Avoiding That Sour Note: Picking Out The Piano Of Your Dreams

Purchasing a piano – whether for your own personal use, for your children to learn on, or even just for the use of more musical friends or family – is a huge decision not to be made lightly or on a whim, given the sheer cost of the instrument alone. But how can you pick and choose the perfect piano for you when there are so many considerations and choices that can cloud your view? If you're looking for a handy guide to help you pick out the piano of your dreams, then here's what you need to know.

Pick the Style

Not all pianos are created equal – and they're not meant to be. Pianos generally come in three different flavors: electric keyboards, uprights, and grands. Electric keyboards are the type of piano you'll normally see used in bands or in electric music and are generally best for that genre; even the keyboards with weighted keys don't approximate the pressure you need to play any other piano well. Uprights are probably the most common type of piano you've seen, with a flat back that normally sits against a wall and holds the interior strings of the piano. If you're not looking to spend a fortune on a piano or if you have limited room, an upright is probably your best bet. Finally, grand pianos are the ones usually present at concerts; they are shaped like an oblong circle with a notch out of it, and have a lid that can be raised to varying heights in order to amplify the sound that comes out. If you have a room in which you'd like to display the piano or if you plan on having a lot of parties in which the piano will be the key player, you'll probably want to go with a grand. It's worth noting that a grand is not automatically better than an upright, nor is it necessarily more expensive; it all depends on the quality of the strings, the maker of the piano, and on the finish given to the instrument.

Tune the Touch

In picking out a piano, you'll want to make sure that the touch of the piano is pleasing to your hand (or the hand of whomever will be playing it). The "touch" of the piano is basically how easy (or how hard) it is to press down a key and get a tone to sound. With a soft touch, the keys are much easier to depress and thus much easier for a child or beginner to produce a sound (not to mention much easier to hold down a chord for any length of time). While a harder touch is more difficult for children or beginners, it also strengthens the hand and fingers much more, and often produces a clearer tone. If you'll have many people playing the instrument, or if your player has no preference, go with a touch somewhere in the middle—easy enough to produce a sound if pushed purposefully but not so light that a key can sound with just a tap of the finger.

Listen to Your Ear

While you could ask seven different piano sellers for their favorite sound and come back with nine or ten different opinions, ultimately the best piano for you is the one your ear prefers. Pianos that might sound tinny on the high end to others can sound to you like the tinkling of a fairy's harp, while the rich, robust bottom end on another piano could just sound swollen and sluggish to your ear – and there's no guarantee that the most expensive or the salesperson's preferred piano will sound the best to you. Generally speaking, the best way to tell if you love the sound of a piano is to bring along a favorite piece of yours (and someone who can play it, if you don't play yourself) and have a part of it played on each piano you consider. This removes the variable of the piece and simply lets you hear the differences in the tones of the pianos.

If you purchase a used piano, you may want to hire a piano tuner to tune the instrument to its best sound.