I have a confession. I have seven “pianos” – two upright acoustic pianos, one grand piano, and four digital keyboards and/or synthesizers.
I recommend all my students have an acoustic piano for lessons. Having a good quality instrument to practice on at home is an important part of success. Why?
Because there is nothing like an acoustic piano for developing the skills needed for touch and tone quality. The piano is a percussion instrument, and about 50% of what we learn at lessons is rooted in physics – how much velocity and mass are required to achieved the desired sound? And since I own and play so many different keyboards, I know of what I speak. (My many synthesizers all have different features and were purchased with a specific task in mind – such as a stage piano for travelling gigs, a clone-wheel organ with drawbars for capturing the unique sound of Hammond B3 organ, or a rack-mount synth for the unlimited sound editing and programming options.)
When my students are shopping for a new instrument, I am often asked for advice and invited along in the process. So if you are shopping for an acoustic piano where do you start?
- Visit all the local dealers. Ottawa is lucky to have dealers for most major brands of acoustic pianos, such as Yamaha; Kawai; Steinway, Boston, Essex; Knabe, Seiler. All companies offer different tiers of models. Play them all to find out what they sound and feel like (but don’t look at the price tags yet!). Talk to the salespeople and learn.
- Then read The Piano Book by Larry Fine as well as the most current issue of its supplement, Acoustic and Digital Piano Buyer. Both are available from the public library.
- Now set your budget. Your budget will determine if you want to purchase a brand-new instrument or search the used market. (I found my grand piano on Kijiji!)
- When you find an instrument you are interested in, go play it. Several times. Take along a wide variety of music that demonstrates different registers on the piano, dynamic ranges, and touches. In fact, take the very same selection of music to every piano you play so you can hear and feel how each instrument responds. Take along another person to play the piano so you can stand back and listen.
- Have fun with the process and take your time. (My grand piano search took about eight months.)
- And if you want to purchase a used piano, have it checked out by a Registered Piano Technician before finalizing the sale.
And what happens when a student upgrades their instrument?
- their finger strength and body posture improves
- their tone quality and artistry improves
- their practice time increases
- their enthusiasm for playing increases, often exponentially
- I can hear a difference in their playing at the very next lesson
Having the best instrument you can afford makes a big difference.
P.S. Those of you who own a good acoustic instrument, when was the last time you had your piano tuned?