Buying a Piano – 10 Things to Consider

Are you planning on buying a piano soon? Maybe a Christmas present for a child or grandchild? Do you have any idea what you are doing? Or what you are looking for? I’m here to help! I have 10 key things for you to consider when buying a piano.

Do you want an acoustic piano or a digital piano?

What? What’s the difference? Which one do I want? An acoustic piano is a piano – the kind that has been around for three hundred years. A digital piano is an upgrade to an electronic keyboard. For serious piano students, I would recommend an acoustic piano. While digital pianos have made great progress, they still aren’t quite the same as an acoustic piano.

Digital pianos:

Positives –

  • They can be less expensive.
  • They often take up less space.
  • A student can use headphones so others are not distracted with the sounds of practicing.
  • They can be connected to computers to use with various notation software.
  • Digital pianos are definitely easier to move!
  • Also, they don’t need to be tuned and aren’t affected much by temperature and humidity.

Negatives –

  • Size of the keys on a digital piano can differ from an acoustic piano, causing difficulties switching between the two. (Like at lessons, performances, competitions.)
  • The action of the keys can be quite different between the two types of pianos. (Action of keys – how much effort it takes to press the keys for sound.)
  • Sometimes the pedals on digital pianos do not function the same way that they do on an acoustic piano.

Summary –

Be sure to discuss your thinking with your child’s piano teacher. If you choose to get a digital piano, please try several and compare them to an acoustic piano. You want to get one as similar to an acoustic piano as possible. Check the size of the keys and be sure the keys are weighted.

Acoustic pianos:

Positives –

  • This is the standard that your child will need to feel comfortable playing. Lessons, performances, competitions almost always use acoustic pianos. Sometimes switching from one to the other can be very challenging for a child.
  • Overall, a decent acoustic piano will give the best playing experience.

Negatives –

  • They can be more expensive than digital pianos.
  • They take up space and need to be placed where there is relatively constant temperature and humidity.
  • Acoustic pianos are very heavy and difficult to move – especially up or down stairs!

Summary –

If at all possible, I would recommend an acoustic piano for your child.

Digital or Acoustic Piano
Digital or Acoustic Piano

Do you want an upright piano or a grand piano?

I think every serious piano student dreams of having a gorgeous grand piano. I know I did. But the reality set it. Grand pianos take up massive amounts of space. And cost a lot! I have never had the space for a grand piano, and I expect I will never have that kind of space. A good upright studio piano is a great alternative. A beginner does not need a grand piano. But if you have the space, the budget, and the desire, go for it! Just think it through carefully first!

Do you want a new piano or a used one?

There are advantages to both. A new piano should guarantee that the piano is in great condition, pretty well in tune, and ready to play. A new piano may have delivery included in the price, or it may come as an option. But, a new piano will definitely cost more than a used one. So, a used piano may be a good option for you. The price will be less, and you could get a great piano that way. You will be responsible for moving and tuning the piano, and any other repairs that may be needed. Consider your options.

What is your piano budget?

Let’s face it – buying a piano can be a very big expense. So decide in advance how much you can reasonably afford to spend on a piano and stay with that budget! Maybe you won’t find anything in your price range at the first place you look, but don’t give up. Keep looking.

Who will be playing this piano?

Are you buying the instrument for yourself, for your child, or maybe a grandchild? Consider what the player needs. A beginner does not need the same quality instrument that a pre-professional player needs. Someone who is just going to play for fun does not need the same high-quality instrument that a serious advanced student may need.

Where will you put the piano?

Do you have a dedicated music room for the piano? (I wish!) Will the piano go in your living room? A child’s bedroom? Decide in advance where you will put the piano. Measure the space, then measure the piano you are looking at. Be sure the piano will fit in the allotted space. Old advice said to always put the piano on an inside wall. More recently, from what I have read, as long as the walls and windows are well-insulated, it doesn’t seem to matter as much. The main idea is to keep the piano in a room where temperature and humidity are somewhat stable. Putting it right next to an outside door may not be a good plan.

How does the piano sound?

You (or your child) should like the way the piano sounds. Listen and play several pianos. See how the sound differs from instrument to instrument. Learn what you like and keep trying pianos until you find one whose sound pleases you. Have someone else play the piano so you can listen to the sound. Bring along someone to act as a second opinion – a friend, someone else who plays, a teacher, a technician.

How does the piano feel?

This is almost as important as how it sounds. Play the keys. Are they hard to press? Are they too easy to push down? What feels good? Are the keys slow to respond? When I was growing up I frequently played the piano for our church. I hated the piano at church. The keys were so hard to play, they took so much effort to play. It was difficult to do very technical pieces on that piano because the keys were so hard to work with. And then I got to play on a Steinway! What a world of difference! Loved playing on a Steinway. Too bad they were way out of my price range! But over the years I found several other pianos that I really enjoyed playing. The action and response of the keys is critical to choosing a piano.

How does the piano look?

Granted, this is not the most important thing to consider when buying a piano. Don’t ever let someone try to sell you a piano based on its looks. But you will have to look at this piano for a long time. Is it in a style and finish you can handle? Can you live with it in your house? When I first started learning piano we had an ancient upright piano that someone (maybe my dad?) had painted pale pink! What?! But it worked for us. We didn’t keep it forever, but that is what we started with.

Where will you buy the piano?

Go look at some music stores and piano stores. If you are not in a large city you may have to travel a bit to find a good store. Check several stores. Try different makers of pianos, and different models of each maker. (Kind of like the process of buying a car.) See what you like. Are there certain brands of pianos that have consistent sound and key action among their models? When you find what you like, then you can start looking at the used market. Piano tuners might know people looking to sell a piano. Look for online listings of pianos for sale in your area. I bought my current piano from a private seller about 30 years ago. I have never had any regrets.

If you are looking at used pianos there are several other things you need to look at.

First, check the outside of the piano.

Are there visible cracks or water marks? What about the legs – are they stable? Does a bench come with the piano? Will the top of the piano open? Does the piano have a rack to place music on?

Then, look at the back of the piano.

Are there cracks in the wood piece across the back? Does it look in good condition? Are all the ribs still firmly attached all the way across the back of the piano?

Look inside the piano.

Each hammer should have a good amount of felt left on it. The strings should all be in the same condition – if there are several much newer than others, that could be a sign of a major problem. Look for any cracks in the large iron plate across the back. Cracks are not a good thing!

I found this website that contains very detailed information about what to look for to determine the condition of a used piano. I think it would be helpful for you. The site also has a section with the history of all the major piano makers.   Read Here

Do you know what to look for when buying a piano?
Do you know what to look for when buying a piano?

I hope you enjoy either hearing or playing your new piano, whichever one you choose! And, in case you were wondering, I did get to play on a Steinway again. My daughter’s high school senior violin recital was held at a Steinway store, and they used the best piano they had in the recital area. It was wonderful! No, I still can’t afford one, but they are fabulous to play! And the piano that I do have, the one I bought used 30 years ago? It is a Yamaha Studio model, made in about 1960.

Recitals – Are They Necessary?

Recitals. Not everyone’s idea of a good time, but still, recitals are important for your music student. We are getting close to the time of year when many teachers and studios have their winter recitals. I know what you are thinking – is this recital really necessary? I have so many other things to do! How is this going to be of any benefit to my child? Guess what? Teachers don’t plan recitals because they need to fill up some empty time in their schedules. They are just as busy as you are! Recitals are good for your child, and I am going to tell you why.

How will a recital benefit my child?

Six benefits for your child from participating in music recitals.
Six benefits for your child from participating in music recitals.

A recital is a great way to celebrate accomplishment.

Your child has practiced well. He has worked hard and learned new music. He can play his music well. The recital is a great way for him to show off his accomplishments. A way to demonstrate the results of all that hard work.

A recital gives your child the opportunity to learn about adapting and persevering.

Let’s face it, things happen at recitals. The piano may be different than what your child is used to. She might forget something about her music. She may be very nervous to play in front of an audience. Mistakes often throw off concentration. Your child needs to learn to adapt and continue. Recitals are great forums for that. Everyone attending the recital is on her side, inwardly rooting for her to go on, continue, finish. We learn from experiences.

Recitals are opportunities to learn and practice social skills.

Children need to learn to gracefully accept praise. Learning to say “thank you” to a comment on their performance is an important social skill. Recitals give children the opportunity to be supportive of others – to be a supporting friend to the other recital participants. They can learn empathy by supporting their friends who had a difficult time. Recitals are a great time for them to learn proper concert behavior. Things like not talking when someone else is playing. Not walking around during someone’s performance. Respecting others and their performances.

Recitals are also a great learning opportunity for important life skills.

How many times in life do we have to stand before a group and make a presentation? Whether it is for work, at church, in social settings, almost all of us do that at some time. And it can be nerve-wracking to stand in front of others. Recitals can help your child better learn how to perform in front of others. This can prepare them for things they may face later in life. Learning to be comfortable in front of others is a great life skill!

Recital performance can give a great boost to a child’s confidence.

You know how it feels to be praised for a job well done. That is the sense your child will get when he plays his piece and hears the applause of the audience. He thinks in his head, “I did it, and they liked it!”  What a boost to a child’s self-confidence!

Recitals can also be a great source of inspiration for your child.

Most recitals include students at various levels of ability on their instruments. As your child listens to older, more advanced students, she could be awed at the potential. Your child could be inspired to work harder, continue learning and practicing. “ I want to play like that student!”

How can you help your child prepare for a recital?

Make sure they practice and learn their music.

The better they know their music, the less nervous they will be.

Understand the requirements of the day.

Will they need to announce their name and the name of the piece? Practice that in advance.

Be an audience for them.

Pretend they are giving a concert just for you. Invite the grandparents to be an audience. Give them opportunities to play for others in advance of the recital.

Be supportive of them.

Make sure they know you love them and support them, even if they make a mistake.

The Day of the Recital

Be on time!

Plan ahead, be organized, and get there in plenty of time. Being late, having to rush, will just add to any panic or nerves your child might be facing.

Have your child dress up.

A recital is a big deal. Treat it as such. Let your child dress appropriately. Have your child look professional. You don’t have to buy new fancy clothes, but skip the jeans with holes, and the ragged hoodie. This is a special occasion.

Plan to stay for the entire recital.

Give your support to the other participants. Let your child hear the others play. Some of the others may inspire him to keep working!

Plan for your younger children.

Bring books, activities, or crayons to keep them quiet and in their seats. Be respectful to others. Teach them to applaud for others.

If you video your child, please be discreet.

Don’t stand in front of others. Do take pictures, but don’t embarrass your child by your behavior.

Consider bringing a small gift for your child’s teacher.

Flowers might be appropriate, perhaps a gift card. My girls’ violin teacher loved our pumpkin bread, so we frequently brought a loaf for her at recitals. She put in a lot of work to prepare the recital. Show appreciation of her efforts.

After the recital – Celebrate!

Celebrate your child’s hard work, efforts and accomplishments. Celebrate your child. It doesn’t have to be something big but make it special. It could be dinner out, maybe an ice cream cone, something special. Our favorite Chinese restaurant was close to our violin recital location. My youngest daughter often requested that we stop there after her recitals. Celebrate your child, not perfection.

Look at recitals as learning opportunities and ways to celebrate your child’s efforts. Enjoy the day, and you will give your child some great memories.

Share some of your recital experiences in the comments.

Recitals - are they really necessary?
Recitals – are they really necessary?

When Your Child Doesn’t Want to Practice…

What do you do when your child doesn’t want to practice? Do you have to fight this battle every single day? Is it worth it? They were so excited about learning to play piano, or horn, or violin – what happened? What have I done wrong? Almost every music mom deals with this at some point. So, what’s to do?

When your child doesn’t want to practice – Find out why!

Talk. Communicate. Listen. Something has changed. Find out what it is. Kids have a long list of reasons for not wanting to practice. I’m sure you can identify with at least some of these.

  • The music is too hard.
  • I don’t understand what I’m supposed to do.
  • I already learned that.
  • My instrument doesn’t work right.
  • It hurts – I am in pain when I practice.
  • Something happened at my lesson.
  • The other kids make fun of me.
  • I don’t have any time to practice.
  • I don’t have any place to practice.
  • This stuff is boring, or too easy.

When your child doesn’t want to practice – Solve the problem! (If possible!)

It they say that the music is too hard, or too boring, or too easy, talk to the teacher. See if there is justification for what your child says. Does your teacher see this as a possible problem? Is the teacher willing to adjust, give suggestions, help you out?

If your child says that she doesn’t understand what she is supposed to do, help her figure it out. Maybe the teacher’s notes will make more sense to you. Maybe a quick call, email, or text to the teacher will help you sort through the confusion. Make an effort to help your child.

Your child says they have no time, or no space to practice. Or that everywhere is too loud to practice. Could that be true? If you want him to practice you must provide the opportunity. Is he over-scheduled? Maybe find something to cut out. Or teach him to manage his time better.

Does he have a quiet place with enough open space to practice? I know most of us don’t have space for a dedicated music room, but your child needs an open space and a quiet place to do his practicing.

What about pain? Sometimes practicing an instrument will cause pain. We contort our bodies into unnatural positions to play certain instruments – that can definitely cause pain. And that must be dealt with!

When your child doesn’t want to practice – Check out the instrument.

My instrument doesn’t work right – maybe there is truth to that. Maybe a pad is loose, or a key is stuck. Perhaps some valve oil or a cleaning could help. Is there a problem with the chin rest or shoulder pad? Who knows, maybe someone’s sock got stuck in the baritone. My daughter had a student get popcorn in their violin! Look at the instrument to see if there is an obvious problem.

See if your child can be more specific about the issue. Then, ask the teacher, or band director, or orchestra director. Do they have any insight? Can they recommend a repair shop? Any practicing will go better if the instrument works correctly.

Be sure the instrument is the correct size for your child.  Is she holding the instrument correctly? Be certain there are no other physical conditions responsible for the pain. Talk to your teacher for ideas and recommendations. Check out posture.

For string players, it could be as “simple” as changing to a different shoulder rest. (I know – nothing is simple!) Don’t just dismiss comments about pain – get them checked out. I plan to do an entire post about this in the future.

When your child doesn’t want to practice – Don’t ignore the possibility of bullying or other inappropriate behavior.

Perhaps the issue is that other kids are making fun of your child because they play the violin instead of football. Or piano instead of soccer. Encourage your child. Point out the positives of playing their instrument. At least playing piano won’t earn them a concussion!

On a more serious note – a group called Time for Three has a great video about musicians and bullying. Check it out here: Time for Three

Did something happen at a lesson to discourage her from practicing? Was it an issue with the teacher? Or another student? This is too important to ignore. Talk, listen, find out what happened. Then, take appropriate action.

When your child doesn’t want to practice – Quitting should never be the first option!

Don’t take the easy way out and let them quit just because they complain. What are you teaching them? Would you let them quit after the first soccer practice if they complained about how hard it was? Music is no different! Learning to play an instrument takes hard work – years of hard work. But doing anything well takes lots of hard work. Teach them to overcome problems. Help them learn to persevere. Work with them to get beyond the boredom or the difficult times.

Almost every music student will have a time when he/she hates to practice. But that’s okay – encourage them to keep going. One of my sons used to complain all the time about practicing his cello. And he was getting good at his cello. He didn’t mind playing. I finally figured out the problem – instead of a hard case he had a bag for his cello, and it was too hard for him to take the cello out of the bag and put it back in the bag when he finished practicing. When we switched to a hard cello case – problem solved. Of course, there were days after that when he griped about practicing, but it wasn’t the big issue that it had been.

Talk. Communicate. Listen. Work on solving the real problem.

My Child Does Not Want to Practice!
My Child Does Not Want to Practice!
My child doesn't want to practice!
My child doesn’t want to practice!