look at my recommendations for digital pianos if you're tempted to buy one: Yamaha P125 Review, The 5 Best Digital Pianos for Beginners and The Best Piano Keyboard for Beginners.
How Does a Digital Piano Affect Technique?
So, to answer the original question – is a digital piano going to ruin your technique?
Is a digital piano going to affect your technique?
A digital piano might affect your technique in a number of ways. First, you might purchase a very low-end or old digital piano without properly weighted keys.
This is a big no-no, especially to the beginner pianist. You’ll find that the muscles in your fingers won’t develop properly, because the keys on non-weighted pianos are far too light. When you come to transition to a different piano, either for practice or performance, you’ll find that you don’t have the finger strength to play properly.
A digital piano can also affect your ear. When you play an acoustic piano, you’re actually generating a sound from the piano itself. You’re dynamically creating the sound based on what the instrument is able to offer you.
When you’re playing a digital piano, you are essentially playing back a recording. Most digital pianos are “sampled,” which means an acoustic piano has been recorded at different volumes, and programmed into your digital piano so that when you press a key hard, you get a loud sound, and when you press a key soft, you get a quiet sound, as on a real piano.
But this means that your ear is sometimes not quite in tune with what’s going on, and when you transition to an acoustic piano, you might have issues with control or pedalling.
Speaking of pedalling, this is another thing that digital pianos might cause issues with. I’ve found that many digital pianos have a really short sustain. As a result, you may find that you get used to over-pedalling, or it can mislead you into practicing with more pedal because you think the sound you’re making is too dry. When you come to transition to an acoustic piano, you might then be used to pedalling too much and your music sounds terrible.
Do you see a pattern here? All of this is about transitioning to another instrument. Which you will need to do eventually, because you’re going to have to either give a performance or play on your teacher’s piano. It’s far, far easier to transition between instruments when you’re used to an acoustic piano.
But as far as ruining your technique? No. A digital won’t ruin your technique. It will affect your technique, but if you’re also used to playing acoustic pianos, you will be able to adjust very quickly if you use your ear properly.
When Is an Acoustic Piano Best?
We’ve already spoken about the merits of digital pianos, so I’d like to take a moment to discuss acoustic pianos. Acoustic pianos have been around for what seems like forever, and your teacher very probably has one. They are, in my opinion, the better option long-term.
Acoustic pianos hold their value very well. If you keep your piano in good condition, it should last you at least 30 years before it needs any major work done to it, and should sell for a significant portion of what you initially paid for it. You won’t get 30 years out of a digital because the technology is constantly advancing.
The acoustic piano is a much more worthwhile investment if you are planning to play long-term, or if money is no object. Acoustic pianos are much more pleasurable to play and learn on, and you might find that if you purchase an acoustic, you are more inclined to practice and learn than you would be if you’d bought a digital.
When Is a Digital Piano Best?
Having said that, there are some situations where an acoustic piano is not necessarily the best option. If you’re renting your house, or you live in a high-rise apartment, you will need to go for a digital.
They are much easier to move and can be dismantled and transported easily. An acoustic piano can easily weigh over 200kg and cannot be moved by three guys with a moving truck. You need a specialist. Want to know how much a digital piano weighs?
Digital pianos can be great for children who have done a few exams, and are ready to get serious about making music. However, a digital piano is not going to be suitable for a college graduate in music, or someone who is preparing for the 2020 Chopin Competition.
So What’s the Answer?
The answer is that whatever your personal circumstances, a digital piano isn’t going to hurt your technique in any way. It may affect your technique slightly, but it’s going to be easy to adjust to a new instrument when you start playing it.
- An acoustic piano is just not practical for everyone, and If you’re in a position where an acoustic is not an option, a good digital piano will be more than adequate for you to learn and grow your music-making.
I think it speaks for itself that I used a digital piano in college. It wasn’t my only instrument – I had a Yamaha U1 upright piano, which I think is one of the best practice pianos ever made, and also a fleet of Steinway grand pianos to practice on, but when I got the itch to practice at 3am, the digital was my go-to. If it’s good enough for a music major, it’s good enough for you too!
12 thoughts on “Will Practicing on a Digital Piano Ruin my Technique?”
I am elderly and had a Yamaha digital piano for the last 20 years, and I have recently bought an accoustic piano, and yes, I am having to do exercises to build the strength up in my fingers, all the advice you have given is true.
The issue of longevity of a digital piano is not just about advances in technology, but about natural physical deterioration of the electronics. Electrical connections corrode, digital components fail, speakers deteriorate, any of which will cause the sound quality to become unacceptable. Failed items on an acoustic piano are much more easily repaired. Additionally, the life of an acoustic piano that is properly maintained and kept in a good environment is far more than 30 years. I teach on a piano made in 1905, which, although not ideal for college students, is in full working order, with a nice, even touch and acceptable sound quality for scbool kids – bless it! But always get professional (not sales person!) advice before buying any instrument.
Some good advice here. I also think it’s worth mentioning that digital pianos are not used for piano exams (eh. ABRSM) and nor for competitions. Some of my pupils learn at home on a digital piano, but the “geography” of an acoustic throws them out….eg, playing at the wrong octave, using the sostenuto pedal instead of the sustain pedal…..I’ve seen it all!
Great article, I bought a Korg Kronos 2 88 about 3 years ago amost 5.5k. most musicians boss about the quality of it which is a top of the range. But unfortunately as a pianist I find it’s not connecting me as with a Accoustic piano. It sounds great but there is something missing all the time. My point is there is always a trade-off when you switch into a digital piano.
I’m currently practicing on a digital piano but my teacher says that I need to improve my tone and make it clearer. I don’t know what counts as a clear tone because all tones sounds clear on my digital. He has an acoustic
There is not such a thing as a “digital piano”, simply because the piano is an acoustic and mechanical, stringed instrument. The piano is a ‘chordophone’ in the scientific classification of musical instruments.
The so-called ‘digital piano’ is an electronic keyboard, that is a computer, which does not present the mechanical nor acoustic nor musical features of the piano. It might be helpful in some circumstances, however the fact of naming an electronic device a ‘piano’, albeit digital, is a commercially and ethically misleading enterprise.
The word ‘piano’ is the abridged form of a compound word ‘pianoforte’, which is Latin for soft loud. The instrument was called that because it’s predecessor ‘the harpsichord’ didn’t have the ability to produce notes of different volumes and textures like the piano could. The word ‘chordophone’ is just a descriptive classification explaining that the instrument is able to produce multiple notes simultaneously, unlike most horns, pipes and percussions. Any equipment that fulfills these abilities is a piano. Acoustic simply means it uses its environment to produce sound, and digital means it uses electrical/electronic properties to generate sound. There is no heavenly conferred authority on any contraption to bear a name. It’s like this, if it barks n wags a tail, it a dog. It may be a digital dog. And digital, electric and electronic pianos make great music, and some do have all the musical features of the acoustic piano and so much more. Anybody else may have their own opinion.
I recently got the old acoustic console piano for my son who has started lesson. Before he practiced with keyboard. I had considered the cost, and moving fee, how to maintain.. between acoustic and digital. After piano moved and I press the keys, I could realize how the sound and feeling is different from electric keyboard. The sounds comes from whole wooden body and its volume changes by subtle touches. I’m very satisfied with old acoustic piano. If my son likes playing piano and gets improved, I’ll think of buy a good quality of acoustic. I don’t know about the music and instrument, but the feeling is really different.
I’m 76 soon and was very good and very famous. I lost my good reputation via social media and the theft of my thriving career.
The computer and the piano are two different and distinct animals.
Find a Yamaha Mu1 and accept that some technical passages will remain unplayable on electronic device but when you are moving between 20 different cities and venues, you’ll have to be strong and sure of yourself and your muscles and your ability to bs with alacrity.
Smile a lot and pretend nothing is wrong.
The first comment here compared a 20-year-old digital piano to an acoustic. But the best digital pianos of 2021 (Yamaha, Roland, Kawai) have vastly-improved weighted keyboards. Anyone purchasing one of these quality instruments will absolutely get the finger-strengthening practice they need. I urge anyone interested in digital pianos to spend some time on YouTube. There are dozens of sites offering in-depth reviews of all current models.
I got an old piano at an auction with my dad when I was a young teen. No one bid on it and it looked pretty bad. I’ve been lucky to be able to have lessions in professional Steinway grands, but these have been the only instruments that have even come close to the quality of that ‘old piano’ we got that day. The bond with an instrument is also completely different between an electronic version and the real thing. I’m having to play an electric now (having moved overseas and now living high density), but I am having all the difficulties mentioned here (especially peddle and development of tone).
What a load of twaddle! Digital pianos can outperform acoustics in so many ways. For instance the PX-S3100 Casio has 700 tones 200 accompaniments and many more features than I can possibly mention here – Bluetooth connection, battery power, duet mode, etc. etc.