First-time keyboard purchases can be daunting, especially when there are so many options on the market. Searching Amazon will pull up thousands of options (more on that in a future article!). I will only talk about brands and product specs for which I am familiar. Here are a few thoughts I’ve asked customers to consider when they are trying to make a decision.
One way to frame your search for an instrument is by understanding what a student might encounter in their first few piano lesson books (an often overlooked perspective). Let’s say that one lesson book = one year of lessons (a rough estimate depending on the progress of the student). If you’re using a series of books like the Bastien Piano Basics or the Alfred Basic Piano Library, by the end of the primer book, your student will probably have learned a little bit about fingering and a little bit about and a little bit about dynamics, the ability to play loudly or quietly. This means, at the very least, one should purchase a keyboard that has touch sensitive keys. A keyboard that has touch sensitivity, or touch response, will respond in volume to how hard or soft the keys are pressed. The Casio CTK-3500 sells for $139 and will likely be the least expensive option for an instrument that has this capability. Anything less than that price point will be subject to whatever level the volume is set (and probably be of questionable quality). If you want your child to learn to play with expression at an early age, touch sensitivity is an important component.
In addition, the CTK-3500 has 61 keys (full-sized instruments have 88 keys) which will be more than enough range to play all the pieces in their lesson material. Smaller keyboards are not as common, and they are usually designed to be more like a toy. An instrument like the Casio CTK-3500 could get you through the first three levels, lasting you about 2-3 years. By the fourth book in most lesson series, pedaling technique is introduced, and investing in a sustain pedal that mimics the action of the pedals on an acoustic piano would be a wise purchase (I own the On-Stage KSP100 pedal for my keyboard. Until then, you have a little time to decide your next step!
When you pay more for a keyboard, you are typically paying for more realistic touch, better sound quality, and a longer-lasting instrument.
For children who are younger or not necessarily interested in lessons yet, I recommend getting a keyboard with LOTS OF BUTTONS! Various sounds, dance beats, and built-in songs are standard features on entry-level keyboards. Curiosity and exploration can be a driving factor in building an environment where your child will want to keep coming back to their instrument. I specifically remember, when I was younger, playing my keyboard’s demo song over and over again because I thought it sounded like a tune from a video game. Little did I know that I was honing my listening skills and developing a taste for electronic music long before I really understood what was going on. If you can get your child having fun with music, it will stay with them for a lifetime.
There is so much more I could talk about, but I’ll leave it at that for now! What are some considerations you’ve had when searching for an instrument? Let me know in the comments. Look for future postings where I talk about the benefits of upgrading your keyboard!