I found a free piano on Craigslist, should I take it?

Be very wary of those so-called free pianos on Craigslist or any other classified ad sites. Why? Because nothing is free especially for a piano. Let me break down the cost of a free piano:

  • Piano moving: It costs around $150-$300 for a professional piano mover to move a vertical piano and $250-$500 to move a grand piano. Do NOT try to move piano by yourself. Not only is piano heavy, it is also very tricky to move. If you move the piano by yourself and anything goes wrong, you will (a) damage the piano, (b) damage the property of the seller or yourself, (c) probably hurt yourself. Remember to hire an “insured” piano mover and not just any mover.
  • Piano tuning: A free piano is almost guaranteed to be seriously out of tune. (A side note, Craigslist sellers usually say, “The piano hasn’t be tuned for a few years but it is still pretty much in tune.” It is a BS, don’t believe it.) A regular tuning costs around $100-$200 but a seriously out-of-tune piano will need more than one tuning to get back in tune, which means you will spend at least $200-$400 for tuning.
  • Repair: Most free pianos will have a few keys that do not respond and probably strings that are broken or rusted. You will need a piano technician to repair the piano before the piano can be tuned or played. Prepare to spend at least a few hundred dollars to repair a “free” piano.

If you add up all the cost, it will come to around $1,000. For that kind of money, you can get a decent new digital piano. If you add a little more, you can get a decent used acoustic vertical piano from a reputable piano dealer or piano technician/rebuilder who will not only delivery the piano for free, give you a free tuning, and possibly provide a warranty between 1 to 10 years in case anything goes wrong.

Conclusion: Forget about the free piano; they are not free, really.

This is one of the articles in a series called “Piano Buying Guide for Parents of Young Students“. You can find other articles of the series through this link.

When should I choose a digital piano instead of acoustic piano?

Digital pianos do have advantages over acoustic pianos in a few areas:

  • A digital piano can be played silently with headphones whereas most acoustic pianos cannot. Except for a few Yamaha models, most acoustic pianos cannot be played silently. If you live in close proximity with other people such as in an apartment or you plan to practice piano late in the night or early in the morning, a digital piano will be a much better fit than an acoustic piano. Actually, a high percentage of acoustic piano owners, including ourselves, also own a digital piano because of digital piano’s ability to play silently.
  • Acoustic pianos need more space than digital pianos. You can literally place a digital piano anywhere in your house as long as it has access to electricity. Acoustic pianos, on the other hand, need careful placement for acoustic reasons. A vertical acoustic piano is usually placed against a wall, and it may be more difficulty than you think to find an empty wall in a house. A grand piano may look like it needs a lot of space but in my experience it is no more than a upright piano needs.
  • Digital pianos are generally lighter and easier to move around. Some digital pianos can be carried around in your car, which is impossible even for the smallest acoustic piano.
  • Digital pianos need no maintenance whereas acoustic pianos need regular tuning and servicing. Acoustic pianos need to be tuned at least once per year and possibly twice per year, which will cost you between $100 to $400 per year. Digital pianos are always in tune and never need tuning. Acoustic pianos are made of wood, steel, and wool. These parts will eventually break down and you will need a piano technician to replace broken strings, worn out hammers…etc. A typical acoustic piano can last about 50-60 years, and at that time, you can either spend big money to rebuild the piano or give it to your child for free and make it her problem! Digital pianos, on the other hand, are usually irreparable. Because digital pianos are made of electronic parts and companies always come up with new models year after year, replacing a digital piano is almost always cheaper than repair a broken digital pianos.

This is one of the articles in a series called “Piano Buying Guide for Parents of Young Students“. You can find other articles of the series through this link.

What are the differences between “digital piano” and “digital keyboard”?

If you decide to buy a digital piano, make sure you buy a “digital piano” with 88 weighted keys and not a “digital keyboard.”

The primary difference between digital piano and digital keyboard is again the action. As I said in the previous article, digital piano actions try to emulate acoustic piano actions, but digital piano actions are usually too light and not having the whole range of expressive capacity as acoustic piano actions. Digital “keyboard” action is even worse.

A digital keyboard action has no weight, so your kid will never build up the finger/arm strength necessary for musical expression. A digital keyboard action also has no expressive capacity because no matter how hard or light you press the key it will produce the same amount of sound volume. Moreover, many digital keyboards are equipped with only 76 keys or 61 keys instead of the full 88 keys. A digital keyboard will quickly become a hindrance of piano learning.

Digital keyboards may have other legitimate uses but they are definitely not for learning piano. If you are going to buy a digital piano for your kid to practice, make sure you buy a digital “piano” with weighted keys and not a digital “keyboard.”

This is one of the articles in a series called “Piano Buying Guide for Parents of Young Students“. You can find other articles of the series through this link.

Are digital pianos as good as acoustic pianos?

It depends.

Some high-end digital pianos such as Yamaha AvantGrand series or NU1 combine a real piano action with digital sounding technology to make the pianos play and sound like a real acoustic piano. The problem is these so-called hybrid digital pianos are as expensive as acoustic pianos. If cost is the main concern, buying a hybrid piano won’t save you any money right away. In the long term, you may save money from tuning. Digital and hybrid pianos do not need tuning whereas acoustic pianos need tuning at least once a year.

So, what about digital pianos that cost around $1,000. Are they any good? Actually, a $1,000 digital piano is not bad, but don’t expect it to be as good as an acoustic piano. The problem is the action. Piano action (as shown in the picture on the left) is the mechanical system that transfers the kinetic energy from your finger tips to the hammers that hit the strings. This system is a mechanical marvel that allows pianists endless expressions in speed and sound volume. Lower-end digital pianos try to emulate the acoustic piano action but they are not there yet.

Now, as a parent of young piano students, the lack of a real acoustic piano action probably won’t affect your kid much until he or she become an intermediate player, but that day may come sooner than you thought.

Another potential issue with digital piano actions is that they are usually lighter than acoustic piano actions. People who are used to lighter piano actions will need time to adjust when they play on a heavier action. This means your kid may play very well on a digital piano at home but suddenly can’t play at the teacher’s house or in a recital. In the case of piano recital, if you have a digital piano at home, you should arrange an acoustic piano for your kid to practice the recital repertoire at least several days in a row before the recital.

Now, before you go, please note that digital pianos are different from digital keyboards, which I will address in my next article.

This is one of the articles in a series called “Piano Buying Guide for Parents of Young Students“. You can find other articles of the series through this link.

Do I need to buy a piano for my kid who just started his/her piano lessons?

Instead of asking the above question, a more appropriate question is this, “Can my kid get by piano lessons without practice?” The answer is definitely NO.

If you want to learn piano, you must practice. More specifically, you need to practice EVERYDAY. A beginning piano student does not need to practice long hours, but it is very important to establish the habit of practicing everyday. If your kid can have access to a piano outside your house and practice everyday, you may not need a piano at home. For example, if your kid goes to an after school program at a church or a day care center that has a piano and they allow your kid to practice everyday, you may not need a piano at home. Generally speaking, though, you should have a piano at home if your kid is learning piano.

This is one of the articles in a series called “Piano Buying Guide for Parents of Young Students“. You can find other articles of the series through this link.