A Piano for Christmas?

My good friend and colleague Susan Blanchard Shaw put together this post for her students. She was doing research in her area in order to help guide her student’s parents in their selection of a piano.

I liked the post so much I asked her if I could repost it here for all of you, and she said yes. Thank you, Susan!

 

A Piano for Christmas?

Around this time of year, many people consider getting a keyboard for someone as a gift or upgrading from the one they have. If you are considering buying a keyboard ( versus an acoustic piano) please consider the following:

* The better the instrument, the better the progress. A student playing on an inexpensive keyboard with less than 88 Keys will not fare as well as one who has the full range of notes to play.

* Is the keyboard touch sensitive and does it have weighted keys? Most inexpensive keyboards do not. The keys are not weighted and thus do not give a real piano feel. This can lead to improper technique and frustration on the student’s part. A weighted keyboard will feel more like a real piano and will help the student be able to play with dynamic shading.

* Is the keyboard on a steady stand at the proper height? This is vital to proper technique. Students who sit too low, too high can develop issues with muscle tension. This could lead to tendinitis or worse. The student should be able to sit with their arms perfectly parallel to the keys.

* How does it sound? An inexpensive keyboard sounds like it. There is no depth of sound, no real piano feel or sound.

* What kind of pedal does it have? After the first year of lessons, pedal technique is usually introduced. A cheap square plastic pedal will not give the desired results and usually skates across the floor.

* How many notes of polyphony are there? Without getting into too much detail, the higher the number, the better. If you are going to play fast, advanced music, notes will blip or clip out on lower than 64 note polyphony. Imagine playing a piece and half the notes are silent. Then again, if you are an advanced player I suggest an acoustic piano.

So which keyboards are preferred? There are many keyboards in all prices ranges, with 88 weighted keys, solid stand, bench, and pedal. Here are my recommendations:

Yamaha P45- not as good as I thought for the money. $499 with a base. To get the good base and pedal would be an additional $150.

Casio Privia PX160. I liked this a lot. Great feel and sound, not a lot of bells and whistles. $499 for just the keyboard. But a site called kraftmusic.com has a bundle that includes the furniture type stand, triple pedal board, bench and headphones for 599.99 with free shipping.

Casio Privia PX 350. Above the 160. More bells and whistles. Better piano sound. Same feel as the 160. Piano only $599. With furniture stand, triple pedal board, nice bench with storage, dust cover and headphones. Kraftmusic.com. Has the best price at $879.

Now that is pricey. Once you get up there you may want to look at acoustic pianos.

Next up Yamaha DGX 660. Lots of bells and whistles including the ability to record. $799 at kraft music includes furniture stand, bench, headphones and a single ( not triple) pedal.

There are of course more expensive digital pianos out there ( Yamaha Clavinova).

If you are in the market for an acoustic I can do some research as well. A good acoustic will last 100 years if well maintained and will not lose value. There are quite a few nice ones on Craigslist. Anywhere from $350 on up

I would avoid the Williams pianos. The touch is very stiff and the sound is not great. I had to play one for a show and by
The end my hands were hurting.

KRAFTMUSIC.COM

How to Tell Your Piano Teacher Goodbye

 

I am the last person who wants anyone to quit piano lessons…ever! But I am the first one to admit it happens. Maybe your child just isn’t into it anymore, and you’re tired of fighting with her about practicing. Perhaps your schedule is overloaded and something has got to give. A job loss or financial setback may also cause you to feel as though you have to stop lessons. It could be that you want to continue lessons but you think it’s time for a new teacher.

How Piano Teachers Think

OK, I am not a psychic. I don’t know exactly how or what every teacher thinks but I know enough teachers personally to tell you that we hate it when a student leaves. Yes, business is Business but piano teaching is more than that for most of us. Speaking for myself I try not to. take it personally but it still feels “icky” especially if I have been working with your child for a while. If you have carefully considered all of the options and have decided it’s time for a change there are some ways to make the situation a little easier.

Continue reading

Why do We Need a Piano and What Type Should We Get?

Students need a piano because they need to be able to practice at home. Learning to play any musical instrument is a big undertaking that depends upon regular lessons and daily practice. It takes practice to understand musical concepts and to acquire the coordination and motor skills it takes to become a pianist.

What Should We Get?

There are basically two types of pianos Acoustic and Digital. First, let’s look at Acoustic Pianos.

Acoustic Pianos are made of wood and have steel strings. An acoustic piano a great choice if you have space in your home to accommodate one and if you can afford it. Concert artists always play on fine acoustic pianos and almost all pianists prefer them. Acoustic pianos need periodic tuning, however, this is a minimal expense. If carefully chosen and properly cared for an acoustic piano is an investment that will last a lifetime.

Continue reading

The Five Piece Summer Piano Practice Challenge

I insist that my students take lessons and practice over the summer because students who study and practice over the summer turn out to be the most successful students. Summer is a time when students can devote more time to the piano without the pressures of school and homework. In my many years of teaching, (I stopped counting after 30) I have seen that students who continue piano study throughout the year stick with piano longer and play better than those that take breaks from playing.

One of the ways I keep my students motivated to practice, is to institute a “Summer Piano Practice Challenge”. While summer is traditionally a time when advanced students tackle Sonatas and longer repertoire, I ask my beginning and intermediate student to try to learn five fun, short pieces. Continue reading

Seven Ways to Establish Good Piano Practice Habits

No one learns to play the piano without practicing: it simply can’t be done. A thirty or even sixty-minute lesson once per week just won’t cut it. Students need to practice at home. Musical concepts take time to grasp and the body movement required to play must be carefully repeated on a consistent basis in order to develop the strength and coordination it takes to play the piano.

I am often asked by parents how much practicing their child should be doing. For my youngest preschool students, I recommend five to ten minutes a day. As a student grows older and becomes more advanced, the length of practice time will gradually increase. Ideally, practicing would take place each and every day. While I know that sticking to a strict practice regimen is a real challenge for many of my students, I recommend that they try to come as close to this as possible.

Seven Ways to Establish Good Piano Practice Habits.

Continue reading

Music Reading is Fundamental

When I was a little kid growing up in New York there was a TV campaign running called RIF. A little character would interrupt our Saturday morning Cartoons to remind us that “Reading is Fundamental”. Looking back, I’m pretty sure the NEA or some other teacher related group was conspiring to get us to turn off the television and do more reading. I didn’t think much about it at the time I was busy with Bugs and Elmer Fudd. Luckily my mother made me go to school and learn how to read. And that was a good thing, because you know what? Reading really is fundamental.

Reading opens the mind in ways that that would take volumes to express. Most importantly, reading allows the reader to gather and interpret information for himself. In this way, he becomes an independent reasoning human being.

Music Reading is Fundamental

Music reading for the aspiring musician is fundamental too. Can you learn to play music without reading music? Certainly, but you are going to be severely limited. Just like you would in school without language reading.

Continue reading

When to Hold Off on Piano Lessons

When to Hold Off on Piano Lessons

What! A post on when not to take piano lessons? If you been following me for a while you know that I think that music education is the best thing ever for people! Especially piano education. There are hundreds of reasons to take up the piano, it’s awesome! Ninety eight percent of students start piano and do just fine, however there are times when when I recommend that parents hold off on piano lessons. Continue reading

Robert and Clara Schumann

Robert and Clara Schumann

Romance in the Romantic Period

Robert Schumann is considered a first rate composer. In addition to piano music he wrote music for; chamber ensemble, symphony orchestra, choral music, many songs for piano and voice and even an opera. Schumann’s “Album for the Young” contains some of the most beautifully written music for young pianists! All of my early intermediate level students learn selections from this great work. Schumann’s inspiration for the for the pieces in his “Album for the Young” came from watching his own 8 children play and grow. Since this work is such a treasure for both piano students and piano teachers I thought it would be interesting to learn about Robert Schumann and his very musical wife Clara Wieck Schumann. Continue reading

10 Things You Might Not Think of That Will Make Your Piano Really Teacher Happy

The number one goal for piano teachers, parents and students should be to give students the lifelong gift of being able to play the piano. Assuming that you have found a piano teacher that you really like for your child, a teacher you trust and respect, there are some unusual things you can do to help make the family-teacher relationship a great and long lasting one. Here are 10 things you might not think of that will make your piano teacher really happy. Continue reading

The Invasion of the Piano Snatchers

alienigenas_80088 key imposters are taking over piano studios and homes all over the world. They look like pianos, they sound strangely “pianoesque”. They are cheaper, lighter, never need tuning. They are brought to life by bolts of electricity. Open one up and you will see a maze of wires and circuits. These musical aliens are everywhere and the scariest fact of all is that no one seems to know the difference! Almost no one, that is. Continue reading

100 Year Old Pianist Irving Fields

What would you like to do if you live to 99 years old? Irving Fields is almost a century young and he is still playing piano! As a seasoned New Yorker, Irving has played piano for more than 90 years. He has performed all around the world, including the Taj Mahal, Imperial Hotel in Tokyo and the Copacobana in New York City among many others. He has also performed on the Ed Sullivan Show, the Jackie Gleason show, and ABC’s The View! Check out this video featuring Irving as he tells us what he loves most about doing what he loves most. Published in 2014

 

10 Ways to Help Your Child Succeed at the Piano

shutterstock_17243083Hearing your child play music is one of the most wonderful sounds in the world! Imagine your son or daughter sitting down at the piano and playing beautifully. Classical music, Jazz, music for holidays and celebrations. Envision you child really playing, really enjoying the piano for a lifetime. What better gift could you give? Here are 10 ways to make that dream come true. Continue reading

Piano Lessons? Go Ahead, You Know You Want To!

boy playing pianoSchool is starting and you may be thinking of signing your child up for piano lessons. Maybe you play yourself and you know how awesome it is or maybe you don’t but you would love for your child to learn. There are many great reasons for your child to learn to play but there may be some things that are holding you back. Let’s take a look at those reservations one by one and how to overcome them, so you can feel comfortable and enroll your child in piano lessons. Continue reading

Bach Dynasty

Bach_family_morning_Rosenthal
The Bach Family

If you ave ever studied the piano for any length of time, chances are you’ve played music composed by Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach was born on March 21, 1685 in Eisenach, Germany smack-dab in the middle of a supremely musical family! In fact, the Bach family boasts over 50 known musicians and several notable composers. There were so many musical Bachs that in the town of Efurt, all musicians were called “Bachs” (which I guess would make me a “Bach” too). Continue reading

Teachers, Parents and Studio Policies

rule_book1

Studio Policy- An annoying list of rules and expectations that a piano teacher would rather not bother with, usually presented as quickly as possible at the start of lessons, which students and parents may or may not be asked to sign and may or may not adhere to depending on how forcefully the teacher enforces said rules and expectations. The official Studio Policy is often printed on disappearing paper or featured on an obscure page of a Studio website. Either way, nobody likes them. Continue reading

10 Ways to Tell When Your Child is Not Really Practicing the Piano

Before we begin the count-down, let me set a little scene. I am a piano teacher mom so we have a studio in our home. It’s a room that has my Kawai baby grand piano and all of my other music stuff. It’s where I teach all of my students. My boys also like to “practice” in the studio. Which works out just fine. I have always encouraged my boys to practice their instruments. Continue reading

Mozart’s Sister

Maria_Anna_Mozart_(Lange)
Maria Anna (Nannerl) Mozart

Most of us have heard of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1795) child prodigy, master performer and composer of over 600 works. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is considered by many to be the greatest musical genius that has ever lived! But there was at least one other musical genius in the Mozart family. Her name was Maria Anna Walburger Ignatia Mozart but she was know by her nick-name Nannerl.

Nannerl Mozart was Wolfgang’s older sister. Many music historians believe that Nannerl was every bit as talented as her younger brother. As children they toured Europe their father Leopold amazing audiences with their talent. Leopold described Nannerl as: “one of the most skillful players in Europe”. Nannerl and Wolfgang both studied music with their father and spent their childhood immersed in music. So what happened to Nannerl?

Maria Anna Walburger Ignatia Mozart (Nannerl) was born on July 30, 1751 in Salzburg Austria. She and her brother Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart were the only two surviving children of the seven children born to their parents Anna Maria and Leopold. Nannerl began harpsichord lessons with her father around the age of eight years old. We know that both Wolfgang and Nannerl were extremely gifted players people called them “wunderkinder” which means “wonder children.

images

In addition to being a brilliant musical genius we can surmise that Nannerl was a hard working and very strong person. She practiced hard and maintained a demanding concert schedule traveling from Paris to Vienna. That might not seem like much today but back in the 1700’s transportation meant riding in horse and carriage, a slow and uncomfortable way to go. As a child Nannerl also survived smallpox, typhus, and almost died of bronchitis.

Nannerl continued performing until the age of 18 when she was left behind and no longer allowed to continue with her musical performances. At that time it was considered acceptable for female children to play in public, but public performance was considered a distasteful endeavor for grown women. Composing music was also a taboo for women at that time. So Nannerl’s musical career was ended before it had a chance to really begin.

We know from letters and writings that Nannerl and Wolfgang were very close. We also know that she did write at least one song. In al letter the younger Mozart wrote, “I am amazed, I had no idea you were capable of composing in such a gracious way! In a word your lied is beautiful. I beg you to try to do these things more often.”

Nannerl’s father Leopold was very controlling. Wolfgang stood up to him but Nannerl did not. She fell in love with Franz D’lppold, a captain and private tutor but her father did not allow her to marry him. She later married a magistrate named Johann Baptist Franz von Berentold zu Sonnenberg who had 5 children from his two previous marriages. Together Nannerl and Johann had 3 children. Nannerl named her eldest son after her father. She allowed her father to take him and raise him for the early years of his life. This continued until the older Leopold’s death in 1787. Some people think that the grandfather Leopold may have been trying to turn his grandson into the next great Mozart genius.

In addition to all of her other troubles Nannerl lost her beloved brother Wolfgang in 1791 when he was only 35 years old. I can only imagine that this was a devastating loss for her. She spent her later years teaching music lessons and eventually became blind. She died on October 24, 1829.

No one knows what became of the lied Wolfgang spoke of in his quote,or if Nannerl wrote any other music. Some people like to imagine that she may have written music and that her famous brother presented it as his own but there is no evidence to support this theory.

Things have certainly come along way since Nannerl’s day. In most places women today have many choices about what they would like to do. We can only imagine how much more beautiful Mozart music the world would have if Nannerl would have had the opportunity to become a composer like her brother.

98 Year Old Piano Player

How amazing is this?

Country music performer, Josh Turner, was having a good time during his performance at the Grand Ole Opry this past February.

But what he would announce as the feature act was yet to come. The pride of Hannah, South Carolina, surprised the audience by introducing his 98-year-old grandmother-in-law Lois Cunningham.

This proves that piano lessons are a gift  that lasts a lifetime.

 

Lang Lang Plays “La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin”

“La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin” is a piece written by the French composer Claude Debussy.  1862-1918 “The name means The Girl With the Flaxen Hair” It is a piece that many of my students have played. Practice hard and you will one day play it too.

220px-Lang_Lang_-_World_Economic_Forum_Annual_Meeting_2010_Davos_cropped

Lang Lang was born in Shenyang, Liaoning, China. At the age of two, Lang watched the Tom and Jerry episode The Cat Concerto which features the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Franz Liszt. According to Lang, this first contact with Western music is what motivated him to learn the piano.He began piano lessons with Professor Zhu Ya-Fen at age three. At the age of five, he won first place at the Shenyang Piano Competition and performed his first public recital.

It wasn’t at all easy for this piano great. He was made to practice for hours and hours each day. At the age of nine his teacher stopped teaching him stating that he lacked talent!

Lang Lang did not quit playing and today he is considered the world’s top pianist. He has played concerts all over the world. He has even played at the White House. Lang Lang is considered a piano “virtuoso” which means he can play any piece of music. He is amazing to listen to and to  watch.

Students, we can all learn so much from Lang Lang:

First of all, NEVER QUIT! Believe in yourself. Don’t listen to negative people.

Secondly, PRACTICE HARD! If you don’t practice you will never play well. Piano playing is like a perfect equation, what you put into it is exactly what you will get out of it..

PLAY MUSICALLY! It matters how you sound when you play but it also matters how you look. Are you enjoying playing? When you are well prepared and put your heart into your playing it will show. Just look at Lang Lang play, beautiful!