Strike the Right Chord: Choosing Between a Keyboard, Digital and Acoustic Piano

Cecilia Rowe
August 21, 2023

Strike the Right Chord

Choosing Between a Keyboard, Digital and Acoustic Piano

Searching for a suitable piano can be daunting, especially with the overabundance of options available on the market. Each type of piano offers its own unique set of advantages, which are considered in this article by breaking down different sizes, sound quality, touch sensitivity, and cost-effectiveness - all of which play a role in finding what is right for you!

Before diving in, it is important for you to understand your own needs, space constraints, and budget and we are most confident there is an ideal solution for you. It is our hope that by understanding the nuances of different types of pianos, this guide will assist you to identify the perfect instrument that matches your unique preferences and musical goals.

For example, A keyboard may be ideal if you want something portable yet cost-effective; alternatively, an acoustic piano may offer a richer-sounding experience for greater musical immersion. If you enjoy the versatility and compactness of a keyboard but want an instrument that looks nice in your home and feels more like an acoustic piano, you might consider the in-between option of a digital piano.

Let’s start with the least expensive option:

Electric Keyboards, when compared with acoustic (“real” wooden) pianos, take up much less space and can offer greater portability, allowing students to take music on the road seamlessly! Keyboards can also be an ideal way for beginners to learn the basics of piano without taking up too much space in the home. Many beginner-friendly keyboards are shorter in length. Although the student will quickly grow out of the shorter-length keyboard, it offers the beginner an opportunity to try out the instrument at a lower cost. Some come with an “X stand” and bench which is easily portable and/or stowable.

Sound and function:  A keyboard could be considered a variation of the piano as its focus is often on the variety of non-piano sounds available. Most keyboards on the market can double as a synthesizer. For the musician who is interested in playing Contemporary music, this could be the appropriate choice.

Size and portability:  A variety of sizes and prices can be found at music stores, like our friends at Sam Ash Music on Cobb Parkway, or Amazon (just make sure to read the reviews or ask for us to send you a few links to choose from!).

A digital piano on the other hand, focuses on most accurately replicating the experience of an acoustic piano, without any of the traditional mechanisms. They are smaller and lighter than acoustic pianos, but not nearly as compact or portable as a keyboard. Most digital pianos are full-length at 88 keys to aid in their realism and good ones have weighted keys to simulate the pressure needed to press a key, as with an acoustic piano.

Sound and function:  A digital piano focuses on most accurately replicating an acoustic piano. A digital piano could be more desirable to the musician who wants to learn traditional genres like Classical and Jazz.

Size and portability:  Like the electric keyboard, a variety of sizes and prices can be found at music stores, like our friends at Sam Ash Music on Cobb Parkway, or Amazon (just make sure to read the reviews or ask for us to send you a few links to choose from!).

An acoustic piano is the most common instrument you think of when you think of a “real” piano – one made of wood, strings and (used to be) ivory keys.  Acoustic pianos excel at producing organic, full-bodied sounds through its string-hammer interaction, while keyboards and digital pianos rely on technology to reproduce these tones. Though the rich sound of an acoustic piano may be difficult to replicate, keyboards and digital pianos can offer a highly realistic sound depending on the quality of manufacturing.

Acoustic pianos can vary considerably in size and price. For grandiose elegance and a professional playing experience, an acoustic grand piano may be your ideal option, especially if you have a lot of space. Acoustic upright or spinet pianos can be equally enjoyable to play and are much more compact, usually going up against a wall, whereas the grand usually is placed away from the wall.

There are many places around Atlanta to purchase a new or used spinet, upright, baby grand or full grand piano, and we recommend either Cooper Piano or England Piano.  We also have a tuner on staff that can help you evaluate a used piano you might be interested in purchasing, saving you hundreds if not thousands in possible repairs or rebuilding. Like a used car, just because it looks pretty on the outside, doesn’t mean it the inside is good!

Touch Sensitivity and Weight

The touch and texture of keys can have an enormous effect on your playing experience. Acoustic piano keys naturally feel heavier since force is required to engage the hammer-to-string interaction. A good digital piano will focus on an accurate representation of this weight. In contrast, the keys of keyboards are lighter and easier to play. Some keyboard models offer “weighted” or “semi-weighted” keys while other models have no weighted key feature. This is imperative to know before purchasing.

It is worth noting that both weight and touch sensitivity are at the center of good expression and dynamic range. Many professionals will tell you that weighted keys are non-negotiable and necessary to properly learn the instrument. For this reason, it is recommended that you talk to your teacher and try a variety of options in-store to see what is right for you.

Sustain Pedal

Using a sustain pedal is an integral part of piano performance. Although most students do not learn to add this function until a more intermediate level of performance, it is important to mention that while acoustic pianos and digital pianos have sustain pedals built-in, keyboards will need a separate sustain pedal attachment. It is important to check the back of your keyboard for a pedal plug-in port before purchase as not all keyboards feature this. A sustain pedal attachment can be purchased at low cost at most music stores as well as

Pay the Right Price

While acoustic pianos typically come with a high price tag due to their quality craftsmanship and materials, keyboards and digital pianos provide more affordable alternatives suitable for a range of budgets. Another advantage of these digital options is that they don't require regular tuning or maintenance, thereby further reducing potential expenses over time.

For those with more experience or those who intend to play for many years, an acoustic piano may be a desirable investment. For those who want to try out the instrument before making a large investment and commitment, a keyboard or digital piano may be a better choice.


If you desire the acoustic sound and feel but costs and space constraints are inhibitors to getting a traditional piano, consider the alternative possibility of a digital piano. Digital pianos, though less portable than keyboards, attempt to incorporate the elegant and professional look, sound, and feel of an acoustic piano along with the compact, cost-effective, and versatile nature of the keyboard.

If you are an experienced classical piano enthusiast who values authentic piano sounds and feel, an acoustic piano can make the ideal companion. An acoustic piano offers more immersive expression for those serious about refining their technique or performing live. It holds its value over time and often becomes a family heirloom—however, regular maintenance is needed to maintain its quality!

Choosing between an acoustic piano and a keyboard is an individual decision that should reflect your musical goals. Whatever your decision, remember that the ultimate joy lies in expressing yourself through the beautiful language of music. Experiment, discover, and let your instrument enhance your musical journey!  

Cecilia Rowe
August 21, 2023