With so many digital pianos on the market, it can be difficult to choose the right one for you.
Dr Chris Stanbury suggests two of the best digital pianos for beginning pianists.
With a new school term started and the summer drawing to a close, now is the ideal time to start to learn the piano. I remember my parents saying that investing in music lessons was the best thing they did for me, as it helped my concentration and discipline at school as well as in my piano sessions. Now, as a parent myself, I find playing the piano a great way to unwind and escape at the end of a long day.
A digital piano can give you a great start in music. Not only do they fit into compact living spaces, but you can also plug in headphones for silent playing. As a piano teacher, I’m often asked to recommend an ideal instrument for beginners and I’ve found two from Casio which are at the top of my list.
As one of the most reasonably-priced digital pianos on the market, I was genuinely impressed with what the Casio CDP-130 has to offer. I’ve seen and heard quite a few other products that are available for a similar price, but I have to say that the CDP-130 offered the best in terms of sound and touch.
Above all, it’s really important that a student has an instrument with touch sensitive keys and what pianists refer to as a ‘weighted keyboard’. This means that the keys have a slight resistance to being pushed down, just like an acoustic piano key. Learning to play against this key resistance, and developing the necessary finger skills to control how loud you want the note to play is an essential part of piano playing.
Consequently, choosing a digital piano that simulates this key weighting correctly is really important, as having something which sounds nice but doesn't really feel like an acoustic piano can do more harm than good. Thankfully, the touch and key weighting of the CDP-130 was great, and I felt reassured that the developing piano student would be encouraged to play in the right way with this instrument.
How a digital piano sounds is also very important, of course. When you’re trying out a digital piano, try this: play any key quickly and with force, and you should hear a tone that is both loud and bright, with a clear, ringing tone. Then, play the same key slower and with less force. The resulting note should be quieter but also much more mellow.
Pianists call this ‘colour’, and it’s a very important area of expressive playing which beginners need to appreciate. In some digital pianos, doing this experiment just results in the same colour of note, at different volumes. This isn’t ideal, as it isn’t what occurs on an acoustic piano.
Thankfully, Casio tell me that the CDP-130 has something called ‘Dual Element Sampling’, which means the piano can tell if you’re playing loudly or softly and plays the correct ‘colour’ of piano tone too. For the beginning pianist, this means that they can be sure that the CDP-130 develops good expressive skills as well as a secure technique. I was very impressed with the quality of the CDP-130’s Grand Piano tone - the sound was clear and detailed and I was able to play with expression and a good contrast of tone.
Overall, the CDP-130 is a great starter instrument, and would be ideal for a student of any age who is looking for something to last them three years or more. A quick look online shows that this instrument would suit anyone with a budget of £299 (in actual fact, I found the price to be even lower in my local music shop).
If you’re able to put a little more into your investment, you might be interested in my next choice: the Casio AP-260.
The AP-260 is the first instrument in Casio’s ‘Celviano’ range. Long established as the name of some of the most reliable and good-sounding digital pianos, Celviano pianos offer some great opportunities for the beginning pianist.
This is mostly down to the way Casio design their instruments. It’s a well established rule in the digital piano industry that a higher product price means a better quality touch and sound. However, Casio think about things differently. In recognition of a digital piano’s important place in music education, Casio have a philosophy called ‘Piano First’, which ensures that every Celviano they produce, including the AP-260, should have a first class touch and sound.
Incredibly, you’ll find the same key mechanism and piano tone in this piano as that used in the top of the range Celviano pianos costing over £1000 more. Of course, the more expensive ones have lots more sounds and features, but the core piano sound and feel is the same.
When I played the AP-260, the premium feel and sound was immediately obvious. The tone was very clear and it had a huge amount of variety and depth. Casio tell me that the AP-260 has the largest sound system of any entry-level piano, which might have something to do with it.
This piano uses a completely different technology to the CDP-130 I mentioned earlier, and I could hear a big step up in terms of sound clarity and character. The instrument coped with everything I played, from elementary studies to Grade 8 pieces and beyond. What’s more, the classic upright design incorporates a great speaker system and three full-size pedals.
From a teaching perspective, there are a few extra details which I can imagine will make a big difference to piano students of all ages and abilities. Firstly, the song recorder is really useful for students, as it encourages them to perform and then listen back with a critical ear, improving their playing (the Casio song recorder is also the easiest system to use, with literally two button presses needed to start recording). Secondly, Casio’s innovative Concert Play feature introduces the sound of an orchestral into their music learning, where you can play along to some beautifully recorded music and be the star soloist (in case you’re wondering, it’s Japan’s finest orchestra, the NHK Symphony, that Casio commissioned to produce this). As a beginning piano student, I always wondered what it would be like to be the soloist in an orchestral concert. With the Concert Play feature on the AP-260, Casio make this possible and, dare I say it, they may have actually made music reading enjoyable!
I can see the AP-260 being a great musical companion for many students, and it’s no wonder that it is one of Casio’s top sellers. Is it worth the extra £250 over the CDP-130 if you have the budget? Absolutely. As I found, an AP-260 could cope with even top grade repertoire, thanks to the improved piano sound and precise keyboard movement. Dividing the initial cost over a typical ten year life span makes this a really attractive instrument. What’s more, Casio tell me they have some very interesting price promotions coming up in the next few weeks. Watch this space!