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#1681049 - 05/19/11 04:20 PM Learning on a Digital vs. an Acoustic
Lefty Chev Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/19/11
Posts: 377
Loc: NY

I've read a few "digital vs. acoustic" threads here recently and they've gotten me thinking about potential pitfalls of starting out on a digital piano and not playing very often on an acoustic. In one of the threads someone mentioned a student who wasn't able to play with dynamics because they always played with their volume low on a digital.

That now has me wondering, what other potential pitfalls are there to playing almost exclusively on a digital piano, and if possible, what can be done to limit their potential harm. Right now I don't even know what I don't know.

I'm not saying I'll never look into owning an acoustic, but it's not going to happen in the next year or two. If one or both of my kids decide that piano is something they want to seriously pursue, it will increase the likelihood that I buy one, but it's not in my immediate plans.

Thanks for any feedback you can offer.

Rich

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#1681064 - 05/19/11 04:44 PM Re: Learning on a Digital vs. an Acoustic [Re: Lefty Chev]
Gyro Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/24/05
Posts: 4533
I grew up with piano lessons and acoustic pianos only--an upright at home, and uprights and grands in the teachers' studios and at recitals--as there were no digitals back then. I quit playing in high school, and when I restarted as an adult, the first piano I bought was an expensive acoustic upright, for ~$6000, in the early 1980's, a huge sum for an upright in those days (a similar model today would be in the ~$20,000 price range).

But now, after discovering digitals in 1989, I play only digitals and I like them better. Digitals in my view are the greatest thing that's ever happened in the piano world, and anyone pianist at any level who is not taking advantage of all they have to offer is missing out big-time. Digitals have enabled me to make progress that would have been impossible on an acoustic. Everything meaningful that I've accomplished on the piano I owe to digitals.

There are no pitfalls or harmful effects to owning a digital. Even big-time concert pianists use them.

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#1681065 - 05/19/11 04:44 PM Re: Learning on a Digital vs. an Acoustic [Re: Lefty Chev]
PianoZac Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/22/10
Posts: 1422
Rich, I can't tell you enough how often I've felt, and still feel the way you do about this. I learned to play piano entirely on digital pianos, and only recently had the chance to practice on an acoustic. That acoustic is going back into a studio, so I'm looking for the closest thing to an acoustic within my budget and space constraints. My NP88 isn't adequate for technique IMHO, though works perfect for gigging.

Here's my experience so far-I do have quirks in my technique that are a direct result of not playing on an acoustic, but nothing disastrous. In fact, honest to God, not to toot my own horn, but many people think I've been playing piano my whole life, that I've got a certain feel to my playing, and yet, I've never (until recently) played with any regularity on an acoustic instrument. Many gigs I play now have an acoustic grand, and I've never had many issues transitioning from my DPs to a grand. However, in the last 3 months I had access everyday to an acoustic grand, A Kimball Viennese Series, which isn't a great piano, but my technique really blossomed, so without a doubt if I was learning to play piano, I would start with as good of an action as possible.

Of all the DPs I've played the three pianos that have felt the most authentic (sound aside for now), for example with my eyes closed, were the Kawai CA93/MP10 and the V-Piano. None of these are cheap, but all are incredible feeling DPs. I would say most, if not all of the PHA III, RM3 Wooden, and GH/GH3 based piano actions should cause very little, if any difficulty in transitioning to an acoustic upright/grand. There are many DPs who have gotten really close to the feel of an acoustic...the trick has been getting the sounds of an acoustic. Sorry for the long winded reply!
_________________________
Yamaha AvantGrand N1
Nord Piano 2


"Be who you are and say how you feel. Because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind." - Dr. Seuss

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#1681097 - 05/19/11 05:32 PM Re: Learning on a Digital vs. an Acoustic [Re: Lefty Chev]
spanishbuddha Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/08/09
Posts: 2323
Loc: UK
I don't think it's a problem as long as you get a good quality DP with one of the better hammer actions. Then make sure your practice includes the dynamics of the piece expressed through the digital. Also occasionally play on a good piano; but see next para......

Since I started I've actively seeked out a number of (real) pianos that I can just try out, as I had never played a piano before. Almost without exception they have all been bad, bad, bad. The actions have been terrible and all different. The only way out of this seems to be to own your own piano, and maintain (regulate)the action, but then you'd have to adjust anyway to playing a different piano. So what's the difference between that and using a good digital, and adjusting anyway.

Just IMHO, maybe more experienced players, of both digitals and pianos will give theirs thoughts.

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#1681124 - 05/19/11 06:19 PM Re: Learning on a Digital vs. an Acoustic [Re: Lefty Chev]
Dave Horne Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/07/04
Posts: 5276
Loc: Vught, The Netherlands
.... or you can buy a digital piano that has a real grand piano action, a hybrid, you'll have the best of both worlds. See my signature ... the AvantGrand.
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#1681143 - 05/19/11 06:53 PM Re: Learning on a Digital vs. an Acoustic [Re: Lefty Chev]
voxpops Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/20/07
Posts: 3021
Loc: Oregon
I'd agree with everyone who says that it's the quality of the action that counts. With any digital (apart from the V-piano, I believe) you're limited to a maximum of 127 steps of volume and maybe four or five velocity layers. What this means is that it's simply not going to be possible to achieve quite the level of dynamic expression of a well-regulated grand piano. So, at least if the DP's action is good, you can approximate the feel, get a good connection between the keys and the sound engine, and not have too much of a problem transitioning.

I have not played an acoustic piano regularly since the 1980s, and in many ways don't miss that aspect of my playing. However, I feel a little daunted these days when confronted by an acoustic - because they do usually feel very different. I think that it makes a lot of sense to try to gain access to an acoustic as often as possible when learning, even if limited to a digital at home. Becoming the student of a teacher who uses a grand for tuition will probably provide adequate exposure to a "real" piano, so that you can become used to that huge (infinite!) range of expressive possibilities.

As Zachary says, I would narrow my search to those DPs that are renowned for their action.
_________________________
Occasional author and inveterate ivory tickler:
http://www.amazon.com/author/richardspanswick

https://soundcloud.com/richards-recordings/sets/strange-charm-waiting-for-the/s-ppGuy

"can hardly wait to hear what voxpox has to say..."
[HisKidd, May 2014]

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#1681145 - 05/19/11 06:55 PM Re: Learning on a Digital vs. an Acoustic [Re: Lefty Chev]
Lefty Chev Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/19/11
Posts: 377
Loc: NY
Thanks for the responses guys. I've got to complete some things on the honey do list before I'll be spending money on a digital piano and I'm not sure I'll be buying something at the upper end, but knowing that a good digital piano won't be overly limiting gives me confidence to spend more if I that's what I decide to do.

At the low end I was looking at the P155 but I'd be willing to spend more if it's something I and the kids won't outgrow in a couple years. I just didn't want to spend thousands on a digital and then outgrow it and have to spend thousands on an acoustic.

Thanks again

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#1681148 - 05/19/11 07:00 PM Re: Learning on a Digital vs. an Acoustic [Re: Lefty Chev]
ChrisA Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/28/08
Posts: 3841
Loc: Redondo Beach, California
Originally Posted By: Lefty Chev

I've read a few "digital vs. acoustic" threads here recently and they've gotten me thinking about potential pitfalls of starting out on a digital piano and not playing very often on an acoustic...


First off, why would you want an acoustic piano? Today their only real purpose is for professional level classical music concerts. And seriously are you really training for that?

Digital pianos have some advantages. One is that you can play at night with headphones and get in more practice hours. This alone will make you a better player. Nothing else matters more than hours of practice.

But yes if the goal is to preform on an acoustic grand piano then YES, you must do at least some of your practice on an acoustic grand piano. If you are just starting out it will be years before anyone will want to hear you play on the grand piano. Adapting to different pianos is a skill pianists need to learn. All pianos are different. Even if you bought a baby grand you'd still need to learn to adapt same as if you have the digital.

Just start on an entry level to mid range digital and see how it goes. Even if you owned an acoustic you'd still want a digital too.

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#1681150 - 05/19/11 07:01 PM Re: Learning on a Digital vs. an Acoustic [Re: Lefty Chev]
voxpops Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/20/07
Posts: 3021
Loc: Oregon
Originally Posted By: Lefty Chev
At the low end I was looking at the P155 but I'd be willing to spend more if it's something I and the kids won't outgrow in a couple years. I just didn't want to spend thousands on a digital and then outgrow it and have to spend thousands on an acoustic.

Thanks again

Under $2k, and based on the general consensus regarding current DP actions:
Yamaha P155 good
Kawai MP6 better (but needs speakers)
Roland FP-7F best
_________________________
Occasional author and inveterate ivory tickler:
http://www.amazon.com/author/richardspanswick

https://soundcloud.com/richards-recordings/sets/strange-charm-waiting-for-the/s-ppGuy

"can hardly wait to hear what voxpox has to say..."
[HisKidd, May 2014]

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#1681155 - 05/19/11 07:07 PM Re: Learning on a Digital vs. an Acoustic [Re: Lefty Chev]
ChrisA Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/28/08
Posts: 3841
Loc: Redondo Beach, California
Originally Posted By: Lefty Chev

At the low end I was looking at the P155 but I'd be willing to spend more if it's something I and the kids won't outgrow in a couple years. I just didn't want to spend thousands on a digital and then outgrow it and have to spend thousands on an acoustic.


Outgrow it? I doubt it. I'd bet 95% of working keyboard players (not counting piano teachers who never perform in public) play digital instruments. I have the P155 and I can't imagine the piano being the limiting factor in my playing. Starting as an adult I'll never get to the upper levels of concert performance. Now, what might happen is you will just want a better sound some day but this happens with acoustic pianos too.

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#1681162 - 05/19/11 07:23 PM Re: Learning on a Digital vs. an Acoustic [Re: Lefty Chev]
funkycornwall Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/17/09
Posts: 80
Loc: Cornwall. UK
I enjoy playing digital pianos and have played many over the years. They have improved greatly and now have started to offer simulation of pedal noise, symapthetic resonance etc etc. However personally I still gain more musical response and satisfaction from playing a really good acoustic piano, whether it be grand or upright, than I do from a digital piano. However I must stress that the acoustic instrument needs to be a good quality instrument. I have played many hotel pianos where the instruments are old, badly maintained and often beyond redemption. I have also played a couple of Roland KR17m electronic grands (entirely digital and without strings) which also offer the auto-playback feature where the keys can be play automatically. These are very expensive instruments to purchase and are, to my mind, completely devoid of musical satisfaction to the player. I would rather play a poor, badly-tuned, ancient grand than such perfectly-tuned digital instruments. It is difficult to analyse but to my mind they simply lack any real soul and character. I am sure Roland has massively raised its game now with the supernatural piano and of course the V-piano. I also do some piano teaching and I feel that learning on digital pianos have the danger of not offering sufficient dynamic control and contrast. Furthermore, no matter how often I tell them, students practise at too low volume levels. As a result when they adapt to playing an acoustic piano their touch levels can often be rather feeble.

I do appreciate all the many benefits of digitals - playing with headphones, linking to computers, portability and so on but given the choice I would go for a real acoustic every time. Digitals are reproductions and copies of the genuine article no matter how good they are.

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#1681176 - 05/19/11 07:58 PM Re: Learning on a Digital vs. an Acoustic [Re: Lefty Chev]
Lefty Chev Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/19/11
Posts: 377
Loc: NY
Originally Posted By: voxpops

Under $2k, and based on the general consensus regarding current DP actions:
Yamaha P155 good
Kawai MP6 better (but needs speakers)
Roland FP-7F best


That's pretty much the list I've come up with to try out from reading here. I'm not sure how I feel about having separate speakers and using a stage type stand in the space where this would be going so the MP6 might be the odd man out, but I still want to look at it.

Originally Posted By: ChrisA

Outgrow it? I doubt it. I'd bet 95% of working keyboard players (not counting piano teachers who never perform in public) play digital instruments. I have the P155 and I can't imagine the piano being the limiting factor in my playing. Starting as an adult I'll never get to the upper levels of concert performance. Now, what might happen is you will just want a better sound some day but this happens with acoustic pianos too.


Like I said, I just don't know what I don't know, and I don't want to make assumptions about things I have very little knowledge about.

Originally Posted By: funkycornwall
I also do some piano teaching and I feel that learning on digital pianos have the danger of not offering sufficient dynamic control and contrast. Furthermore, no matter how often I tell them, students practise at too low volume levels. As a result when they adapt to playing an acoustic piano their touch levels can often be rather feeble.

I do appreciate all the many benefits of digitals - playing with headphones, linking to computers, portability and so on but given the choice I would go for a real acoustic every time. Digitals are reproductions and copies of the genuine article no matter how good they are.


I appreciate the different perspective and I understand that at the end of the day a digital piano is not an acoustic piano. It may be that I'll prefer an acoustic, but I don't think I can make that determination right now. I'll just have to cross that bridge when I get to it.

Regarding playing at a loud enough level, what would be an acceptable level to practice at? Do digital pianos give you any indication of what that level would be or do you just have to figure it out for yourself?

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#1681188 - 05/19/11 08:31 PM Re: Learning on a Digital vs. an Acoustic [Re: Lefty Chev]
funkycornwall Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/17/09
Posts: 80
Loc: Cornwall. UK
The main advice I could make about volume is to set the digital so that normal playing is about the same as it would be on an acoustic. You will probably find that this would need to be quite high on your volume setting. This way you will learn to produce light and shade with properly your key touch. Try and ignore anyone telling you to turn it down!! This is something that is not possible on an acoustic.

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#1681417 - 05/20/11 07:15 AM Re: Learning on a Digital vs. an Acoustic [Re: Lefty Chev]
bennevis Online   content
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 4841
+1
I'm the one who keeps banging on here about why it's so important that if you want to develop a proper piano technique that includes good tonal and dynamic control, you must treat your DP like an acoustic, and never ever fiddle about with the volume control. If you want to play softer, play softer, not twiddle a dial. Use headphones if necessary - I use headphones exclusively on my V-Piano, which doesn't have speakers.

My background was exclusively on acoustics till last year, when I bought my instrument - the first piano (AP or DP) I've ever owned - frankly, some of the acoustics I've had to put up with over the years before then, I wouldn't dream of playing now, being spoiled by my V-Piano with its perfectly regulated action and tonal response.

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#1681521 - 05/20/11 10:28 AM Re: Learning on a Digital vs. an Acoustic [Re: funkycornwall]
kurtie Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/06/10
Posts: 207
Originally Posted By: funkycornwall
I do appreciate all the many benefits of digitals - playing with headphones, linking to computers, portability and so on but given the choice I would go for a real acoustic every time. Digitals are reproductions and copies of the genuine article no matter how good they are.


I agree with that. Is not completely fair to compare APs to DPs as they are different beasts. Both have 88 keys, but they serve different purposes, and have different strengths and weaknesses.

My advice, if possible, get both: acoustic and digital, and enjoy the best of both camps.

When that is not possible, it depends on what you want. DPs are great but my main concern about them is that speakers don't sound the same as the heavy vibrating body of an acoustic piano. Speakers (or headphones) sound as a recording of a piano.

I started playing in a DP, and I took me a while to get used to the heavier acoustic action. It's harder to do trills on the acoustic than on the digital, but with time you get used. And pedalling is also different. Resonance is definitely better and richer on the acoustic. On the other hand digitals never go out of tune, and you can use sampled sounds of the piano you like more, or modelled ones, or electric, or whatever.

Now, if it is not late at night I prefer to play on the acoustic. It is not always in tune, and each day sound slighly different, but I find it a bit more challenging, but also more enjoyable and I like to feel the vibrations on my fingers. But when that is not possible, the digital is also great.

If I was forced to keep only one of them, I probably would choose the digital, as part of my practice time is at night, and I also use MIDI and computers with the keyboard, but I would miss the acoustic.

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#1681522 - 05/20/11 10:29 AM Re: Learning on a Digital vs. an Acoustic [Re: bennevis]
PianoZac Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/22/10
Posts: 1422
Originally Posted By: funkycornwall
The main advice I could make about volume is to set the digital so that normal playing is about the same as it would be on an acoustic. You will probably find that this would need to be quite high on your volume setting. This way you will learn to produce light and shade with properly your key touch. Try and ignore anyone telling you to turn it down!! This is something that is not possible on an acoustic.


+1. Completely agree with this, and in fact, I used to get called out for playing timidly at times, because I was playing on digital pianos.

Originally Posted By: bennevis


My background was exclusively on acoustics till last year, when I bought my instrument - the first piano (AP or DP) I've ever owned - frankly, some of the acoustics I've had to put up with over the years before then, I wouldn't dream of playing now, being spoiled by my V-Piano with its perfectly regulated action and tonal response.


I have to say, of the digital pianos I've played, which does include pretty much every current stage piano, and many console DPs, the V-Piano and CA93/MP10 behave most like an acoustic. Very real experience from a purely playing perspective. Some will debate how authentic each one sounds, but this is entirely subjective-on DPs of this level, each person hears things differently, and each will prefer a certain tone over the other, not unlike real acoustics! smile
_________________________
Yamaha AvantGrand N1
Nord Piano 2


"Be who you are and say how you feel. Because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind." - Dr. Seuss

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#1681526 - 05/20/11 10:32 AM Re: Learning on a Digital vs. an Acoustic [Re: Lefty Chev]
WingNL Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/17/11
Posts: 212
Loc: Dordrecht, Netherlands
I noticed the play on vsarious acoustics (not grands) and preferable, I take my V-piano over many acoustics... why is the expressive playing...also allowing you to adjust the hammers, making it harder to challenge yourself to play softer... it works out well.

One negative thing is that the plastic keys feel less heavy, but sitll very good (also same board as FP7F)
_________________________
Kawai K1 MK2, Roland V-Piano, Focusrite LE interface, 2 custom (cheap)Telecasters, and a lot of softsynths!

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