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What to look out for when looking for a starter piano

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We're fast approaching September when the kids are going back to school, and more often than not, September is when kids decide to start playing the piano among other musical instruments.

Picture the scene - your son or daughter comes in from school at the end of their first week and expresses a strong interest in learning the piano - do not despair - your life savings are not at risk!

Firstly, it's important to know that the piano is one of the best instruments for a child to learn as it supports their mental development.  It teaches coordination, muscle memory, stimulates the brain, encourages discipline and more importantly is great fun to play!  Also, if you play the piano then it makes learning a new instrument in the future a much easier task. 

So where do you start?

If you are learning anything new you will always need a good teacher.  It's all well and good using books and videos to help you learn but nothing will replace the knowledge and guidance of an experienced instructor.  They will stop your son or daughter from picking up bad habits, they will encourage them, they will praise their good work on a personal level which makes learning the piano far more enjoyable than any YouTube video blindly praising them before they've even started playing!

Most schools offer lessons during the school day, either teachers employed by the school or peripatetic teachers that just work in the school - it's always worth checking there first.  If you are unable to find an instructor within your child's school we offer a large list of local piano teachers in the Berkshire and Surrey area who we strongly recommend.  

It's very important to find the right teacher for your son or daughter.  

Don't just go with the first choice because they are readily available.  This can be the first stumbling block when it comes to learning something new.  If the personalities don't work together then your child's progression will be stunted.  It is a very common and at times an unavoidable aspect of learning and it's such a shame to witness a lack of connection between the child and the teacher on a personal level - nothing to do with their ability or progress, just a clash of personalities.  So it's important to meet the teacher, have a quick chat and ask for an introductory lesson. If you feel your son or daughter's progression is affected by their relationship with the instructor don't hesitate to acknowledge the issue and search for a more suitable teacher.  If you notice that your son or daughter stops practising or starts refusing to go to lessons your initial thought should be to question this as the source of the problem. 

What's next?

Once you've picked the right teacher it is now vital that you find an ideal instrument for your child to practice on.  This is a fundamental step in providing your child with the starting point they deserve.  It is staggeringly easy to make an uneducated assumption regarding what's enough for your child. You would be amazed at some of the things we hear: "it's ok we've got one of those printouts of a piano" or "well they play on a piano in their lesson so that's all they need."

Really?!

What chances are you really going to give your son or daughter with the restriction of inability to express their creativity through their own instrument?  Why waste your money on lessons at all if they can't practice what they have learnt in their own time?

One of the biggest mistakes a lot of families make is purchasing a "keyboard" as they are falsely categorised as the only available option to a new player.  Do not mix the word 'keyboard' with 'digital piano' - these are 2 completely different instruments. 

Primary differences

        Pianos

  • Pianos are stringed instruments where pressing a key triggers a hammer to strike a string. 
  • A piano has 88 notes, all of which are weighted differently from the bass end to the treble.  It is these weighted keys that are extremely important when first starting out as they will drastically enhance the level of your childs progression regarding both strength and technique. 
  • The weight of the keys helps build strength in your fingers and aids what is called "dynamic control", which is the ability to play loud and softly with great precision.

        Digital Pianos

  • Digital pianos are different to keyboards. They are designed to be alternatives to real pianos.
  • All digital pianos have 88 notes (like a real piano) and weighted keys. This means that the keys have little weights on, which helps build the strength in your fingers.
  • Some of the better digital pianos are graded, meaning different weights are used in the bass end to the treble, much like a real piano.
  • They also have wooden keys like a piano and synthetic ivory keytops to make them feel even more realistic.

        Keyboards

  • Keyboards are instruments that are usually shorter than pianos (they have less keys) and have 'sprung keys' - this is a thin plastic key that when pressed 'springs' back - there is no weight to the key which doesn't allow your child to attain any technique characteristic crucial to their development as an aspiring pianist. 
  • Most keyboards are 'touch sensitive' - this means if you press the key harder then a louder sound is played back than when you press softly.  
  • Some keyboards have a 'boxed key' but aren't weighted and this is important to look out for and avoid.  Some keyboards have what looks like a real piano key but in fact it is just a sprung key that has been boxed in. It is important that you do not get diverted by this visual façade placed by the manufacturer, which is situated in order to present a false piano experience. 

       

Buying a keyboard for a beginner is a false economy as the learning curve of their technique will require an almost instant upgrade, which causes the initial keyboard to become a wasted investment.  You are far more beneficial to opt for either a digital piano or of course a real piano.

A teacher will tell you that you can't beat the real thing and it's true.  There's something very pure about a real piano and it's true that you will progress much faster on a real piano rather than a digital.

The myths about real, acoustic pianos

Myth 1: Real pianos are so much bigger than digital pianos - False.  In fact, the footprint of some acoustic pianos is actually smaller than certain digital pianos but the fact is the footprint is about the same.  Of course there are some exceptions but as a rule they have to be about the same size as they all have the same number of notes!

Myth 2: Real pianos are much more expensive than digital pianos - False.  We sell second hand acoustic pianos from around £500 upwards - you can spread the cost of this interest free over 9 months or even rent a piano.  Pianos are a lot more affordable than people realise.

Myth 3: There's all sorts of after costs with real pianos - The only other cost associated with a real piano is tuning.  Tuning costs £69 if tuned every 12 months.  That's not a huge price to pay for having the real thing over a digital piano.

Myth 4: We can just start with a cheap digital and upgrade later - Of course you can, no problem.  But why not start where you mean to finish?  You don't have to worry about not taking to it, we will buy the piano back at a later stage or you could rent for 6 months.  Your son or daughter will benefit far more from 6 months of practice on a real instrument than a digital piano.

There is an exhausting number of details you must acknowledge when picking the right instrument for your child.  This is why it is important to take the advice from the instructor and visit a piano dealer who can show you the differences between the technical aspects of the different of pianos, digitals and keyboards to help you make an informed decision about the appropriate instrument.

Visit our showrooms in Cobham and Maidenhead or call us on 01628 771400 for more information.