What is a Starter Piano?

After 35 plus years helping families to select their first piano for their Son or Daughter to begin lessons, the most common statement I hear by far is “We are looking for a starter piano so our child can begin lessons.” When I ask what they mean by a “starter piano” the answer is usually something like “We don’t want to invest much in a piano until we know they are serious and that they are going to stick with it.”  My response is usually “How can you expect your child to be serious when you do not provide a serious instrument for them to learn on?”


Think of someone wanting to learn to art of photography.  How motivated would they be if they were given an old disposable camera that was only capable of clicking the button and taking a mediocre picture at best?  Or maybe someone who wants to be an auto mechanic and was given a set of tools purchased at the local toy store.  You see where I am going with this.  They can never expect to be serious because they are not given the chance in the first place to be motivated and excited.  They will be frustrated at best.


Let’s look at the definition and specifications of a starter piano.  An experienced player can sit down at a piano that is not in top condition and adapt as much as possible to the instrument because of their experience.  A beginner is not capable of doing this.  A beginner is learning three important aspects of playing the piano – touch, tone and pedaling.  So what does a starter piano have to have?


A starter piano must:


  1.  Be tuned to the correct pitch and be able to hold its tune for a reasonable time.  Every acoustic piano must be tuned a minimum of once a year to maintain its pitch.  If it is not properly maintained, the piano may not be able to be brought up to the correct pitch and hold tune.
  2. The action (the mechanism that allows the push of the key to activate the hammer that hits the string) must be well regulated and free of any problems.  This means that all keys must have exactly the same weight going down, all travel the same distance up and down, and must be able to repeat quickly without missing notes.  If an action is not well regulated or parts are missing or worn out, the experience will be frustrating at best.  It would be like pouring syrup on some of your computer keys and asking you to type a letter.  Not a pleasant thought, huh?
  3. The bench must be sturdy and at the correct height for the piano in relation to the keyboard.  The posture of the student is very important to learning the technique of how to strike the keys in order to produce the correct tone.
  4. All three pedals must function as designed.  The most commonly used pedal is the right pedal which is sustain.  When this pedal is depressed, the dampers lift off the string allowing the string to continue to vibrate.  When the pedal is released, the string and any tone produced from the string should stop abruptly.


There are many more aspects to consider but for the sake of discussion, I will limit it to these.  So the question becomes “So how much do I really need to invest to give my Son or Daughter an instrument that will allow them to progress and keep them motivated?”  The answer is not as much as you think!


Generally speaking, an initial investment of around $1,500 will allow you to purchase a decent used acoustic piano from a reputable dealer who has already gone over the piano, tuned it up to pitch, and taken care of any needed work to put the piano in good condition.  It doesn’t take much to end up investing thousands of dollars in a neglected instrument.  This is the most common mistake that many people make when they purchase a piano privately from someone who is not an expert.  The purchase price may be low, but the cost to fix the piano up and tune it up to pitch can cost as much or more than a brand new piano.  The number one rule is DON’T JUST GO BY THE CONDITION OF THE CABINET!


Digital pianos are also an excellent option to consider.  Most Universities and public schools use digital pianos as well as many piano teachers.  Digital pianos have come a long way since Yamaha introduced the first one in 1983.  A good digital piano will meet all of the above criteria and does not need tuning.  Most come with a bench which is the correct height.  Digital pianos also offer many exciting features such as recording and the capability to practice with headphones.  Best of all, a good digital piano starts under $1,000.


Many adults state that they wish they would have stayed with their piano lessons when they were young.  More often than not, they did not continue because of the teacher or the instrument they learned on.  This is a lesson to be learned for a beginning student today.  Find them a fun, motivating teacher, an exciting instrument, and the chances of success are excellent!