Piano Purchasing FAQ
We've had two members of our studio upgrade from digital to upright pianos recently (Hooray!)
In case others are thinking of doing so soon (makes a fantastic Christmas present!) or if you have an old piano that you are wondering if you can improve the sound, here are some answers to questions that I asked Kenn Wilde of Stage 7 pianos (mixed in with other sources and my own biases)
What's wrong with a digital piano?
Because a digital piano doesn't have an acoustic "action" students are unable to fully develop the technique and touch needed for artistic classical music. While weighted keys do help, much of the control that is developed is in the sinking and lifting of each key that shapes the phrase and provides the dynamic control necessary for a beautiful sound.
Shouldn't I just wait to make sure my child actually is going to stick with it?
A piano is a big investment, so it's understandable to be hesitant to purchase. Most pianos, retain their value well (especially if they are less than 30-40 years old. My original upright was purchased for $1500 and was 40 years old but in excellent condition. When I upgraded to the grand five years later, I got full trade in value (even with cosmetic damage). Also, if you purchase from a used piano store, they will often offer you full trade in value if you upgrade (I plan on doing that to upgrade to a Steinway some day). Like cars, you will lose the most value if you buy new. However, if you buy used and maintain, you will likely be able to sell and recoup your investment. Stage 7 offers a lifetime warranty on their pianos as well.
Also, children who have good sounding instruments are more likely to stick with it. I've already noticed greater enthusiasm in my students who have upgraded. Paying for lessons is a big investment. Providing a good instrument makes that investment more likely to stick.
What if I don't have room for an acoustic?
Most acoustic pianos take up the same space as a digital. The keyboards are the same width, so you are just needing more height.
What if I have an old piano that is sentimental but doesn't sound very good?
According to Kenn Wilde, "old pianos can be hugely improved with some work. $500-$1000 first will do most of the time, and most of the rest of the time, 2000-3000- all of which are less than most decent pianos, and those old pianos in good condition often are outstanding pianos. Plus their sentimental value is very high. We can tune their piano - the best way to assess a piano- and give a free estimate of options and costs.
-otherwise, I would say $3500-5000 can get an excellent used upright piano, and $4000-8000 very good used grands. "
What size piano is right for my child?
The bigger the bass strings, the better the tone. Starting with a smaller piano is okay for beginners, but taller pianos (48-53 inches) have a bigger bass sound. Grand pianos have a different action and can play at faster speeds. Those are the ideal if you have space for them, but they can be upgraded when the child is more advanced. A small grand piano has the same string length as a tall upright, so better to get a tall upright and then upgrade to a grand that is about 6'1, rather than a baby grand of 5'3 which will sound similar to an upright (although will have better action)
What brand piano do you recommend?
I personally love Yamahas. They have a brighter sound and lighter action. I also like Kawaiis. They tend to have a mellower sound and a heavier action. I also plan on upgrading to a Steinway someday. Every piano is different, even within brands, so best to try them out and pick the one that you like the touch and sound of.
Where can I find a good piano?
I have purchased (as well as two of my students) from Stage 7 which I highly recommend. I also had a student purchase a used grand from Northwest Pianos that they are happy with. I also really like Ben at "Classic Pianos" if you are wanting to purchase new.
Craigslist is also a good possibility. If you can find a well maintained piano that is being sold because the seller's children or upgrading/leaving for college or a sudden move, you can feel pretty confident. If it is an older piano that hasn't been played in a while, best to hire a piano technician to come look at it and make sure there are no cracks in the soundboard or other damage.
How much does a good piano cost?
Depends on the height of the piano. A smaller piano can start around $1000, and taller, newer (48 inches) can go up to $8k (Yamahas and Kawaiis will be on the higher end). Get the tallest you can afford. A Yamaha U1 is often referred to as a good "workhorse piano." Stage 7 just sold one to my student for around 5k. Despite my bias for Yamahas and Kawais, there are many other brands that are good as well. You can read more about them in Larry Fine's "Piano Buyer" which is the Kelly bluebook of pianos https://www.pianobuyer.
Craig's list will likely be less expensive since there is no dealer markup.I prefer a dealer for the peace of mind that it is warrantied and in good condition, but I know others have good experiences with Craig's List. I have an interior decorator friend who wanted a Danish style piano, and picked one up for $200. Another friend of mine even got a Steinway grand for $10k on Craigs list that she's happy with. As tempting as it is to get a "good deal" make sure the piano is in good repair and that you like the sound. An old, thumpy piano will not be much fun to play.
Feel free to ask me any questions about pianos you are thinking of purchasing. Happy hunting!
Friday, January 3, 2020 by Valerie Gathright | Uncategorized
Our Christmas Piano Celebration at the Sunset View Retirement Home was a wonderful experience! It was our first time at this location and we couldn't have had a more appreciative audience!
I was so impressed with how much effort the students put in to be ready especially since this was the first public performance for many of them! They also did so great with the unexpected singing that broke out in the middle of their pieces.
One of my favorite parts of this event is playing duets to Christmas songs with the students. It's so fun to play familiar songs together, especially for beginners who are still trying to learn so many different skills at once!
The residents love it when the students bring them gifts and talk to them.
This can be scary for children, but they were so kind. We always hand out jingle bell necklaces and visit with them at the end.
I'm already looking forward to next year's celebration.
Wednesday, October 2, 2019 by Valerie Gathright | Uncategorized
The September piano party was a wonderful opportunity for all the students in my studio to get to know each other!
We started with yummy snacks, sang happy birthday (and ate cupcakes) to celebrate September birthdays (we have four in the studio plus our composer of the month, George Gershwin).
Then we played "concentration" to work on steady rhythm skills.
Next, each student played a piece and we were able to practice announcing our songs and bowing at the end.
To learn more about Gershwin, I passed out fact cards about his life and music. Students had to find the person in the room with the matching fact card and then share the fact with the class.
Finally, we opened up the grand piano and explored how the mechanism and pedals worked.
I was amazed at the eagerness in which the students all wanted to play for each other. They haven't yet developed consciousness about playing in public, and hopefully by doing these group classes every month, and creating a supportive peer environment, they will retain their enthusiasm for playing for others as they grow.
Wednesday, July 17, 2019 by Valerie Gathright | Uncategorized
I love piano camp!
Such a great opportunity for group learning, outdoor games and sunshine!
I always like to spend the first hour of summer camp learning about a composer. This year we are studying Camille Saint-Saens. The first two days we spent creating a lapbook and listening to his music. The next two we will listen to all the movements of "Carnival of the Animals," read the poems that have been written and complete a coloring book.
The second hour we divided into three groups. One group worked with me learning a trio at the piano, while the other groups did rhythm cups and theory games with my daughters
The Third hour is spent doing outdoor games. Day 1 we played note reading games with pool noodles, rings, bowling pins and buckets! Day 2 we focused on rhythm. Students would clap a rhythm, run through cones and clap it again. They also used magnetic notes to create their own rhythm combinations.
We also take a break every forty-five minutes for free play outside. Frisbee, jumprope, parachutes and hide and seek are favorites.
Finally, we end the day with Musical Chairs. I play ragtime on the piano and they run around the chairs outside.