Updated: Nov 15, 2020
Keyboard vs piano?
Many things have been said about practising on a digital piano. Old school piano teachers state that piano students should never practise in digital pianos because it can ruin their sense of tone. They also say it can also affect the way they project the sound and how they manage textures.
in reality, there is hardly anything written about the disadvantages of studying on a digital piano. Seemingly, the good old maestros are too busy playing the piano or teaching and find no time to write about this matter.
I was taught by one of XXth century's best pianists, Bruno Leonardo Gelber. He studied with one of the most traditional and prestigious piano maestros of the beginning of the XXth century: Vicente Scaramuzza. He was, obviously, practising on an acoustic piano. But, the truth be said, a lot of professional pianists like Bruno Leonardo Gelber turned into practising on digital pianos. Why?... I have several hypotheses on why studying on a digital piano can end being quite positive for us.
1. Fosters the use of our sound-imagination
Bear in mind: regardless of how good a digital piano is, it will never sound like a real one. That could be understood as a disadvantage; but, is it actually a disadvantage? Not really...
Digital pianos provide us with a clear and neutral sound. It is true: the sound of a digital piano is not particularly alluring; nevertheless, it is very precise. We, performers, face the challenge of creating a well-crafted version of the piece we intend to play. This abstract audio-mental-image is what we “picture” when we perform. Without this abstract object in mind, we cannot perfect our version of a piece; mainly because there is no version as such to follow or recreate. Practising on a digital piano doesn’t go against the creation of this abstract device, on the contrary, it provides the perfect neutral tool to reinforce it.
The natural timbre of the acoustic piano is truly inspiring but: Is this always an advantage? Not necessarily… While it is fabulous to experiment what we have planned for a piece on an acoustic piano, the complexity of sound we obtain from the acoustic can end being a bit confusing.
2. Practising on a digital piano is less harsh for our ears
Practising the piano for very long hours can prove to be harassing for our auditory system. Digital pianos offer us the chance to lower the volume while we practise. This can help us to protect our ears from the unnecessary strain of practising long hours on a powerful grand piano. It can also help us endure practising more attentively.
3. It never needs tuning
Practising on an out-of-tune instrument can end confusing us, particularly if we have perfect pitch. Practising on a digital piano guarantees we will not encounter this problem. It is also very helpful if we do chamber music.
4. It encourages us to practise without pedal
One of the disadvantages of practising on an acoustic piano is the constant temptation we feel to use the pedal. This wonderful embellishing tool can have the exact opposite effect on our performance. Studying without pedal helps us developing our legato touch much better than any other technical exercise.
It helps us train our own action without adapting so much to the piano we use.
A lighter and rather flat piano-action helps us focus more on our own body weight while practising. Having to change instrument for the real concert performance is one of pianists’ biggest challenge. Practising on a digital piano can contribute to overcoming this difficulty. The instrument can be so different to a real piano that can keep us away from trying to adapt to it too much. We know a real acoustic piano will propose us a completely different technical challenge. With the later in mind, we can focus on projecting the image we have built of the piece on our mind. We can practise very long hours, we can concentrate on perfecting our technique and we can explore our colour pallet without damaging the instrument whatsoever. Practising on a digital is for pianists as going to the gym is for athletes.