Selecting A Piano

An elementary teacher commented that several youngsters diagnosed with autism in her classroom seemed to be very interested in music, especially the piano. “I would like to have an electronic piano in my classroom,” said the teacher. Now that electronic pianos are less expensive and more readily accessible, more people are interested in having keyboards at school or home. Teachers, parents, and therapists might want to consider several factors before purchasing a piano or keyboard.

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Electronic pianos are often called “keyboards.” As with any electronics, shop carefully so you get a good value as well as a durable electronic piano. Compare different features, then purchase a keyboard that fits in the budget and meets the needs of your friend with autism.

SOUND QUALITY. It is counterproductive to purchase a piano with poor sound quality. Because many individuals with autism have auditory sensitivities, it is probably best to take your friend along to “test-drive” different models. You are looking for a keyboard with a decent amplifier and a pleasant sound. Compare different volumes and check the upper and lower register of the keyboard so you can make certain you don’t end up with a model that has irritating timbres or frequencies.

KEY SIZE. The keys on many less expensive keyboards are much smaller than those of a standard piano. Even if your friend with autism has fairly small fingers and hands, select the model with the largest keys. This eases the transition to a regular piano in the future, and it makes this keyboard easier to play.

EXTRA FEATURES. Most of the “automatic” music on electronic keyboards is rather irritating, poor quality music. Select a model with as few extra features as possible, especially pre-programmed songs.

DURABILITY. Select an electronic piano with a durable case and keys. A battery-powered keyboard is most practical.

HEADPHONES. If the piano will be used in a classroom or other “public” place, make certain the keyboard has a jack for headphones.

AVAILABILITY. In order to maximize the use of the new electronic piano, consider having it available only at specific times during the day. Even if it is an inexpensive model, a piano should be considered an official “music instrument” rather than a toy.

MAKE CONNECTIONS. If you don’t know how to do so already, learn to play a few songs on the piano. Then take a bit of time each day to enjoy playing piano with your friend with autism. It is a great instrument for encouraging interaction and communication, even with individuals who typically avoid social contact. You can also offer the keyboard at selected times for free time or in the car for travel time.

If you have other questions, just zip me an e-mail to

NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. Send email to And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism.

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