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Frequently Asked Questions (F.A.Q.)

I. Advice for Parents
II. Training the Mind for Musical Success
III. Before Buying a Piano


I. Advice for Parents

Q. How can I help my child to practice?

 

A. For older kids, sitting down with them and understanding their musical goals is important. In that way, the parents and child can create a schedule, as recommeneded by the teacher, that allows the child sufficient practice time to meet those goals while balancing other activities in school, sports and life. For younger kids, it's the job of parents to introduce the child to the beauty and benefit of cultured and artistic pursuits. Set a daily schedulel and be involved in their practice. Give them lifetime talent and your children will thank you for the rest of their lives. Show them that music is fun and important. Music is not something you 'do'. A musician is something you 'are'.

 

Q. How young can I begin my child in piano lessons - 3 yrs, 4 yrs, 5 yrs old?

 

A. It depends on the child's ability to concentrate, finger coordination, physical and emotional maturity, as well as his/her natural interest in music. Most of our youngest students begin between age 4 and 5; although at Piano4Life we have had students begin around 3.5 years who did very well, sometimes waiting a little longer is the best choice. In the meanwhile, introduce your child to the music of Chopin, Beethoven, Schumann, Bach, Rachmaninoff, Mozart, Grieg, Schubert, Brahms, Liszt and other great composers. Consider teaching your two- or three-year-old a second or third language. Limit/eliminate all television and computer games and also ensure your child has a healthy, natural diet without artificial ingredients, added sugar or chemicals. This is important for developing a healthy mind. Soon, your son or daughter will be ready for the piano!

 

Q. My child can't sight-read and is frustrated when his teacher just says to practice more. What can I do?

 

A. What you have described is not unusual. Many students came to Piano4Life with 1, 2, 3, or 4 years of other music lessons and were still beginners schooled in poor technique by teachers using a 'cookie-cutter' curriculum that left them with virtually no knowledge of music grammar. Then, the teacher pressures the students to play well for a recital. The students began to hate music. It is the result of bad teaching. What if an art teacher admonished you to "draw harder" but didn't teach you how to draw? It's important to find a great teacher before the student starts to think he/she is not talented.

 

Q. Is it too late to help a child who has been taught poorly?

 

A. It's never too late. Learning music and how to play the piano is not difficult. When a child sees that he/she is really learning, it becomes a fascinating source of confidence and pride. The piano is exciting. If you want to be learning more, regular daily practice and great teaching is all it takes. Your choice of a music teacher will make the difference between years of fruitless lessons or the joy of mastering the piano for life.

 

Q. What can I do if my child is overly interested in computer games, talking on the phone, chatting and television.

 

A. Playing the piano is fun, but if a child has been conditioned from an early age to the frenetic pace and over-stimulation of computer games, compulsions and even dangerous addictions to those games can develop. As parents, we can only blame ourselves if we're the ones who've created these conditions. As unusual as it might sound, some families have 'unplugged' the television and game console and report a quieter, more productive home life as a result. Ask yourself, "Do they really need yet another crash-and-bang video game? Is that nourishing the mind and spirit?" Why not present them a collection of Beethoven or Brahms or Chopin music?

 

Q. Are you suggesting I throw away my television?

 

A. If setting the TV and game console by the curb next Monday morning is too extreme for your tastes, try limiting computer games/chat/phone/television to less than or equal to the total time spent practicing piano each week. An interesting result is that as the child begins to see his/her musical talent grow, the child becomes less interested in 'empty' activities such as computer games.

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II. Training the Mind for Musical Success

Q. My child doesn't like classical music. Is that normal?

 

A. The brain develops in response to its environment. It is very important to expose your child early and regularly to great music by the classical masters. If the only music a child hears is pop music, he/she will find it harder to understand music theory and to appreciate the complexities, beauty and nuances of music. Studies have indicated that is it harmful to the development of a child's brain to expose the child to heavily rhythmic music such as rap, techno and much pop music. Be mindful of the axiom, "Garbage In, Garbage Out." Food sustains and nurishes the body; music and art must be choosen to sustain and nourish the spirit. Here is more information about the effect of music on children while in the womb through the teenage years, http://www.sound-remedies.com/musforbabmus.html

 

Q. Is pop music OK?

 

A. Parents should not allow violent, hateful, explicit, debased or hypnotic music as those can damage a child. Much pop music, however, is enjoyable as entertainment when taken in measure and as part of a balanced musical diet. But a serious piano student must understand, appreciate and be familiar with the vocabulary and repertoire of the piano. It's an educational process that gradually opens the doors of the soul to higher realms. Listen to a concerto or sonata by Beethoven, Liszt, Chopin, Grieg or Rachmaninoff and then compare that to pop songs and you'll soon appreciate the difference.

 

Q. Is listening to classical music necessary if my child already listens to pop keyboard music?

 

A. Some pop music is entertaining in measure, but Chopin has much more to offer the serious piano student in the way of advancing that student's education. An analogy is that 'Harry Potter' might be a fun read for some people, but you'll do much more for your development as a writer by reading Dostoyevsky, Cervantes, Fitzgerald and Homer. Then, you can go on to write your own billion-dollar pop serial.

 

Q. Any other tips to help my child?

 

A. Yes, parents, turn off the 'Wiggles', 'Disney' songs, 'Hanna', 'Justin' and 'Jonas' and turn on Beethoven. Expose your kids early to great music, great art and great literature and their minds will grow accordingly. Guard your children against the overt commercialism and sexualization in today's media and culture. A musician plays using his/her mind and soul more than his fingers. The development of one's mental, aesthetic and spiritual faculties is paramount for a pianist.

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III. Before Buying a Piano

Q. Must I buy or rent a piano as soon I begin lessons?

 

A. Great question. If you go to a used piano store, you'll see many pianos that were purchased by parents for their children who were taking lessons, only for the parents to find out that their children lost interest in music. If you're not sure if your child will enjoy piano studies, it is perfectly fine and prudent to begin with a simple 61-key tabletop keyboard. You'll find them at many retails outlets for around $100-$150. However, after a few months you'll know if your dear child is really interested in music. If so, go ahead and invest in a real piano so he or she can continue to progress as a musician. There will be no progress as a pianist unless you are playing a real instrument of decent quailty, which is in tune, has good tuning stability and a well-functioning action. And yes, it is an invenstment of a non-trival sum of money.

A good piano will last several generations (your grandchildren will be able to enjoy it). A piano requires regular tuning at least twice a year, and as it ages it'll need additional maintenance and perhaps even parts replaced. Yes, it costs money to maintain a piano just as it costs money to maintain a car. Neglect your piano and it will become junky. To keep your piano happy, have it tuned at least twice a year. Also, keep your piano away from outside doors and windows, changes in temperature, direct sun and swings in humidity. In most climates, you'll want to install a humidity control system either on the piano itself or directly to your home heating/cooling system. Humidity control systems will increase the tuning stability of your piano and are are worth the little extra in price. Ask your technician and teacher about how to care for your piano. Unless you are a piano tuner or technician, don't attempt to tune a piano yourself.

 

Q. Should I get an electronic piano?

 

A. If you need a keyboard instrument for traveling, taking a full-sized electronic keyboard with weighted keys along on your vacation is a great way to maintain your practice schedule while away from home. Otherwise, no. An electronic instrument is an amazing piece of technology, but it is not a substitute for a piano. There's really no such thing as an 'electric piano' or 'digital piano'. Those are names given to synthesizers that mimic a piano but cannot rerplace one. You cannot progress much beyond a beginner's level in a piano curriculum playing an electronic facsimile. The human touch on piano keys and pedals can produce an infinite number of sounds and intensities and polyphonies. An electric instrument can only sample a small set of sounds and then reproduce them electronically - and inferiorly - in response to a few programmed pressures for each key.

 

Q. Why do kids quit the piano?

 

A. Think about this carefully before you buy a piano. Here is advice from Mr. Paul Brown, a piano technician in Vancouver, Canada. He wrote an article about why kids quit the piano. Below is an excerpt. The full article is at why-kids-quit-piano-lessons.

"...A customer brought a family piano from Asia. I was called in to work on it after a teacher gave me the referral... I was told that the children were keenly interested in playing, but that some of the notes were not sounding quite right. When I got there, I saw that the piano was a complete disaster! Tuning pins horribly loose, action parts wobbly. There was simply no way the piano could be played. It needed to be completely rebuilt (or thrown away)!

"Kids are astonishing at hearing good quality sound. Their hearing is highly developed. They are actually able to hear quite well when the piano is going out of tune. Kids advise their parents that 'the piano sounds funny'. Parents put off the tuning because of budgetary reasons or because they ignore the requests of their children. Kids start to lose interest and stop playing the piano entirely. It is a very sad situation. The parents are often neglectful in getting regular piano servicing. The kids quit piano and the parents don't understand why."

This is also why it is a BIG MISTAKE to buy a junky piano. Your children will hear a junky sound. Their hearing and musical ear will not develop correctly. The action will never allow them to develop an artistic touch on the keys. It is analogous to if a painter were forced to wear stained, cracked, dirty and colored lenses over his eyes. Please do not give your children a junky piano to play! Please do wait until you are sure your children really have an interest and talent for the piano and then purchase a QUAILTY piano... and keep it tuned.

 

Q. Where should I buy a piano?

 

A. We recommend buying from a dealer/store rather than a private party unless you know the piano already. With a dealer/store, you'll get a service contract or warrantee. Buying a used piano from an unknown private party is risky unless you have it inspected first (just like with a car). However, you might find a great deal from a private party; but to be safe, have a professional piano tuner/technician inspect it before buying. A pre-owned piano of a good brand, well-built and cared for, will save a lot of money over a new one.

Educate yourself before purchasing an expensive piano. Much will depend on your budget: Top brand, mid-brand, new, used, rebuilt... there are many factors to consider. A piano hobbyiest will have different requirements from his instrument than a professional or serious amateur. Don't over-buy for a new beginner. You can get a decent "starter" piano for a few thousand dollars. You can get the best in the world for much more. $2,000-$100,000 is the range. Quality and price are not necessarily linearly-related. There are some once well-regarded (but still expensive) brands that are rather low quality today (despite the marketing hype and sales pressure) and if you buy one of these you'll be over-paying for a weak instrument. There are also amazingly well-built instruments being manufactured today that offer the best in piano design and craftsmanship. You must educate yourself, understand your needs and goals, play many different pianos, and listen.

Experienced pianists will have personal preferences based on differences in the sound character and action/feel of different brands. Even when comparing the same model, much depends upon how the piano was prepped, tuned, regulated and voiced by the dealer. Here's a good resource, the "Piano Book", http://www.scribd.com/doc/52125549/2008-2009-Piano-Book-Supplement.

When the time comes to get a real piano, I'm happy to help my students purchase a piano that meets their budgets and needs. With a piano, it is all about quality. A low-quality piano (new or used) will become junk. A high-quality piano will be a joy to play over many decades and generations. Don't buy a piano with sticky keys. Don't buy a broken piano, period. Don't buy a suspect piano. Don't buy a 'fixer-upper'. Buy only a high-quality piano, preferably backed by a long warrantee from a reputable dealer.

You want to deal with a local shop that can provide great service. When you're sure you want a piano, buy the best quality that fits your budget. But if you are not sure about your commitment to the piano, then do not spend a small fortune on one. Start with a good quality used instrument and see what your needs, goals and abilities really are. Many people will do just fine with a so-called entry-level piano. Others require a world-class instrument. It really depends on how you will use it and the ability and goals of the pianist.

This is another website with advice on other brands and what to look for, http://users.datarealm.com/marbeth/piano_brands.html.

 

Q. Should I get an upright, grand or baby grand piano?

 

A. That depends on the size of the room it will go into and also your budget. Upright pianos are generally less expensive than grand or baby grand pianos. Uprights also use less space in the home and are easier to tune, repair and move. Within a given brand, the longer the grand or the taller the upright the better the sound. Volume and tone come from the size of the soundboard and the length of the strings. A grand piano requires a larger room, not just aesthetically, but also because the acoustics need more space. Grand pianos have about 9,000-10,000 parts. They're more complex than an upright piano which has 'only' 5,000 parts. A baby grand is a nice choice if you don't want an upright and you don't have space or budget for a larger grand. But be careful because the smallest baby/petite grand sizes can sound weak. Some tiny grand pianos are really not much more than room decoration. A strong upright will have a richer sound than the smallest petite grands.

 

Q. How much does a good piano cost?

 

A. Relax, you don't have to spend a fortune. Unless a student is preparing for a career as a professional pianist, he/she doesn't need a $40,000+ instrument. If you're on a tight budget, save that money for college. With some professional advice, you'll find a good instrument that fits your budget and needs. But beware. If you are uneducated about pianos, a slick salesman might sell you junk (new or used) and and you'll soon regret it! Many stores carry cheap new pianos made on high-speed assembly lines in China. You'll regret ever owning one of these pieces of furniture. They often have German-sounding names to try to fool you. You must educate yourself. Take along a music teacher or technician whom you trust. Buying a piano wisely requires becoming educated about pianos or relying upon the knowledge of someone who is.

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