Many prospective students ask about how to choose an electric piano. First of all, I strongly recommend going to an actual store to try out electric pianos. Buying via mail order (ie, from an online store) is not recommended! You really need to feel and touch an instrument to get a sense of what it is, and even if you don’t know much about pianos, a salesperson can help. Local stores can often match a lower price that you may find on the internet, or at least come close. There are several major downsides to ordering from an online store: (1) If you are not an experienced musician, it is easy to be deceived by advertising, or reviews. (2) Even if a mail-order company allows returns, a keyboard is large and heavy, and may be very costly to return. (3) Used keyboards are very difficult to resell, thus it makes good sense to be sure of what you are getting.
Assuming that you can get to a local store, it is often better to buy a trusted brand name, like Yamaha. Casio has the Privia series, which is good, but other Casios are not as good. Other trusted companies, that have been around for some time, are Kawai, Roland, and Kurzweil. If you are not sure of a company name, it is easy to research the company online. For example, Yamaha has been around a very long time, and makes a wide range of instruments, from beginner to professional instruments. It will be a much safer investment to get one of their products vs. an unknown product.
An electric piano needs to have velocity sensitivity, which means that when you hit the keys harder, the sound will be louder; and vice versa when you hit them softer. The least expensive keyboards may not have this; or have very little variance in sensitivity. Next, make sure that the keyboard comes with a sustain pedal. This pedal is a necessity for piano music, so make sure that is included. More sophisticated keyboards will have up to 3 pedals, but the sustain pedal is the most important. Other features, like having additional sounds, are great, but less important. Do not be distracted by all the bells and whistles that a keyboard might offer; in the end, if it does not have good touch sensitivity and a sustain pedal, it will hinder your ability to make progress.
Another important issue is finding a keyboard that has at least 61 keys. That is a 5-octave range, which is the bare minimum for a beginning pianist. A standard acoustic piano has 88 keys, so if you plan on making a long-term investment, and do not plan on ever having an acoustic piano, then get a keyboard with 88 keys. There are a few keyboards you can find that have 76 keys, which is a happy compromise. But if you want to make a long-term investment, having the 88 keys would be best.
Price: At this writing, it is possible to purchase a velocity-sensitive electric keyboard for as little as $300 on up, to thousands of dollars. Higher-priced keyboards will include a weighted-action keyboard – which means that the keyboard action will more closely resemble that of an acoustic piano. Weighted-action keyboards can generally be found in the $500 – $1500 price range. Above this range, generally one will find additional features, such as multiple sounds, cabinetry to resemble an acoustic piano, etc.
If you have any questions about purchasing an electric piano, please feel free to email or call!