Pianos and Piano Lessons

Choosing the right keyboard instrument for you and your home

When a piano student is just starting out, he or she needs a good instrument.

Consider this:

If you were intent on your kid learning to play football, would you send him or her out on the field wearing socks and sandals, or would you make sure they had a good pair of cleats? The cleats, of course! Still, having said that, does your son or daughter require the professional-grade, top of the line, $300 shoes? Probably not. Of course, it’s ultimately more about the player than the equipment.

As a parent, you want to ensure a positive learning experience for your child when they start to play the piano, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to go out and buy  a grand piano, or even an expensive keyboard.

We’ve put together some helpful tips to help you decide which piano is right for you:

There are 3 primary groups (or classifications) of keyboard instruments that you should consider .

  1. Acoustic Pianos – The biggest and toughest on the budget, but also the most effective for developing things like finger strength and dexterity.
  2. Digital Pianos – These can be quite good at impersonating the sound of acoustic pianos, but on the plus side, they are less expensive and can have features like weighted keys.
  3. Electronic Keyboards – While these are less expensive than both acoustic and electric pianos, electronic keyboards do not tend to offer a difficult enough action to develop finger strength for kids learning piano. Also, they often do not encompass the entire octave range of the keyboard, and can many times only go up to about 60 keys.

Acoustic Pianos

acoustic pianoAcoustic pianos are by far the most desirable choice from the artistic perspective, and a child should be given as much opportunity to practice on them as possible.

A good acoustic piano that uses strings and hammers to create sound and is constructed from actual wood provides a degree of responsive action and a wide variety of tone colors and range of volume that cannot be equalled by even a very good electronic instrument. The sooner a piano student has the ability to play on an acoustic piano, interacting with the amount of nuance and diversity of touch that piano provides, the better for technical development.

But yes, acoustic pianos can be pricey. The usual price range for a decent upright piano is typically in the low thousands.

If you are in the market for a grand piano, or even a baby grand piano, you can end up paying upwards of ten thousand dollars. If you want a larger piano, or one from a top maker like Steinway and Sons, you can pay upwards of twenty thousand dollars.

But again, there is no need for the top of the line with a beginner piano student. A second tier brand like Yamaha, Kawai, or Baldwin will be perfectly fine and sound pretty good.  If you’re reluctant to make a decision right away, most piano dealers have programs through which you can rent an acoustic piano.

If you do have a piano in your home currently, it is important to keep it tuned and well-maintained. They do fall into disrepair if you are not careful about where and how you keep the piano in your home. Make sure to have a piano technician on call to fix any problems that may arise.

Digital Pianos

digital pianoRealistically, it remains not possible to completely synthesize how it feels to play on an acoustic instrument; however, there’s no real problem inherent in a beginner piano student using a digital piano.

Digital pianos are built to mimic the touch and feel of acoustic pianos, and many of them are quite successful at it indeed. Keys are generally weighted, which gives the correct resistance when a key is depressed, and they are sensitive enough to the velocity and weight of the touch of the finger to provide a serviceable dynamic range. Most digital pianos are encased in a stable frame, and run cheaper than most acoustic pianos.

Yamaha makes arguably the most advanced and high-quality digital pianos. They are worth the price, and their low end can run as low as $500 and still be a quality instrument with a well-sampled sound. Arius models, which are Yamaha’s flagship digital pianos, can cost between $1,000 and $2,000.

Even though simulating an acoustic piano’s feel is not possible, there is still absolutely nothing wrong with using a digital piano to begin a child’s education on the piano. In fact, a high-quality digital piano is preferable to a run-down clunker of an acoustic piano that you may find on craigslist for free.

Electronic Keyboards

electric keyboard pianoElectronic keyboards are by far the cheapest option when starting piano; however, keep in mind that with a very low quality keyboard, it is hard to develop the technical skills necessary to transfer to a more solid instrument later on. It is advisable to at least get a digital piano if you intend (or your child intends) to keep playing the piano consistently into the future.

If price is the main factor in your decision, though, and electronic keyboard is certainly better than nothing, and some fo them have some impressive features. Electronic keyboards are sold in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and price ranges. Instead of attempting to approximate the feeling of using an acoustic piano, electronic instruments are programmed to be little synthesizers.  Therefore, a lot of them are equipped with several sets of sampled audio files and many even possess pre-recorded rhythms as embedded tracks.

The most important things to consider when purchasing an electronic keyboard is that it has as many keys as possible, and that those keys are at least partially weighted and responsive to touch.

Weighted keys are essential for developing good finger strength, and therefore, if you can find a keyboard with keys that respond similarly to those of a real piano, a student will be able to advance in technique much faster and more naturally. Keep in mind that most electronic keyboards are not built with a weighted action.

If you’re ready to purchase an electronic keyboard, also be sure that you get a stand to go with it. It is unlikely that you will be able to find a table that is the correct height and will let you sit with good posture.

Acoustic vs. Digital or Electronic

While acoustic pianos remain the gold standard for developing as a musician, there are certain practical advantages to having a digital instrument.

  • Headphones allow for silent practicing, which will not disturb other members of the household.
  • MIDI cables can hook up a digital instrument to computers and mobile devices so that educational software can be incorporated into the learning routine.
  • Digital instruments are more portable and take up less space in your home.
  • Digital instruments are always in tune, and do not require regular maintenance.

Overall, a student who is just starting to explore the piano or keyboard can achieve many of his or her goals by using a digital piano.

Having said all that… nothing compares to the sound and feel of a genuine acoustic piano. In the event that you have a budget and space for a real piano, it is the option you should choose. A good acoustic piano contributes a great deal to your living space, and makes a definitive statement that music is an important part of your family’s life.


Finding the right piano teacher

Before getting into the gritty details of finding the right piano teacher, there is one thing to absolutely keep in mind to start, and that is this:

Trust your gut. 

Your instincts about a piano teacher will most likely not lead you astray. If you’ve gotten to the point that you’re seeking out piano teachers, you’ve already taken note of how your child responds to the adults in and around his or her life. Keep in mind that you’re looking for a teacher who will be the right fit for your child, not just a “good” teacher in general. Your intuition about a teacher’s character and interpersonal skills will tell you more valuable information than their credentials or even references.

So, having said that, here are some helpful tips that can guide you in your search for the perfect piano teacher:

Who is the best piano teacher for you?

The absolute most paramount thing to keep in mind is that there is a natural rapport between your kid and their piano teacher. Make sure to have a preliminary hearing, or try-out lesson before making a long-term commitment. Also, when you meet a new piano teacher, make sure to let your child do some of the talking so that you can see the connection and dynamic between the two of them when you remove yourself from the picture a little.

Be on the lookout for obvious tells, such as…

  • Is the teacher making eye contact and engaging with my child?
  • Are they open to questions, even if they are a little off topic?
  • Does the teacher challenge your child to go beyond what they already can do?
  • Are they able to let their guard down and admit when they make a mistake?

Having a good sense of humor is a valuable resource when dealing with kids. Many teachers are good at relating to children and not to adults, and vice versa. It doesn’t make them bad teachers or bad people, it is just important to choose the person that fits your specific needs.

finding a piano teacher in your area

After the lesson, it is helpful to communicate with your child. Ask them…

  • What did it feel like to work with that teacher?
  • Were you baffled or unsure about anything you were asked to do?
  • Would you like to have another lesson again soon?

Many piano teachers, particularly those who are early in their careers, may lack some experience. Still, a young and inexperienced teacher is not necessarily a bad one. Again, what matters most is the rapport your child has with the teacher, and as long as they are enthusiastic, and have their ducks in a row with piano skills, they may be the best option for you.

Most teachers now have personal websites. Visit potential piano teachers’ websites and read about their studios and accomplishments.

You can also attend student recitals that a teacher puts on. This is an easy way to experience the atmosphere and quality of a piano studio first hand.

What are your goals for taking piano lessons?

Every teacher has a hard time responding when parents say things like, “I am not interested in Billy becoming concert pianist. I just want him to have fun!” For obvious reasons, students should enjoy learning the piano. But if they only want to have fun, they might be more interested in a new PlayStation.

Parents need to understand that playing the piano is a mixture of fun and hard work. That’s what makes it so rewarding.

These are some examples of helpful goals to which you may relate:

I want to include my child in a competitive and elite musical community.

For this, you’re going to want an established piano teacher with a history of producing top-notch students.  You may want to look at local colleges and universities and inquire with professors there. Or search the databases of somewhere like a music teachers organization Even if you can’t find the right fit among them, they will at least have contacts with other piano teachers and be able to recommend quality people to you.

I want a nurturing environment that fosters critical thinking, creativity and an overall love for music.

Look for a teacher who is familiar with the social constructivist theory of learning and has experience teaching in group settings. Also, you may want to consider someone who has experience in early childhood musical development.

My child has special needs, and I want a piano teacher who understands how to work with him.

You’re going to want to look for a teacher who is open to experimenting with new techniques and working outside of their comfort zone to find the best approach for your child.

Should I have piano lessons in my home or the teacher’s studio?

This is something you should consider, depending on how much you want to pay and how much you are willing to travel. In most scenarios, the closest teacher who is qualified and a good fit will be the best option. You don’t want to spend more time driving to a piano lesson than you do having the actual piano lesson itself.

The best piano teachers will still generally refer you to another, closer teacher as long as there are other options available.

There is certainly convenience involved in a piano teacher coming to you.  However, piano teachers who travel can be difficult to come by and always will come with an extra cost.

When is the best time to have piano lessons?

The best piano teachers tend to have very busy schedules with razor thin margins between lessons. Discover  if a teacher is available on the days that are most convenient for you. Keep in mind that you may have to be flexible with your schedule, and your child may even have to make hard decisions, like giving up another activity in favor of taking piano lessons with a certain teacher.

How much do piano teachers typically charge for piano lessons?

Most piano teachers did not get into their profession to make a lot of money. If they did, that’s not a teacher you want (primarily, because they don’t have good judgement about what makes a lot of money!). Still, professionalism and business ethics are important in a piano teacher. Look for a clear and written out studio policy from your piano teacher. They will most likely still be flexible, but at least you’ll know they’ve thought things through and respect your time.

General thoughts on what makes a good piano teacher

Find a teacher who approaches each student as an individual. Many teachers are very stuck in their routine, using the same method books for every single student, regardless of individual strengths and weaknesses.

Piano teachers will be taking on a personal role in your child’s life as a trusted adult – keep in mind that your child should begin to see your piano teacher as a confidant. So, looking forward into your child’s teenage years and beyond, is this teacher someone who will develop a healthy relationship as a mentor?

Spend some time looking through online directories to find piano teachers. Read reviews, connect with different piano teachers and their students, listen to audio and video samples, and get an idea of what different teachers have to offer.

Conclusions

Always pay attention to how your child responds to a teacher. If they legitimately seem to have a rapport with the teacher, that is the most important first step. This is a person your child will be privately working with for years, and so it is important that they are a force of encouragement and positive reinforcement in their lives, and also that they challenge and stretch their horizons.

Make sure to remain patient and willing to hold off until you find the piano teacher who is really right for you.