How to Buy a Piano

So you want to start piano lessons! Purchasing a piano for lessons is a big and exciting investment, and the more you know about it, the better the decision you can make about which instrument is correct for you!  If you’re not sure about anything you read here,  please feel welcome to call our studio.  If you make an appointment to stop by, any of our teachers will be happy to demonstrate for you on the instruments we have here.  We DO NOT sell instruments or endorse any particular brand.  We’d just be happy to help our community become more informed buyers. 

There are two main categories for buying pianos:  Acoustic and Digital.

CMEC Teachers doing their research

“Acoustic” pianos are those that do not plug in. When shopping for an acoustic instrument, there are several topics you should consider in making your decision.  

Sound Quality  

Every acoustic instrument will produce a unique sound.  You have to hear your instrument everyday.  Pick one whose sound you enjoy! If you’re shopping, chances are you do not play yet, and may not hear this initially.  But if you simply play the keys on enough pianos while paying attention, you’ll start to hear that much like people’s voices, they each have unique characteristics.  


Pianos come with their mechanisms either vertical (upright pianos) or horizontal (grand pianos).  The larger the actual instrument is, the better the quality of the sound will be, and the more ability you’ll have to create a range of volume (dynamics) when playing.  Uprights come in 3 heights, the smallest being a spinet, the next being called a console and the tallest being called a studio upright.  Grands are measured by the length from their keys to the end of the curve.  This length is their size.  Some people refer to smaller ones as “baby grands” but the industry does not really have an actual size that it designates with this name.  While we all like to purchase the biggest instrument we can, be aware some uprights have larger soundboard areas and longer string lengths than do small grands.  Unless you have your heart set on the look of a grand, you can get equal if not better musical sound out of a studio upright at a much lower price.  


Most acoustic pianos have 2 or 3 pedals.  Very rarely do students & hobbyists use the middle pedal, so a piano that only has 2 will work perfectly fine for most players.  

Buying used instruments can be intimidating if you don’t know what you’re shopping for.  Much like buying a used car when you’re not a mechanic.  You can have a piano technician evaluate an instrument for you if you are unsure.  But some basic things you can check yourself are:  

  • Does every key make a sound when played?  
  • Does every key provide about the same amount of resistance to your fingers when played?
  • Does the seller have maintenance records of tuning history and repairs?  

If you’d like more detailed information on acoustic pianos than provided here, the piano technician’s guild offers lots of details. 

“Digital” is the term currently being used for keyboards or electric instruments .  

Sound Quality.  

Digital instruments manufacturers get their sound by sampling sound from acoustic instruments.  The same rules as above apply.  If your ears are not pleased by the sound an instrument produces, you will not enjoy practicing on or playing it.  Try numerous brands to find what you like best  


This is critical.  A key should have resistance when you press it down in order to best control your finger and hand muscles when playing.  Different manufacturers refer to this feature with various terms for patent reasons, but the bottom line is the key should provide resistance against the finger when played.  

Number of keys.  

A standard piano has 88.  While beginners may not need this many initially, they will reach that point pretty quickly.  It is infinitely more important to buy an instrument with more keys than one with more sound features.  


You should be able to control the volume of the instrument by how you play the key.  Simply being able to adjust volume with a knob, slide or button is not adequate for lessons.  

Sound Features abound in the digital world. However, they are totally unnecessary for the process of learning to play.  Being able to push a button and suddenly sound like a trumpet or a guitar, or have drums play along with you can be lots of fun (at least initially).  Be careful to balance what you spend on sounds with other criteria that are more important to the process of learning to play. Touch, dynamic ability and number of keys are more important features than sound options.  

If you are unsure whether to purchase a digital or an acoustic instrument, more comparison information can be found here.