If you are contemplating the decision to start learning piano, and you don't already have a piano, you are faced with the question: What kind of piano is good to get, how do I get it, and how much is about right to spend?
This is not a very simple question since there are a lot of factors that affect what is the correct, or best, piano for you at this time. I provide the thoughts below to try to answer these questions based on my own experience and teaching many students for 15 years - or at least give you the most information to make a better decision.
From the outset, without knowing your situation, I would always recommend getting the best acoustic piano that you can. When I was 13, my grandmother spent $10,000 on a brand new Kawai baby grand as a gift for me. Yet, at that point, I had been playing for almost 2 years and had made progress and shown myself to be taking the piano serious. My first piano was an old 1960s spinet upright that my parents had bought from a friend for $150 - nothing special at all.
I've observed in my years of playing and teaching that there's a bit of a dilemma in knowing when to splurge and get a really good instrument. Some parents say that they want to see if their child enjoys learning piano first before spending to get them a good instrument. Yet, the problem is that usually a student won't enjoy learning the piano because they are not playing a real instrument. So, I don't think it's fair to assess a student's enjoyment in learning if they have only been learning on a 'toy' instrument. I'm not saying to spend a lot very early on, but I think this situation needs to be known and factored in if a student does not seem to be enjoying their lessons. Sometimes getting them a better instrument is the secret to whether they enjoy learning and want to continue.
So, in my case, $10,000 seems like a lot for my grandma to spend when I had only been learning under 2 years. But, the fact that my grandma was willing to be SO supportive, gave me a morale boost to feel that any progress I had made up to that point was worth it and it extremely encouraged me to continue working hard. Also consider that, 25 years later, I still have that piano looking and playing beautiful in my studio. I've used that piano to teach literally hundreds of students and it's served as a basis to start my own small business and practice for performances throughout my whole life.
I do understand parents when they are a little reluctant to buy an expensive instrument from the very beginning since that is what happened with me. Yet, even my cheap first instrument was a "real" acoustic instrument in that it was made of real wood, cotton, and steel. Even though I was just beginning and didn't understand everything about the piano, I had fun playing with and discovering the secrets of how all 88 keys and all 3 pedals worked.
Option A: Today, it's easy to find a functional old instrument, like my first piano, from private sellers, on second-hand web sites, or even at a piano store between $500-$2000. If you're interested in this option, my piano tuner is also a small-time piano dealer that has a few options in this range.
The nice thing about this option is that you own the piano and with no payments for not that much money.
On a side note, I've even recently heard of friends getting a decent, functional piano for less than $500 or for free on Craigslist. To get a good find like this, I think you really have to scour the internet over some period of time to jump on these kinds of options.
Option B: Another option is to rent a piano for around $50/month and up (depending on the exact type of piano). The nice thing with this option is that you can get a nice acoustic instrument very quickly with no major upfront costs. Most piano stores will also give a a full 100% dollar-for-dollar credit for the first year of the rental towards a purchase of a piano where the price is at least double the amount of the credit you have. This is nice because, you don't lose any money while you have the whole year to shop and think about which type of piano you would really like. In my experience, you will usually need to commit to either a 6-month or 1-year contract with the rental. If you commit to renting for a full year, you usually will get free delivery and a free first tuning.
So, for example, if you rented a piano for $60 for a year, you would have $720 towards a purchase of a piano that is at least $1440. For around that price, or a little more, you could get a nicer used upright.
When you get involved with a piano store in renting and purchasing from them, another perk is that you can even trade-up the purchased piano years in the future to get a better a piano that is double the price of the first piano you purchased.
So to follow the example above, let's say you purchased the piano for $1440 and you've owned it for 5 years but you now play much better and have save some money saved, you would have a $1440 credit toward the purchase of a piano that is at least $2880.
Option C: For some who live in an apartment, or with roommates, and would like to be able to practice freely, a digital piano is a good option since you can practice at any time using headphones without disturbing anyone. Digital pianos have gotten very good in terms of trying to replicate a real piano but, in my opinion, nothing compares with the pleasure of playing a real piano action. Digital pianos produce sound out of a speaker and, when you strike the piano key, it's not a real hammer striking a real vibrating steel string. Also, the way the pedals work on a digital do not even come close to being able to do what the pedals on an acoustic can do.
Even with all this being true, I personally own a digital piano at my home and have two at my studio that my students practice on. I also have students who study piano with me who have a not-so-quality digital piano at home, because it really is their only option. So, I could support someone getting a digital piano.
At a minimum, I think the digital piano should have a 'weighted' and 'graded' action. The digital piano I have at home is a Yamaha P-115 that I got for about $650. For about $400, you can even get the Yamaha P-45.
Some other advantages of a digital piano are: being able to change the sound of the piano (for fun), the ability to record your own practice and compositions, and that they take a lot less space in your home.
Option D: The above options explore the most cost-effective entry points to get you started with a piano. If your budget allows for more, then there are even more options and question to consider such as: upright or grand, walnut or black satin finish, Japanese or American or European brand, and more. If this is your situation, I would recommend educating yourself for a bit before buying your piano and taking your time to shop around and talk to different people who have also bought a piano and who also play piano and could offer some valuable perspective. Even if you don't know a lot about pianos, you might want to purchase a piano with it's re-sale value in mind.