Thinking of buying a musical instrument while you are in Bulgaria? There are arguments for both the digital and the acoustic camps. Products of different philosophies and expectations, these instruments have established their own artistic niches in the mysterious world of music.
Here are the most common arguments in favour of digitals:
Acoustic pianos are simply "archaic technologies." They are doomed to be replaced by digital pianos and synthesizers the same way typewriters were replaced by computers.
Acoustic pianos will always be "nothing but pianos." Digital pianos can produce hundreds of different sounds, and they can provide automatic rhythmic and instrumental accompaniment in a huge variety of styles.
High quality digital pianos can easily record without the need of microphones and studios. The tempo of the recorded pieces can also be changed at will, and the pieces can later be edited in any imaginable way using a computer programme.
High quality digital pianos have become better and better at imitating the touch and sound of a grand piano.
Digital pianos can be used with headphones; they are more neighbourfriendly.
Digital pianos are cheaper to purchase; they don’t need tuning and regulation, and are hardly ever affected by changes in temperature and humidity.
Digital pianos are lighter, easier and cheaper to transport.
The arguments of the pro-digital camp are, I feel, simple, well organized, and easy to understand. In contrast, the arguments of the pro-acoustic camp tend to be emotional, philosophical, and – sadly – often incomprehensible to the general public.
The sound of acoustic pianos is more beautiful. The sheer physical joy of a "real" acoustic sound, with its vibration and overtones can not be produced by digital means. It is true that the sound of a good digital piano is taken from the sound of a real grand; however, we tend to forget that it comes to us via speakers with quite a small vibrating area. Its equivalent, the sound board of an acoustic piano, is incomparably larger, thus creating much more spatial sound. Imagine yourself in a concert hall listening to a symphony orchestra playing pianissimo, or very softly. Then imagine yourself in the foyer listening to the same orchestra playing mezzo forte, or medium loud. In the latter case you hear the sound through an open door leading to the hall. Will both experiences be the same? Of course not.
Regardless of the advancement of technology, the touch of an acoustic piano is superior. True, a touch-sensitive digital piano will react to differences in key velocity, but it will respond with stepped pre-programmed variations. Higher quality digital pianos offer more possible variations by using more memory to store the digital data, but always in predetermined steps of volume and tone colour, and always with a limited number of possible responses. The performance of classical music and jazz is based on great dynamic contrasts, as well as an incredible variety of nuances and shades. Clearly, these are the weaker points of digital instruments.
Acoustic pianos fulfill our need for devices that are barely affected by changes of time and technology. Perhaps you purchased a digital piano only to discover that exactly the same model was on sale at half the price a year later? Needless to say, acoustic pianos have a much lower level of depreciation than digital ones and in some rare cases their value can even increase. Also, acoustic pianos are usually much more beautiful as pieces of furniture. Created by craftsman, not factory workers, acoustic pianos represent both our link to the great tradition of the past and our innate desire to possess a valuable artistic object; an object we are happy to leave to our children and grandchildren.
Keith Jarrett sums up the feelings of the majority of the pro-acoustic camp in his introduction to Larry Fine’s The Piano Book:
"I personally feel the piano to be far in advance of any of the more recent keyboard instruments, in that it still demands that you use your whole body and all your muscles, whereas everything since has been denying that need. Artificially adding piano-like touch control to a synthesizer is about as much of an improvement as electrifying a pepper mill. So what? The piano answered the artists' need to be more involved, not to get more done with less effort. The 'artistic need' that has generated instruments since the piano, on the other hand, is the need to find something that can be successfully played by typists on a lunch break. This is a product of the desire to be creative in one's spare time. To me, leisure and creativity are as far apart as the Reader's Digest and the Well Tempered Clavier."
To sum up, the digital and the acoustic pianos are products of very different human needs.
Even though both are related to the art of music performance, the former fulfills our need for modernity, practicality, and entertainment, while the later relates to our longing for permanence, unchanging values, and a deeper level of artistic involvement.