Guide to Buying a Piano

Buying a piano is a big investment in a number of ways. As well as it being a large financial investment, it takes up a lot of space in your house, and will in all likelihood be with you for a long time!

This article is aimed at both adult students and parents with children who have piano lessons. Note also that this is intended only as a guide – certainly talk with your piano teacher about it as your piano teacher will be able to assess your specific needs.

There are essentially three main options for you to consider, all available in Brisbane, which have been addressed below:

  • a traditional piano;
  • a digital piano; or
  • a keyboard.

I myself own one of each of these instruments (for varying purposes, of course) at Fireworks School of Music.

Buying a Traditional Piano

The traditional piano includes the grand piano and the upright piano. The grand is the ultimate piano – if you have the money and the space for it! But did you know that when comparing quality with price, there is an overlap between grand and upright pianos? It is definite that a good grand has a bigger sound than an upright, but the top range of upright pianos are better in sound quality than the cheaper grand pianos.

Be very careful when buying second-hand pianos – it is better to buy from a reputable dealer willing to offer you a warranty, than to buy from the classifieds, if you have little knowledge of the instrument. Pianos are hard to repair when they have been neglected – not everything can be fixed! If you do want to buy from a private seller, ask a piano tuner or repairer to go with you for an inspection to give you their opinion on the value of the piano. Alternatively your piano teacher may be able to go with you.

Musical instruments are a bit like cars – as soon as you buy them, their value drops. But as with cars, a new instrument can give you the security of a good warranty. Your piano teacher will agree that second hand pianos, when treated well and kept in good repair, hold their value very well. I have a Yamaha U3 that I bought second-hand from Ellaways in Brisbane, which is currently used for piano lessons and I am very happy with it. When I bought it, it was 17 years old. It looked and sounded like new!

Buying a Digital Piano

A more recent addition to the piano market is the digital piano. Not to be confused with the electric keyboard, digital pianos have weighted keys, and they feel and sound like an upright piano. They often have the option of being connected through your computer to use midi capabilities, and record and playback facilities are often available. They are smaller and lighter than an upright piano – in fact while you should get a professional piano removalist to move your upright any distance, two people can lift a digital piano between them. Digital pianos do not look like upright pianos, so if you are looking for the combined pleasure of a nice piece of furniture as well as an instrument, a digital piano might not be the best choice.

If you are worried about the tone qualities of digital pianos, I might convince you of their new-found respectability by telling you that the Australian Music Examinations Board (AMEB) approves the use of selected digital pianos for practice and piano exams up to Grade 4. The AMEB site gives more information. Likewise, piano teachers are beginning to use digital pianos more frequently.

Buying a Keyboard

Your piano teacher will advise that a keyboard is often not appropriate for piano lessons and practice. Even for home practice, they often do not strengthen fingers enough to give any benefits. They have a number of drawbacks:

  • The number of keys is less on a keyboard than on the average piano, so piano students often find they “run out of notes”.
  • The keys are often slightly smaller than on a normal piano, so students miss-hit notes when they play at piano lessons.
  • Keyboards don’t have fixed pedals.
  • On some keyboards you cannot sustain more than one or two notes, so if you play a three-note chord the first note drops out as the keyboard’s memory gets overloaded.
  • Keyboards take much less muscle strength to play, therefore students who practice well at home on a keyboard often leave piano lessons upset because they suddenly can’t get anything right. Piano teachers who have had students learn on keyboards at home have many times heard the phrase “but I could play it at home!!”

If you go to a reputable music shop looking for a keyboard, you might soon notice that the staff members perceive most keyboards as toys rather than musical instruments. If you look at the range of keyboards available to you, you will see that many of them are designed as toys – look at the 300+ voices and the DJ functions!

What keyboards are good for is a small investment before you take the plunge on getting piano lessons. Buy it for your child as a toy and then watch. Do they use it often? Do they try to pick out their favorite tunes? Do they get friends and relatives who learn the piano to teach them things? The keyboard can be a good barometer of whether your child is interested enough in the piano for you to look at a better solution.

Summary – Talk to your Piano Teacher

Traditional Piano Digital Piano Keyboard
Full size (88 keys) Yes Mostly Yes Mostly No
Good piece of furniture Yes Debatable No
Portability Removalist needed Can be moved by two people Fully portable
Maintenance Tuning needed yearly Minimal Minimal
Cost Moderate to High Moderate Low
Can be used for exams Yes Some – please check No

It is worthwhile to check with your piano teacher before you make a decision, as your piano teacher will have their own opinions regarding your purchase! I hope that this article has been of some use to you.

Ellen Harle

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Guitar Lessons for Young Beginners

Do you have a primary school aged child expressing an interest in having guitar lessons? Are you at a loss to know where to start in finding them a guitar teacher? Here are a few points to keep in mind that will help to guide you through, and keep your child motivated and achieving for many years to come.

Choosing a Guitar

There are three basic types of guitar available to you – the six-string acoustic guitar, the twelve-string acoustic guitar, and the electric guitar. The six-string guitar can be used in a variety of styles including classical guitar, flamenco guitar, pop guitar and basic chord strumming in a rhythm and blues guitar style. The twelve-string guitar is mostly used for rhythm and blues chord playing, and the electric guitar is used for rock and solo playing. Your child may have strong opinions on what style of music they wish to play, or maybe of what type of guitar they want you to buy them. Some students this age have not yet thought beyond wanting to play “guitar” and that is fine, too.

Twelve-string guitars are very hard for young fingers to play, and do not make a good guitar for a first year of learning. Your guitar teacher will agree that it is best to wait until little fingers gain some strength before moving to a twelve-string guitar.

Electric guitars are easy to play with regards to finger strength, and if your child is showing a particular inclination to play electric guitar as opposed to any other style, this is probably the best choice. One thing to keep in mind is the size of the instrument – electric guitars don’t usually come in small sizes. If your child can easily get their hands around a full size guitar, all is well. If not, and it is too large for them, it can cause problems ranging from it being too difficult to play leading to lack of interest, through to muscular problems in students practising for too long on an oversized guitar. Some brands do offer smaller instruments – Ashton Music, Australia has a ¾ sized Joey guitar available from Music Junction in Brisbane. Older students may also decide to swap from electric guitar to bass guitar at a later stage.

For general guitar lessons, a six-string acoustic guitar is a great way to start – they can be found as small as ¼ size for very young players. They also open up doors to the greatest range of styles for those students who have not yet decided on an area of specialisation.

First Guitar Lessons for Young Beginners

Your child’s first guitar lessons should be about opening doors to musical styles, not closing them. Therefore, it is important to make sure you choose a teacher who is fluent in a number of guitar styles. A good grounding in the first year of guitar lessons should teach students to play and read a number of styles.

  • Music Notation. The ability to read the treble clef is essential for learning classical styles, and as a foundation for many other musical interests your child may develop.
  • Chords are equally as important and give students an opportunity to play with friends and family – the social importance of music is often underestimated!
  • Tablature (TAB) is the language of modern guitar, and students should be able to read TAB as it will mean they are able to be more self-directed in their later learning.
  • Apoyanda style guitar playing, or finger plucking as opposed to chords will help develop co-ordination and will continue into classical and flamenco styles, and if they later change to electric guitar into lead guitar style.

A half-hour guitar lesson should be enough time to get through a little of everything, and a good guitar teacher will make sure that students are learning important skills through music that they love!

Don’t forget that musical development, especially with regards to reading music notation, is significantly linked to a child’s development in other areas, and often the younger a child is, the slower their progress, so be patient!

Practice – to push or not to push?

As you are probably aware, practice is an indispensable part of any student’s routine. Some students will naturally practice in a mature fashion from the very outset, all under their own steam – lucky parents and lucky teachers! For the other 99.9%, practice does not come naturally, and for some families it can become quite a battle. For your child’s sake, please remind them to practice, as many of them have a problem remembering what is expected of them. Set goals in consultation with your guitar teacher, and try to stick to them. One of the reasons it is so important for students to practice is that their sense of worth as relates to playing the guitar is strongly linked to their sense of achievement. So set goals, and start small! Your guitar teacher will help with this.

I hope that this article has been of some use to you. If you have any questions or comments, please contact me.

Ellen Harle

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