If you’re just starting out in piano, (or even if you’ve been in lessons for a while) you may be wondering a little about the instrument itself. In this post, I'm going to cover everything from choosing your instrument in the store to keeping it beautiful for years to come. So whether you’re at the buying stage or already immersed in lessons, this post is for you.
We have to start with a keyboard. Is that a deal-breaker?
One of the first questions I often get from my clients during our consultation is whether or not it is necessary to have an acoustic piano, or if they can get by on a keyboard. This is one of those questions where the answer will vary from teacher to teacher. In my studio, the first answer is: “Get what you can afford.” Truly. Get what you can afford. If you are a dedicated learner, there is time to upgrade your instrument as you go along. That being said, there are a few reasons why an upgrade is eventually necessary for you or your little learners.
If you have to begin with a keyboard, (and if you can) my recommendation is to get one with the full span of 88 weighted keys. Especially for children, the number of keys on the keyboard affects the student's spatial relationship with the piano. If your child were learning the guitar, you may get them a smaller version of the real thing, but you certainly wouldn’t want it to have fewer strings. The same goes for just about every other instrument. While in piano their songs will mostly center on Middle C for some time, they’re also getting a feel for the instrument they’re working with. During those first lessons, we might play with different octaves and sounds on the piano. Whenever possible, it really is worth it to have the full keyboard. In addition, the weighted keys make a massive difference on their finger strength while they’re learning the piano. If the child has to begin with an instrument with the thin, easy-to-play keys, they’re not building the strength and dexterity in their fingers that they’ll need in the lessons to come. If they have to make this transition too late in their piano career, they will likely have a frustrating experience.
In some cases, I have actually noticed a difference in how my students treat their lessons when they’re working on the keyboard vs. an acoustic piano. I actually watched the students go from treating the piano as an extension of their toy room to handling it with a little more poise and excitement. This was a fun transition to watch for a piano-dork like me! In no way did it take the fun out of playing – it just changed its form a little.
We have an old, hand-me-down piano. How do we take care of it?
Plenty of my clients have begun with aged, beaten down acoustic pianos. This might sound crazy, but I generally prefer this to the keyboard option. In this case, the student still gets the acoustic experience, with a splash of character added in the mix. Depending on the brand and age of the piano, each instrument really does have a unique character. My own piano is an old Henry F. Miller with a bright, happy sound to it. I love the thing and I wouldn’t trade it in for the world. If you are like me and need to take care of an older piano, there are a few things you will need to know.
As a general rule, your piano will need a tuning every six to twelve months. If your piano was recently moved, it may take a couple of months to settle, and you should wait the recommended amount of time by your tuner before having it tuned again. If you already have your piano in place, be aware that it’s not recommended to keep your piano on an outside wall. I don’t know every detail about how this works, but that’s what I have learned along the way. For further care and information, you’ll need a professional piano tuner.
In the case of any piano, (but especially the ones who need a little TLC) it is essential to find a great piano tuner and repairman. This is where I can’t help but include a little plug for my own piano tuner, Randy Pons in West Valley City, Utah (801-598-3009). Unlike many piano tuners I’ve encountered, he’s willing to take on the “project” pianos and give you the best care possible. Along the way, you might come across some tuners who are only willing to work on pianos of a certain age or quality. This is certainly understandable, but not always what everyone needs. As you shop for piano tuners, just be aware of this and make sure to discuss the unique qualities and age of your piano right up front.
Where should we put the piano?
This is probably not something you would think to ask your piano teacher, but I thought I’d throw it out there. I won’t elaborate too extensively, but I will mention that there are huge differences in the way students handle practicing when the piano or keyboard is not located right in the middle of a messy toy room. As long as the piano is in a special place free from t.v. or other distractions, your child will have a much more productive time when they practice.
I’m so excited for you and your new piano or keyboard! Whether you have the tiniest of keyboards or the grandest of pianos, the choice you have made to welcome new learning and music into your home is one that you will never regret.
Make sure to like and share this post if you found it helpful, and join me next week for some insight about “Modern Piano-Teaching Methods: Why these Aren’t your Grandma’s Lessons.” (She said as she angered sweet grandmothers everywhere).
Thank you so much for reading. Here’s to another piano-filled week!
Congratulations! You’ve taken that first step and found your piano teacher! That’s amazing! Hopefully you found someone with a great vibe, clear policies and expectations, and a real command on their trade. At this point, I’m sure you’ve asked all of your questions about their policies, expectations and methods. You know - the basics.
What you didn’t know you needed to do was share specific information with your teacher that can end up making or breaking those lessons.
Ideally, your teacher knows the right questions to ask right from the get-go, but nobody’s perfect. With just a few key points of information, you can provide your teacher with an arsenal of information that can prove invaluable to their teaching.
#1: How often does your child have access to the piano?
This one might seem like a no-brainer, but you might be surprised how many people have neglected to let me know that when so-and-so goes over to her mom’s house, she doesn’t have a piano or keyboard. Not to mention, she’s there for 4/7 days of the week. If your child is in a situation similar to this one, just make sure to let your teacher know from the very beginning. If your child does not have trouble with access to the piano, still take this chance to let the teacher know of any challenges you can foresee when it comes to regular piano practice. In most cases, they’ll adjust their practice requirements for your child appropriately. Inflexibility in this matter is a sign of a more rigid teacher, which may not be the right fit for you.
#2: Are there any personal details about your child which might affect their learning?
We’re getting personal really fast here. This is where it becomes incredibly important that you have a teacher you can trust to be mature, respectful, and open-minded when it comes to your child. As a teacher, I can tell you that an understanding of the child’s mental health and individual triggers is an essential component in my piano teaching. In some cases, I’ve taught kids with some of the more obvious and diagnosable conditions such as ADD, ADHD and Autism. These are some of the more commonly-mentioned ones by the parents, and we generally found good ways to discuss their child’s individual learning patterns.The parents I heard less from were the ones with the child who struggled with oppositional defiance, the high-strung kid who was wonderful when they could listen but often ended up having meltdowns, the perfectionist, the painfully shy, and my list really could go on.These are all great kids who are completely capable of learning the piano, but had to go into a high-stress learning situation with someone they don’t know who doesn’t know them either.Truly, piano is tough. The best thing you can do for your kid is to provide their teacher with as much information as possible.
#3: Be open about what you and your child want and need from the teacher
Being open with the teacher about your needs and expectations is essential from the very beginning. During the teacher-selection process, it’s good to be very clear about the teaching-style you’re looking for in order to best help your child. Once you’ve found your teacher, maintain an open dialogue about your child’s evolving learning-style. At this point, I could tell you by name which of my students lean towards kinesthetic learning, which ones are more about logic and reasoning, and which ones need more visually-based lessons. In a future post, I hope to cover all of the learning-styles and how that applies specifically to learning the piano, but in the meantime it helps to know that whatever way your child learns best - your teacher would love to know about it.
#4 Tell your piano teacher what your child enjoys most in life, and what they’re good at!
Not only is this a fun way for the teacher to get to know your kid, but it might provide them some hints on how to go about teaching. For instance, I recently started teaching this great student who LOVES baseball. I have got to find him a level-appropriate arrangement of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
It can also help to know which subjects your child excels at such as math, art, music and sports. No matter what your child enjoys, there is so much supplemental learning material out there for the piano that I like to find things that follow themes that the student likes.
#5: Set a piano commitment with your child, and let the teacher know.
In many cases, parents begin their child in music lessons with the intent to stay as long as they can. In some cases, it works just fine. Alternatively, I believe that by having a time-bound goal, the teacher has the opportunity to structure their lesson plans for your child in a much more constructive way, and your child is more likely to commit to lessons that they’ve made a promise to take. Creating time-bound goals is a great way to encourage dedication and consistency from a young age. (That being said, I know some beginning piano students are a little too young to understand this concept). If you do find setting a goal with your child to be a good option for your family, you can always re-evaluate the goal as your time-committed date approaches.
Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you have a piano-filled week!