PIANO LESSON BASICS
The piano is recognized in the world of music as the Mother of all Instruments. Whether or not your primary instrument is the piano, it is considered an essential foundation for developing musical skills. Not only is it a joy to play the piano, but there are hundreds of studies published around the world that support our intuition that music is generally good for your mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing. Whether or not you are starting piano lessons for the first time, or want to introduce piano to your child, it’s a good idea to find yourself an experienced teacher, ideally with a background in performance. (You’d be surprised at how many “piano teachers” can’t actually play piano).
WHO NEEDS LESSONS?!
In order to reach your full potential, private piano lessons are highly recommended, children and adults alike. Over the years, I’ve met many self-taught adult pianists, all of which eventually hit a plateau, usually sooner than later. In most all cases, they have also developed bad habits, which attribute to their inability to advance. There are certainly plenty of books and videos to help you learn, but you need a teacher to identify weaknesses and help develop learning skills. For children, I recommend starting private lessons when they are mature enough to sit and take instructions for 30 minutes, which is typically around 6 years of age.
“PLAYING” THE PIANO
Have you heard this one? A man asked his cab driver: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The cabby replies “Practice, practice, practice!” Few will ever have the opportunity and privilege of performing in such a prestigious concert hall, but even fewer ever will, or want to, for that matter. Adults and children alike do much better when they’re enjoying the learning process and having fun playing the piano (I prefer to refer to “practicing” as “playing”). I believe that positive reinforcement, motivation and inspiration all work hand in hand to provide a sustaining interest in learning. To keep things interesting, I introduce my students to a variety of musical styles, and allowing them to bring any music they would like to learn, provided that they also study essential learning material. The reality is that the more you play the piano the more you’ll improve. The teacher is simply a tool for learning.
So many adults have said to me “I’ve always wanted to play the piano.” And I respond, “What are you waiting for?” It’s never too late to start (or re-start) piano lessons. More than half of my students are adults.
Weekly or bi-weekly lessons are best for the student. The more time between lessons, the better chance of developing bad habits or mistakes, which can take longer to correct, and that can be quite discouraging.
PIANO OR KEYBOARD?
If you are struggling with the decision to purchase a piano or digital piano ("electric keyboard"), there are a few things to consider. Kids may find keyboards to be more interesting than a piano because of the many sounds it can make and the recording capability. You will also appreciate that keyboards to not require tuning (ever!). I personally prefer the piano for feel and sound, and it’s much better for building and maintaining correct technique (though the latter applies to intermediate-advanced players). Also, the dynamic range is much great on a piano (soft to loud).
I always say that a good keyboard (such as a Yamaha Clavinova) is better than an inexpensive piano. A good, used Yamaha piano (model U1 or U3) would also be a very good choice. Children under the age of 6 may struggle a little with the weight and size of the keys particularly with a piano, so it's also a good idea to have a smaller, non-weighted keyboard / synthesizer (i.e. Yamaha PSR Series). At this age, inspiration and a good teacher that can motivate them and keep it fun are key (no pun intended :)
FINDING A GOOD TEACHER
A referral from a friend or music store is often the best way to find the best teacher. If your child is under the age of 6 and you would like to get him / her started in music, I recommend that you enroll them in fun, mommy and me group lessons, where they will teach the very basics of music through play. You and your child will both enjoy the experience, and it will prepare the student for private lessons.
The best age to start private lessons for boys or girls is when they are interested and capable of sitting for about twenty minutes at the piano with a teacher, which is generally between the ages of 6-8. It is my experience that girls are ready earlier than boys, but not always.
My personal choices and recommendations:
Many years ago while visiting the NAMM Show in Anaheim, California, I spent the better part of a day walking around and playing nearly every grand piano I saw. One stood out of the crowd, and I had to have one for myself! It was a brand I knew very little about, despite it's prestigious and rich history. The manufacturer was Bösendorfer, a product of Austria. It's a bit pricey, but the sound and build quality is outstanding!
In 9 out of 10 recording studios and concert halls, you'll find a Yamaha grand piano. Concert grand pianos are superb, handbuilt instruments. Their grand pianos are a great value with superior sound and build quality, and high resell value, while smaller Yamaha pianos (including uprights) are generally better than most brands. I was endorsed by Yamaha many years and performed concerts and recorded most of my records on a Yamaha grand piano. Yamaha purchased Bösendorfer a few years ago, and they have managed to improve the over-all performance of Yamaha's as a result. Models manufacture in Japan are the best ones.
I was introduced to Schimmel pianos by a friend of mine who managed a local piano store. I was blown away by the build quality and details from this German brand. If you want something a little more stylish and unique, this is a great choice!
There are many other fine instrument manufacturers, from the outrageous and limited Fazioli grand pianos, to the lesser known Shigeru Kawai. At one point in my career, Sauter grand pianos wanted to produce an "Alan Roubik Edition" model. A fine instrument, and I would have loved to own one. But I ended up accepting an endorsement from Bösendorfer instead.
- Bösendorfer Grand Piano, Johann Strauss model - First edition, built in the 1850's, this piano is the best sounding piano I've ever played, but also the most difficult physically (like an old typewriter).
- Kimball Baby Grand - My first piano, which I still enjoy playing despite having worn out most of the internal parts.
- Yamaha U3 Upright - I enjoy the sounds and feel of this particular model more than any other model or brand upright. These are often the pianos they have in concert hall orchestra pits.
- Yamaha U1 Upright - The ideal choice for a home, not too big or too loud.
- Yamaha C7 - Promises, Keys To My Heart, CD2000, The Four Seasons.
- Yamaha C9 - Germany and the Secret Genocide film score and theme song.
- Bösendorfer Imperial - Various projects, including live performances.