One of the most common questions I receive from prospective student parents is: “What kind of piano do we need?” This guide should help you with this decision.

Grand or Upright?

The best results will come from a grand piano, but a good quality upright piano is a good option for most students. In either case, you will usually get what you pay for. Good deals can be found in used pianos if you look carefully at the quality of the instrument, especially if they come from a reputable dealer.

Selecting a Grand Piano

If you have the space and can afford the investment, a grand piano is the best option for any aspiring piano student.

Grand pianos come in many sizes, from “petite grand” or “baby grand” pianos at less than 5 feet in length all the way up to concert grands that are 9 feet long. For home use, there is no need to have much larger than 6 foot grand piano.

For grand piano brands, Steinway, Yamaha, Mason & Hamlin, and Bösendorfer are the top brands that I recommend. My own two grand pianos are a vintage Mason & Hamlin and a Yamaha.

Selecting an Upright Piano

Upright pianos are designed to save space, and the better ones can be a great investment too. There is a lot of variation in upright piano types. The smallest ones are called “Spinet” or “Console” pianos, the “Studio” piano is mid-size, and the “full upright” piano will have similar sound to a baby grand.

I recommend to look at studio or full upright sizes. Bösendorfer, Yamaha, Kawai, and Steinway are all good brands for upright pianos.

Digital keyboards

It is a common misconception that a digital keyboard will be acceptable for proper piano study. While most digital keyboards are cheaper than traditional acoustic pianos, they come with many deficiencies that make it difficult to learn piano properly. Most notably, the feel of the keys is often totally wrong – traditional acoustic pianos have a certain weight and response action to them. Electronic keyboards usually miss this feel, even when the manufacturer attempts to emulate the feel. Also the key size can sometimes be in a smaller scale than a traditional piano, which makes it really hard to adjust to when you go and play on a regular-sized piano. And the sound is never quite right.

In short, digital keyboards are not a good option for high quality piano instruction.

However, there are some high end digital pianos that do work OK for students. For example, the Yamaha CLP-685 and CLP-695GP models are acceptable digital piano options. These instruments have the correct keyboard size, and the feel of the keyboard is a fairly close approximation of a real acoustic piano. I still have some reservations on the sound and overall playing experience, but if you need to go digital then these options are good.

However, if your motivation to go digital is to control volume or use headphones, you should really look at hybrid pianos. This is the best of both worlds.

Hybrid pianos

Hybrid pianos such as the Yamaha in my studio combine the feel and sound of a traditional acoustic piano with the benefits of digital sound and control. For instance, my Yamaha comes equipped with the TransAcoustic system, which works to convert the instrument to a digital piano that leverages the true action of the keys as well as the acoustic properties of the soundboard of the piano. This can be a very effective option for students that wish to practice late at night or early in the morning without disturbing everyone else in your home or neighborhood – you can simply turn the volume down, or plug in headphones and keep practicing. Even though when the TransAcoustic system is engaged and the instrument effectively becomes a digital piano, the feel of the keys is 100% real and the sound of the instrument is much more realistic because the speakers are integrated with the piano’s actual soundboard.

Note: Most new Yamaha and Bösendorfer acoustic pianos can be purchased with the TransAcoustic system installed.

Used pianos

You can often find great deals on used pianos, but be careful not to get yourself a lemon. Look for quality brands and inspect the instrument before you buy it. Use a reputable dealer. Buying someone’s beat up old spinet off of Craigslist is not going to do you any favors. On the other hand, some high quality used pianos are out there, such as my 1904 antique Mason & Hamlin. There are some good piano restorers out there that can handle these kinds of instruments.

What you miss with a used piano is a warranty, and you might have to deal with occasional repairs. All pianos require some maintenance over time, so be sure to have a piano technician evaluate your purchase when the piano is first tuned to see if there are any issues that need to be addressed.


Once you have invested in a piano for your home, you must keep it in good shape. The wood construction of your piano will be affected by seasonal changes in temperature and humidity, and it will tend to go out of tune over time. The main thing is to have a piano technician tune and inspect your instrument regularly. I have my pianos tuned approximately twice per year, and every so often my technician will do things like adjust the key action or fix a broken string as necessary.