Do I need to have a piano if I want to learn the piano?

Lesson number one is get a piano. These days people think nothing of spending a fortune on a computer or flat-screen television, but a piano seems like a luxury. It isn’t. It’s one of the few things you buy for life. There’s not much point in having lessons if there’s no piano to practise on. It’s also a lovely piece of furniture.” Jools Holland

The title of this blog may seem a bit odd as most pianists understand that in order to learn the piano, you must own a piano. Each week, I receive many enquiries from parents and students that want to learn the piano. When I ask what kind of piano they have at home, they seem rather surprised that they need any instrument at all to come for lessons. I appreciate that people want to try it and see how it goes, but to progress from the first lesson to the second, you do need to do some daily practice in order to reinforce the concepts taught in the first lesson and to be ready for the second. So from the very first lesson, it’s vital to have an instrument for practice, whether you hire one or commit to buying one, or are lucky enough to have an instrument already in the house that you wish to play.

I am a piano teacher. I am not a keyboard teacher. I have a grand piano and I have always played acoustic pianos.  The majority of my students have acoustic pianos or very good digital pianos. A few lucky students have grand pianos. My first piano was a Zender upright bought by my parents in 1980, still in excellent condition and currently used by my brother’s children to learn the piano. Over 30 years later, this initial investment of about £1000 in today’s money has passed down a generation and is still going strong. A decent piano, well-maintained will last a lifetime or longer!

Absolutely none of my students have keyboards. Keyboard players tend to focus more on their right hand for melodies and use their left hand for single note chords. Piano players aim to build dexterity in both hands and perform complex melodies and rhythms in each hand. There is a vast difference between learning to play the keyboard and learning to play the piano. The two instruments are not the same and not to be confused.

I never accept students with keyboards, which causes some bother with potential new students when I make this statement, so I thought I would take the time to clarify why I have made this decision. The decision has come about after many years of observing keyboard students struggle to adjust to the demands of learning the piano. Just to be clear, when I say keyboards, I am not referring to digital pianos, but to the smaller cheaper instruments that have usually 2 – 3 octaves and loads and loads of buttons and preset sounds and demo songs.  A keyboard typically costs around £100. Here is a photo of a keyboard:

These are the main reasons that I do not recommend keyboards for learning to play the piano:

1. Keyboards do not have any touch sensitivity.
It is not possible to play loud or soft on a keyboard. We encourage students from the first lesson to explore the variety of sounds you can make on a piano.

2. Keyboard do not have 88 keys.
When a keyboard player is faced with a piano with the full range of notes (that’s 88 of them), then tend not to have any idea where to put their hands, and swapping between a grand piano for lessons and a small keyboard at home is terribly confusing. Also, I have seen students that learn on keyboard at home go on to play in a festival and put their hands in completely the wrong place and thus play their piece at a rather disastrous octave. It was at this point that I decided to clamp down on accepting students with keyboards.

3. The keys are not weighted on keyboards.
A grand piano, acoustic piano or digital piano will have weighted keys that offer some resistance when you press them. Keyboards have floppy keys and are super easy to press, so you do not build any strength in your hands. Thus when you come for a lesson, you will be struggling with the weight of the keys and 30 minutes a week is not enough to develop the required strength in your hands.

4. A keyboard is not a piano.
If you really do want to learn the piano, then you really do need a piano. A keyboard is a watered-down version of a piano. A student learning to play the piano but with only a keyboard at home could never start working towards a graded piano exam as they simply wouldn’t be able to master the necessary skills with a sub-standard tool.

So what happens next?

Well there are two options available to you:

1. Buy/rent a Piano

2. Consider learning the keyboard instead of the piano.
There are many keyboard teachers and also plenty of exams that you can take on the keyboard. Have a look here.

If you are serious about learning the piano, then you really must consider the long term investment of piano lessons which come at a considerable cost (estimate around £700 a year for 30 minute lessons). If you are prepared to invest in the cost of lessons, then it’s vital to give yourself the correct tool to learn with. Coming to piano lessons without a piano would be a bit like learning to drive but not getting into a car at any point. Or going to ballet lessons but never buying the proper shoes. Or going to swim but not buying a swimsuit. You see my point… Despite the initial outlay for a piano seeming quite expensive, you will see from the options below that you can pick up a digital piano for around £350 which is a similar cost to half a year of piano lessons.

Jools Holland has some excellent advice for budding pianists:

Lesson number one is get a piano. These days people think nothing of spending a fortune on a computer or flat-screen television, but a piano seems like a luxury. It isn’t. It’s one of the few things you buy for life. There’s not much point in having lessons if there’s no piano to practise on. It’s also a lovely piece of furniture.”

Entry Level Digital Pianos

These digital pianos come highly recommended and are under £400:

Casio: CDP-120H5 Digital Piano, £349. Click here for more information

Yamaha: Piaggero NP-V80 Digital Piano, £399. Click here for more information.

Renting a Piano:

This is always the option that I recommend to my students. You only need to commit to 6 months rental and if you decide that piano lessons are not for you, then you can return the piano at the end of this period. If you decide to continue with lessons and want to make an investment in a piano, then you can offset the rental price against purchase of the instrument that you already own. Sheargolds have the following offer for digital and acoustic piano rental:

0% Interest Payment schemes for piano purchase:

Take it away is an Arts Council initiative designed to help more young people get involved in learning and playing music.

The scheme allows young people, aged between 18 and 25, to apply for a loan of up to £2,000 for the purchase of any kind of musical instrument, and pay it back in nine monthly instalments, completely interest free.

Our priorities are:

  • to encourage young people to develop their interests and skills in music making
  • to inspire new players, aged between 18 and 25, to begin learning an instrument
  • to enable those on lower incomes to acquire an instrument appropriate to their needs

Take it away launched in 2007, and so far over 55,000 people have used the scheme to purchase over £37million worth of musical instruments and accessories through 325 participating shops across the country.

Reid Sohn piano for sale
My student currently has this lovely piano for sale at a rather good price of £900. It will last you through many years of playing. Full details are here.


About Lorraine

Head Teacher at the SE22 Piano School, a private piano teaching practice in East Dulwich, South London. I work with a fantastic team of teachers offering piano, harpsichord & music theory lessons to adults and children from the age of 4.
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