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The argument for learning piano on an acoustic

Today I was scoping out some Baldwin Acrosonic pianos on New York Craig’s List as I have a few East Coast Skype students who are playing not-so-terrific sounding digitals. They cannot produce a singing tone on them, or enjoy the “feel” of a real piano. (the so-called hammer-weighted feature, notwithstanding) Naturally, not every “real” piano is worth any serious attention, but there are pianos of the small variety (if there’s a space issue) that play a lot bigger than they appear, and have musical value.

In my experience over the years, a well-cared for Baldwin Acrosonic, considered the Cadillac of the spinet and console variety with its innovative wide sound chamber, is a decent acoustic option, particularly if it’s a first piano purchase. (These range in price from $450 to about $850 on the used piano market) One of my pupils got hers for $250 a few years ago, since I knew the fellow who was selling it and he gave her a bargain price. He threw in the moving for a song. Another, who relocated from Berkeley to UK had his Acrosonic packed up and transported by boat to its destination.

I have five students who own these, and they’re very happy with them. My preference is for the 1960s era Acros. Once one gets into the 80s, they are not the ones made in the US, but were sold off to Asian companies. Not the real deal. Those in the 50s are nice, but I tend to favor the next decade.

This morning I logged onto FaceTime (A New Jersey piano owner) and had the seller test out the piano for me. Naturally, it would have been nice to be PRESENT LIVE beside the piano, but I had some good information based on the ONLINE test run across the keys. While the hammer assembly looked clean, as I asked the owner to open the lid, I would have a Registered Technician detail it, and I would urge him to TUNE the piano before it’s considered for purchase. I’d want to test the tightness of the pins and the wear on the hammers. (the evenness of the action would be a factor in the overall evaluation as well)

Many sellers argue that since the piano is being moved, why bother to tune it? But that makes no sense because tuning it is like presenting a well-tended house for sale. Why would a seller want to showcase a piano that is not Up to pitch and ready to go? If I went to a piano showroom, the pianos I’d sample would be IN TUNE, regardless of the need to tune the instrument once it settled into a new environment. The advice of Larry Fine is well-taken, right out of his best-selling, Piano Book.

When I purchased my singing nightingale Haddorff, I insisted that it be tuned before I sealed the deal, and the information gleaned from the tuner was essential to my decision-making.

My Haddorff 1951 console, gorgeous inside and out

No digital piano can match a decent acoustic–the touch is DIFFERENT on a digital. It’s not a real piano. That’s a fact. Yet so many will argue that real pianos have to be tuned, and they can sound really awful, too. Well, who would buy an “awful” piano to begin with. One must discern what one is buying and have experts second on a prospective buyer’s intuitive love for a particular piano. For certain, there are many lovely acoustic pianos on the used piano market at very reasonable prices that are worth bringing home and this is one of them, among many.


It doesn’t hurt that the above is drop-dead good-looking as well.


Follow-up report by Dave Eggleston, Registered Piano Technician (RPT)

17 thoughts on “The argument for learning piano on an acoustic”

  1. I can offer personal evidence that there is no substitute for an acoustic piano I started on a high quality Yamaha S90XS weighted action digital piano/synth and discovered that it had caused me to hammer the keys far too strongly. It was not until my teacher pointed it out and I put chased a big beautiful Yamaha U3 that I have finally been able to develop the required touch.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Once upon a time, I think this was clearly true. However, we’re now faced with digitals that perfectly mimic the mechanics of a grand piano action in terms of propelling the hammer on its way. (See the topic on “approaching notes…” where it seems irrefutable that hammer velocity and acceleration are the only key variables).

    I learned on a Clavinova for many years, and suffered the lack of nuance and finesse that a real piano affords – but from a touch point of view, that is no longer an inevitable constraint. The Yamaha Avant Grand range for instance allow you to sidestep that issue. They don’t sound perfectly like real pianos (though that difference is diminishing all the time), but they allow you to play in the small hours, to record yourself, to experience a grand action without the cost, to play without the constant tuning required for a good piano etc. etc.

    it all depends what you want from your instrument, what you can afford, and the environment in which you’re wanting to play. But dismissing digitals out of hand now is to ignore how things are changing…


    1. Thanks for sharing.. As I recall Simone Dinnerstein was at a Yamaha showroom and took a liking to one of the pricey verticals (electronic).. looked like a big upright.. And I agree that when one has neighbors who object to late night practicing, that the best substitute is a fairly good hammer-weighted digital (I have the Yamaha Arius 141 console model) but in truth when I go back to my Steinway M, the feel is still different.. not the same as my acoustic. No way, at all. I can’t be convinced. I have students on digitals who have no space for a piano, but they aspire to get one as opportunity arises. I teach piano, not digital piano– when notes start popping out on the garden variety digital and even some of the higher end ones, there is nothing much the student can do about it.. You can only psyche out the electronic just so much…. and when I am talking acoustic piano, by comparison I mean a high quality, well-voiced and regulated instrument, not a clunker or twanger.


  3. I am not surprised that a digital piano will feel different to your Steinway M , just as your Steinway M will feel different to my teachers upright which feels different to my friends upright etc etc.
    To be so dismissive of Digitals is not that helpful, trying to work with the various needs, demands and aspirations of different people is a better approach I would have thought.


    1. What you say is completely untrue. I teach students with digital pianos who cannot otherwise accommodate an acoustic piano in their apartment. None are turned away. Those who have been able to upgrade to an acoustic are the happier for it as is the case for the most recent pupil who made the transition. I use my Arius 141 for late night practicing with earphones, as mentioned.


      1. Fair enough, but as an observation the general tone of your comments above come across as quite dismissive of digital pianos which is perhaps something to consider as a teacher (and I mean that in a helpful constructive way). They are still a musical instrument and quite capable of giving lots of playing pleasure for the right sort of person.


    1. I wasn’t questioning your teaching, I just came to this post via another web link and passed comment on what I read in this post. Sorry it seems to have got you a little upset (for want of a better word). The point of your post I got quite easily, it was how your feeling towards digital pianos (in this post) came over was what I was discussing, I haven’t even stated if I agree with your thought’s in general (which I happen to do in the main).


  4. Thanks for your clarification. I think many students with digitals realize that they cannot control nuance, or create the singing tone they imagine, once awakened to it. Notes pop out when least desired, or the decay on many electronics is rapid. These students will come to their own conclusion that they can explore the used piano market, and scope out a well-regulated, well-maintained piano. I have bought many from Craigs List at bargain prices and so have my students who are seriously in the market when the time comes. As mentioned I use Arius in the wee hours, but in all honesty, it’s a totally different feel and effect when I go to my grand.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. One final comment, the Arius 141 is not that great a digital piano especially in the action and the Yamaha S90XS mentioned in one of the response’s is really a synthesiser not a digital piano. When you get to better quality digital pianos things do improve a lot , the Kawai CA series for example. Its only recently that actions have got much closer to the feel of acoustic.


      1. The only thing I wanted to add (but needed to check details on) was if you didn’t ‘feel’ a difference between a £20,000 Steinway M (that’s second-hand prices) and a £700 entry level Yamaha Arius (and that’s NEW Price) then something would be wrong with the world really.
        It just isn’t a fair or reasonable comparison (and I know you talked about cheaper second-hand pianos and I understand your points in that regard, but you compared these two in one of your responses and that’s what I have issue with) perhaps if you compared your M to a Roland V-Piano Grand (£14,000) then the comparison would be more reasoned – and I might bet that the results would be much closer that you dare consider……


      2. emphasizing that a digital piano is not an acoustic piano. And that when I teach the singing tone, many of my students with digitals experience issues producing a singing tone on their electronics for reasons I have mentioned. Those that made transitions to acoustic pianos (and they needn’t have been pricey grand pianos) were able to translate the work we did at lessons into better, more satisfying exposures to the music assigned. Simone Dinnerstein pointed out that the very pricey digital she sampled would work for the wood shop aspect of her practicing.. joking that she doesn’t always want to have others hear the developmental stage of practicing and to this extent my digital is the workhorse at late hours where I deal with laying down fingering, etc. but it cannot express what I need as I refine my work. When I said I teach piano and not digital, it was meant as a general concept that my instrument has always been the acoustic piano and my frame of reference remains the acoustic piano.. but that does not exclude those who for one reason or another can’t fit an acoustic into their space, or who have neighbors that restrict their practicing so that the earphones, etc. work for them.


  5. May indeed be true. But as my final comment, there’s nothing like a good acoustic to realize the masterworks.. (though I have several renditions of Beethoven and Mozart on Arius and had fun uploading them.) Not planning to buy another digital but always enticed by nightingale pianos such as my Haddorff… and in the past by a few other great finds on Craigs List.


  6. Personally, I find a combination of digital and acoustic to be very useful in our household. For me, I learn the notes of new pieces on the digital piano with head phones on. That way when I am playing tediously through a piece, repeating each bar a million times, hand separate, hands together, slow, fast, etc, it doesn’t drive the entire household mental. The acoustic piano, however, is where the musicality is practiced. Although I find that even *some* of this can be done on a digital piano as well, but only as long as there is very regular contact with an acoustic piano to ensure I’m still on track. Acoustic is always best for learning and perfecting the musicality, though.

    It’s all about finding a balance. Some people don’t like hearing Rachmaninoff or Bartok from 5am-7am, but unfortunately that is the only time I have to practice in the day. That’s why everyone’s glad we have both styles of pianos.


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