Once upon a time things were different – at least in the area of music education and music enrichment for children. Back in the day, a music education for a young person was a very serious matter and the student was expected to take it seriously. Teachers would interview students to make sure that they were worthy of the teacher’s valuable time. A month or more would be spent just learning how to approach the instrument (you hold the bow like this, you hold your hands like this at the piano, you hold your horn like this). Forget learning any songs at first. Scales were the thing and eventually sight reading of course. Note values (duration and pitch) were sometimes tenaciously drilled before the child was ever allowed to touch the instrument. Improvisation was strictly off limits until the child was old enough to vote. Obviously, this was before Shin’ichi Suzuki came on the scene.
Wouldn’t it be great if every child had the burning desire to play music? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your son or daughter had tenacity in practicing, wasn’t intimidated by learning a new skill, was never distracted by all of the myriad of other attractions and entertainments that beg for attention, didn’t have other commitments that interfered with practice and never, ever became discouraged? These are some of those horse wishes that I think we can lump in with winning the lottery, becoming the heir of a long-lost rich uncle and having our family come into our room and sing a lovely hymn to our greatness as a spouse and parent. Right, that will happen. It seems like a truism that nothing worth having or achieving is ever brought into our life without some effort or investment. Likewise, having children who become adept at making music does require some work on the part of the child and the parent. The good news is that, unlike that unknown rich uncle dying and leaving us a fortune, having children that love music and will practice without a court order is definitely doable. Here are a few ideas:
How many times have we heard the phrase “A great gift idea.”? This is a tag line that warms the heart of every retailer and every suit on Madison Ave. If we are honest many of these great gifts we were talked into buying wind up stuffed in a drawer somewhere and eventually land in a land fill. What are the goals for these great gifts? Yes, there are the rather selfish aims of making someone like you or easing your conscious because, after all, they gave YOU a nice gift on YOUR birthday and you don’t want to seem like a complete Scrooge, but the ultimate aim is usually to make someone happy or improve their life to some small extent. What if you could give a gift that could make a DRAMATIC – HUGE – MONUMENTAL change in someone’s life? What if you could change their life for the better in just about every way possible? Here are the benefits:
Just a quick note before the post. I taught Portland Piano Company’s first live “How to REALLY buy a piano” seminar at the shop this last Saturday with the help of our institutional rep. Bill Lewis. I think things went quite well and the plan is to hold one of these periodically whenever the interest is there. If you would like to be dropped an email when the next one is available please contact the shop.
In this installment (check out previous installments here: part 1, part 2) I want to give you some practical tips and checks that you can use in your piano purchasing quest. I’ll try to keep this not overly technical but the geekish among you can dig deeper or contact us with your questions.
First, let’s have a reality check. If you are looking at a new piano or a used piano that is 15 years old or less in good condition and it is from a well respected builder it is probably functionally okay. Modern pianos are typically free of major problems like slipping pin blocks or cracked soundboards that plagued instruments from the early 20th century. Issues can happen but they are not common. You should still sit down and try the action and listen to the over-all sound quality and see if you find it pleasing. That should be a no-brainer but you would be surprised how many people are reluctant to play in front of a piano salesperson. Read more
When I was working full-time in the showrooms of piano shops I would tend to use analogies a lot. I found that for most people buying a piano is typically a once or maybe twice in a lifetime event for the buyer. That being the case, most people know very little about buying a piano but they do know more about buying other things. I would use the analogy of buying a car or small truck since most of us have done that a number of times. Not all cars are the same and what would be good fit for one person might not be good for the next. A big pickup would be illogical for most big-city urbanites and a sub-compact would be equally impractical for farm use. It is the same situation when you are looking for a piano. Some people want something big that has a powerful sound. Sometimes people want something small that won’t overpower a room. Most people have at least a general idea of what type of instrument that they are looking for when they come in but some do not. Here are some questions to ask:
There is nothing quite like a good piano to fill a home with beautiful music. The piano is called the king of instruments for good reason. I don’t think that I have ever known a really top-level musician who did not have some keyboard skills, no matter if they played guitar, violin, trumpet, bass or even drums! The 88 note piano is the foundation of western music. Because of the graphic nature of the keyboard – black and white keys – it is easier to teach music theory on a keyboard than any other instrument. It is also the easiest instrument on which to arrange and compose orchestral music.
But, when it comes to buying a piano, how do you choose the right piano? I have a lot of experience with this. I not only play piano but I’ve worked in six music stores including two piano stores and I am a part time piano appraiser. It would probably be arrogant for me to say you should take what I say as Gospel but, well, yeah you probably should.
I came across this article in “Psychology Today” the other day and it made me wonder just how many stories similar to this one are out there? Clearly, the woman who wrote this article had extraordinary obstacles to overcome and piano lessons were very beneficial for her to say the least. But for the rest of us, what are the far reaching benefits of piano lessons? And, does anyone who’s had the opportunity to take lessons ever stop and think what their life would have been like without them? There are literally hundreds of articles on the internet discussing music and the brain, music for coordination and spatial reasoning, music benefits for seniors, early music lessons boosting brain development and the list goes on and on… But, does something as basic as learning to play the piano really have an impact on our lives beyond brain function? Do piano lessons improve our quality of life? I say yes!
Safeguard the investment you’ve made in a fine piano by taking the following steps:
- When you’re not playing your piano, it is best to close the fallboard and protect it with a slipcover.
- When cleaning your piano, take care to only use a dampened, soft cotton cloth or soft brush to wipe the surface.
- Before playing the piano, wash your hands. Hand oils may contain acids that are harmful to piano surfaces. Clean the keyboard regularly, wipe along the direction of the keys.
- If stains occur, use mild soap and water with a soft cloth. Be sure to wring out excess water before cleaning.
- It will be necessary from time to time to clean the inside of your piano. This should only be done by a qualified tuner technician. If you need help finding a technician, please contact Portland Piano Company’s technical service department and they will be happy to help you find a local tuner technician.
- If you’re not planning to play your piano for long periods of time, cover it. Even if you’re not playing your piano, to protect your investment, you will still need to tune it once or twice a year depending on location and climatic conditions.
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Portland, OR 97220