Monday, January 26, 2015

So you need a piano: Tips for selecting the right instrument for your needs

A beginning piano student needs a good instrument. Think of it this way: If you wanted your kid to play soccer, would you send him or her out on the field in a pair of cheap flip-flops, or would you make sure your they had a good pair of shoes? Shoes, of course! On the other hand, does your child need professional-quality $100 soccer cleats? Maybe not on the first day.

As a parent, you want to make sure your beginning piano student has a positive experience while learning to play, but you’re probably not ready to go out and buy a baby grand. That’s fine. To help you decide what will be best for your family and your budget, let’s talk about the options.

Acoustic Pianos
A quality acoustic instrument that produces sound from real strings and real wood offers a level of responsiveness and a range of dynamics and tone color than even the nicest electronic keyboard cannot match. The sooner a student has the opportunity to practice on an acoustic instrument with that kind of nuanced musical responsiveness, the better. True, acoustic pianos are expensive. The typical price range for a quality acoustic upright (also called “vertical”) piano is $4000 to $8000, and if you want a grand or baby grand piano, expect to pay even more.  There are some great brands out there, including Yamaha, KawaiBoston, and Schimmel. If you already have a piano, be sure it is in tune and that the keys are in good working order. Tuning a piano typically costs between $150 and $200 and North Main Music would be happy to connect with you with reputable tuning companies in the Nashua area.

Electronic Keyboards
If you’re not ready to spend a few thousand dollars on an instrument, your beginning student can get off to a great start with an electronic keyboard or “digital piano”. Electronic keyboards come in many sizes and prices. For a new piano student, the most important factors will be the number of keys and whether or not the keys are weighted.

Learning on a keyboard with 88 weighted keys gives a student a big advantage. The weighted keys build hand strength and respond more like the keys of an acoustic piano, making it easier for an advancing student to move on. One of our top picks for beginning students in the electronic keyboard category is the Casio Privia PX-150, which has great key action and the same size keyboard, 88 keys, as an acoustic piano. These and other similar keyboards cost between $500 and $700.

Whether you buy a keyboard with weighted keys or not, it’s best to go with a trusted brand such as CasioYamaha, Kawai, or Roland.  When buying an electronic keyboard make sure to also purchase a bench and a stand A keyboard set on a table will probably not be at the correct height for a young student seated in a chair. Ideally, the keyboard and bench should be set at the right height so that the player’s arm from wrist to elbow is parallel to the floor.

There are certain advantages to having an electronic keyboard over an acoustic piano, such as the ability to plug in headphones so that a child can practice without disturbing other members of the family. Electronic keyboards can also be connected to a computer with a midi cable and used with all kinds of educational and music production software. They’re more portable, and, unlike acoustic pianos, electronic keyboards never need to be tuned.

If a beginning student has access to a quality acoustic piano, they will have the opportunity to develop more nuanced musicianship from the first. But students can also get a great start with at an electronic keyboard and move on to an acoustic piano at a later time.

We hope these tips will be helpful to you in your search for the right piano for your currents needs. As always, you’re welcome to contact us if you have any other questions.

Adapted from this article on the Hoffman Academy website.

Photos from the North Main Music fall 2014 student concert courtesy of Robyn Neville.