A digital piano can be one of the most useful products for a school music program, especially when you need something more portable than your Concert Grand Piano. Consider these key factors when looking at digital pianos.
1. SpeakersShould the keyboard have built-in speakers or will you want to connect to an external amplifier? The answer to this question will depend on your application. Do you expect to use this keyboard only in smaller spaces where volume won't be an issue? In general, the built-in speakers on most digital pianos are good for personal practicing or small ensemble use. But if you are expecting to use this keyboard in large settings where the keyboard is going to be amplified, the onboard speakers aren't a key feature for you to consider.
2. Types of KeysMost instruments you'll consider will probably have 88 keys. However, there are a few different choices within this category. Some models will have semi-weighted keys, while others will have weighted keys. The term semi-weighted means the keyboard is touch-sensitive, but won't feel like a piano. Even within the weighted key models, there is a lot of variety, from extremely realistic piano action to more lightly weighted key beds. Additionally, graded hammer action pianos replicate the feel of an acoustic piano, which has a gradually heavier touch toward the left side of the keyboard. The more "piano-like" the keyboard feels, the greater the cost.
3. Storage LocationThe location of the digital piano is another factor that will help guide your choice. If the unit will be in a single room 100% of the time, investing in an instrument that has a more formal cabinet and pedals built into that cabinet might be wise. If you're expecting to move the keyboard from room to room, and potentially even outside for events, you'll want to choose something that can be easily carried by students. In this case, be sure to look at the overall weight of the unit. While realistic piano-like keys feel great to the player, they also add to the weight of the keyboard. If you're going to be transporting the digital piano, be sure to invest in an appropriate case.
4. Quantity & Quality of SoundAlthough it goes without saying that the piano part of the digital piano is your primary sound, there is a wide variety of both quantity and quality of sounds available in a digital piano. At a minimum, nearly every unit has 6-10 different "keyboard" sounds, like Fender Rhodes, Grand Piano, Upright Piano and sometimes even some Bass Guitar sounds. Don't be wowed by an assortment of sounds that you'll never use with your ensemble. If you need a great piano sound and not much else, stick with something that has the basic sound set.
The quality and variety of digital pianos available today is absolutely amazing. By keeping in mind these four key points, you'll find an instrument that matches the needs of your music program.