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Key features in a Student Piano

When you decide to take piano lessons, one of the first issues you face, other than finding a good teacher, is getting an instrument to practice on. For many, especially those who have not studied piano themselves, this raises many questions.

  • What are the requirements of a student instrument?
  • Should I consider a digital instrument or a traditional acoustic piano?
  • Does a piano really cost THAT much?

Each of these questions is worthy of an entire article, but today I will limit myself to the first issue, the requirements of a student instrument.

Full Keyboard

A standard piano keyboard has 88 keys (counting both white and black keys). If you have some musical background, that is seven octaves plus three keys. It is true that much of the music a student will play will be in the middle of that range, and you may think that a shorter keyboard, which has only the middle 61 keys or so, would be a reasonable first step. Don’t be fooled. Beginning you musical study on a small keyboard is like learning to play baseball on a miniature ball field. The players may be small, but the field is regulation size, so they can get use to the physical space, learn how far it is to throw to home base, and so on. The same is true of studying the piano. One develops a sense of keyboard geography that is both a visual and physical sensation. Without a full keyboard from the start, the student is severely handicapped for the future.

Touch sensitive keys

A piano has touch sensitive keys. In other words, if you play with greater force, the tone produced is louder. This is in contrast to an organ, where the keys are simply an on/off switch. If you buy a digital keyboard, the description will say if it is touch sensitive. All acoustic pianos are touch sensitive by definition.

Full size keys

Some keyboards have keys which are narrower and shorter than a standard piano. Avoid them like a plague! You should consider these keyboards as toys, not instruments for serious study.


An acoustic piano has three pedals. The right pedal which is used to sustain the tone, and this is absolutely critical for piano playing. Some pedals on digital instruments approximate a traditional acoustic pedal closer than others, but you should pass on any keyboard without a pedal of any kind. The pedal has been called “the soul of a piano.” You certainly do not want a soul-less instrument.

Correct height

A Steinway grand piano is 28 1/8 inches from the floor to the top of the white keys. Some other makes vary slightly, but not by more than an inch or so. If you purchase a stand that was designed for a player to be seated to play, it should be about right. Some stands were designed for a player to be standing, as in a pop band, and these will not be conducive to fine piano playing. Also, if you place a keyboard on a desk or some other surface it probably will not be the standard height either.


The student will need some appropriate bench to sit on. Learning to sit properly at the piano is one of the first lessons in learning. An adjustable bench is ideal, since it makes it possible to place the student at the right height. Unlike the keyboard height, the bench height changes according to the performer. The basic requirement is for the student’s forearms to be parallel to the floor. If they have to extend up or down they will develop bad habits which will be hard to break later.

Footstool (optional)

Some smaller students may need a footstool so they may sit comfortably at the proper height.

It should go without saying (but I am going to say it anyway) that a traditional acoustic piano will have all of these features except for the footstool, and possibly the bench. It is really only necessary to consider these features when choosing a digital instrument. Choosing a quality instrument will allow you to enjoy playing music and continue to improve. A poor instrument will hold back progress and leads many to quit altogether.