Parents’ Guide to Finding the Right Keyboard Instrument
By Penny Johnson
“I love a piano, I love a piano,
I love to hear somebody play,
Upon a piano, a grand piano,
It simply carries me away.”
And so goes the 1920’s hit song by American song composer, Irving Berlin. Indeed, as pianists, we are perpetually yearning for the luxury of having a nine-foot concert grand upon which to practice regularly. In reality however, instruments such as these can cost well over $100,000, a princely sum well beyond the budget of even the most advanced players. Therefore, it is in our best interest to know what products are on the market, so that we can find the instrument that matches both our needs and our pocketbooks.
Nowadays, a student has the option of getting either an acoustic piano (vertical or grand) or a digital (electric) piano. Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of both:
ACOUSTIC PIANOS (GRANDS & VERTICALS/UPRIGHTS)
- Key depth (response of the keys is in proportion to the weight applied by the fingers/arms; results in greater development of technical facility, strength and agility, as well as greater tonal control)
- Sound Board (generally made out of spruce, the sound board is the ‘soli’ of the piano; it enables a player to achieve maximum variety of tonal colour and resonance)
- Escapement Mechanism (allows one to play repeated notes quickly; a must in advance literature)
- Standard flil sized keyboard (88 keys)
- Pedals (2-3)
- Investment Value (family heirloom/antique factor; durability of construction allows for continued use from generation to generation)
- Frequent tuning required (every six months)
- Adjustments to action (inner mechanism) recommended on regliar (yearly) basis
- Location a concern (avoid direct sunlight, extreme humidity, and heat sources such as fire places which can alter the tuning and damage the casing)
- Potential disturbance for apartment dwellers
- Steinway & Sons (United States & Germany)
- Yamaha (Japan)
- Kawai (Japan)
- Boston (Steinway designed and manufactured by Kawai of Japan)
- Essex (Steinway designed and manufactured by Young Chang of Korea)
- Can be played using a pair of headphones
- Recording possibilities when used with computer programs like Garageband and Ivory Synthogy
- Built in metronomes
- Portable (generally, though some larger units with cabinets are harder to move)
- Space savers (less casing than an acoustic piano)
- Limitations of range (some have only 76 or 61 keys)
- Sustaining properties limited (many do not have pedal outlets, though most have at the very least, a sustaining pedal, which will suffice for the beginner student)
- Durability (always a concern with light-weight, portable instruments)
- Accessories often necessary (keyboard stand, headset, pedals, midi interface cables for use with computer)
- Increased electricity usage (and no practicing during power outages!)
- Yamaha (Japan)
- Roland (Japan)
If, for instance, you are a beginner who wishes to try out lessons before making a long-term commitment, then I highly recommend renting an instrument from your local dealer. This is usually done on a monthly basis, according to the available stock. Renting is a great option, because if it turns out that lessons just aren’t your thing then you can easily return the instrument and move on.
If lessons go well however, and you wish to purchase the instrument, then I suggest checking with your sales representative about having some of your monthly payments applied towards the overall cost. You might end up saving some money!
If you plan to by-pass renting altogether and simply want to purchase an instrument, then be sure you have a figure in mind of what you’re willing to spend. Do some investigation online and talk to your teacher. Bottom line: ASK QUESTIONS and TRY BEFORE YOU BUY! Consider your needs, the amount of time you will be able to devote to practicing (be realistic), and the various locations within your home where an instrument would fit (size is always a factor).
Be wary of buying used pianos, for while the outside casing might appear to be in excellent condition (polished finish, no scratches, ornate decorative carving, etc.) the inside could be littered with problems such as a cracked sound board (the worst of all problems for an acoustic piano), chipped or missing keys, broken or rusted strings, stains (coffee residue is common) and other similar problems. Again, try before you buy, and, if possible have the instrument examined by a technician. Lemons aren’t just found in used car lots!
Before making any purchases, it is always a good idea to consult your teacher and or the director of the school at which you are studying. Consider making several trips to the various dealers in your area, so that you can try out the instruments (any good showroom will have a wide selection of instruments that are for demonstration purposes). Be mindful of the fact that no two instruments are alike. Just like when you’re looking for a new pair of running shoes, you will need to try out many different instruments. Listen for the quality of sound, and the responsiveness of the keys and pedals. Ask a sales person to demonstrate so that you have a chance to hear what the instrument sounds like when you’re not right next to it.
Keep these tips in mind and you’re well on your way to finding the perfect keyboard instrument.