They call Billy Joel the “Piano Man” (based off his song of the same name) but truth be told, there are a number of musicians these days who could lay claim to the moniker. From Chris Martin to John Legend, Tori Amos to Alicia Keys, piano-playing artists ran the spectrum from rockers to crooners and everything in between.
When Sara Bareilles released her debut single, “Love Song,” in 2007, searches for “Sara Bareilles sheet music” spiked online, with fans looking for ways to cover the singer-songwriter’s unorthodox ode to romance, which kicks off with four chords and a rollicking, piano-driven beat.
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When it comes to creating music, a keyboard wins points for portability, but you can’t beat the rich timbre of an actual piano. While grand or upright pianos can run into the tens of thousands of dollars, more and more companies are making digital pianos these days, that retain many of the same qualities in a more affordable (not to mention lightweight) package.
These digital pianos feature the same full set of 88 keys as you would find in a standard piano, and, unlike a keyboard, the keys are weighted, giving you a similar feeling of playing on an acoustic setup.
While a classic acoustic piano reverberates sound naturally, through hammers that “tap” steel strings inside the wooden housing, digital pianos feature built-in speakers that let you adjust the volume to your desired levels. Need to play without disturbing the neighbors or want some practice time before your big performance? Plug into the headphone jack, so you — and only you — can hear what’s playing.
Great for beginners or those with small spaces, digital pianos are also a favorite among professional musicians, who like that they can play on a full-sized set-up that’s still super portable. Built-in sound effects, laptop connectivity and easy recording capabilities are other features that make these electric pianos a solid pick for your space.
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1. Casio Privia PX-160 Digital Piano
Casio has been making reliable, high-performing electronic keyboards for decades, and they apply the same craftsmanship and technology to this full-size digital piano. The 88 keys are weighted, with a smooth ivory-like texture similar to the real thing. What this means: the keys respond to your touch just like an acoustic piano — the harder you press down on them, the louder and more dynamic the sound.
Casio says its proprietary sound technology, dubbed “AiR” (Acoustic and intelligent Resonator) provides the PX-160 with authentic grand piano sounds that fill the room. Want something a little more unique? Select from string ensemble and electric piano tones as well. Two headphone outputs let you plug in for a more immersive listening experience.
This set includes a music stand, pedals, piano bench, music rest, instructional DVD, instructional book and polishing cloth.
PROS: This Casio PX-160 Digital Piano Bundle includes everything you need to start playing right out of the box — including a padded piano bench.
CONS: Some users say the speakers aren’t as dynamic as other models on this list, and the sound can come through a little hollow.
2. Yamaha P71 88-Key Weighted Action Digital Piano
A full-sized piano keyboard with fully-weighted keys, this Yamaha digital piano wins points for its realistic feel and compact package.
The Yamaha brand is almost synonymous with portable keyboards by now, and this one delivers the same portability and ease of use as a small keyboard, but with 88 keys like a full-sized acoustic piano. Users say the weighted keys are firm and responsive — the harder you press down, the louder the sound.
Users can choose from ten different sound effects, including organ, harpsichord and digital tones sampled from real Yamaha acoustic grand pianos. Other features include demo songs, a built-in metronome and a headphone jack in the back.
The built-in speakers are surprisingly powerful for a piano this size, though if you really want to fill the room with sound, you’ll either want to pick up an external speaker to plug into, or consider another model on this list.
PROS: Solid, tactile keys make this mini model a great alternative to a real piano. Users say the keys play and sound authentic and not “computerized.”
CONS: This set includes pedals and a power adapter but no bench or stand.
3. Alesis Recital 88-Key Beginner Digital Piano
This value-packed set is ideal for people just getting into piano, with a ton of easy-to-use features to get you started right away.
Try the piano’s “Lesson Mode,” which divides the 88 keys into two zones with the same pitch and voice. This lets you sit next to someone (I.e. your piano teacher) and play together without having to take turns or reach over one another.
Using online lessons? An on-board MIDI output lets you connect the piano to your Mac or PC to follow along on screen as you play. This USB-MIDI connectivity is also great if you want to sync your piano up with a digital audio workstation to record tracks directly to your computer.
This electronic piano features five different playing styles: acoustic piano, electric piano, organ, synth and bass. Customize the voices by combining any two together for a unique, layered effect. Built-in 20W speakers help to amplify the sound.
PROS: This piano powers up via an included adapter, or you can use six D-cell batteries to unplug the unit and take it with you on the go. It’s great for recitals, parties and band practices.
CONS: Like the other models on our list, this digital piano features 88 full-sized keys, but they are semi-weighted keys instead of fully weighted. That means the keys won’t provide the same tactile experience as a real piano.