Saturday, July 30, 2011

Listening - A vital skill

Julian Treasure: 5 ways to listen better | Video on

What Julian treasure says in this talk about listening being a skill that must be taught, developed, and nurtured is absolutely true.  This is also one area in which private piano lessons can have a major positive impact.  In teaching piano, guiding my students toward listening for rhythm, harmony, melody, timbre,  and meaning is my primary objective.  When combined with practice strategies and problem solving skills, students gain a powerful set of tools that transfer to every area of their life.

Imagine how many of our problems would evaporate if everyone possessed high level listening, practice, and problem solving skills.  Piano lessons can change the world!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Free advice on used pianos

While serving my community in the dual role of piano teacher and piano technician, I get lots of questions about purchasing used pianos.  I also encounter many pianos in homes that are in various stages of wear.  I tune for people who love and maintain their pianos, people who have hand-me-down pianos that are in desperate need of repair, and some whose piano should be hauled to the dump.  So, to help insure that you will be in the first category, here are some tips on buying used pianos.

1.  Do your homework.  Get a copy of Larry Fine's The Piano Book and the most recent supplement.  The advice in this book can assist you in becoming a savvy shopper and it will  increase your confidence in and enjoyment of buying a piano.

2.  Reconsider and buy a new piano.  You may be surprised how painless it is to either purchase or finance a new piano.  Like everything else, most of the pianos you will find on the showroom floor are made in China.  (Don't be fooled into thinking you are buying American.  Unless you are buying a new Steinway or Mason Hamlin piano, you are buying a piano that was built overseas.) As a result, there are tons of entry level pianos, both grand and upright, for less money than you might think.  The advantages of buying a new piano include: a manufacturers warranty, which can extend to 10 or even 15 years; free tunings over the break-in period (at least one, sometimes 2 or more tunings are given by the dealer); a blemish free instrument, inside and out.  The primary disadvantages are that there is a break-in period of several months where the piano will not hold its tuning very well as the strings have not yet stabilized and are still stretching.

Whether you end up buying new or used, plan on spending at least as much as you spent on your newest set of living room furniture.  Pianos are way more complicated than a coffee table, but for some reason people think they should be able to get a good piano for around $500.  Before you read on, you need to add a zero.

3.  If you are buying used, avoid buying a really old piano unless it has been competently rebuilt.  Parts wear out, felt compresses, soundboards lose their crown and crack, and rodents and insects such as moths and termites can add to the entropy.  Unless you are buying a recently rebuilt piano, you may end up spending a lot more than the purchase price just getting the piano into playable condition, or you may have to pay to have the thing hauled to the dump.

4.  A piano on which all of the keys "work" may still be unplayable and untunable. Pianos like this are not "good enough for a beginner".

5.  The designation "cabinet grand" generally means "really big, heavy upright that was made about 100 years ago and likely needs new action parts, a new pinblock, and a new soundboard".  Don't get me wrong; some of these "cabinet grand" pianos were very well made and may even be worth rebuilding. However, a new piano would likely be cheaper in the long run.  Also, while it might seem neat that the piano has real ivory keytops, this doesn't really add to the value of the piano.

(Grand pianos have three legs with strings that run parallel to the floor.)

6.  If you are going to buy a used piano from a private owner or even a dealer (especially if the dealer warranty is less than a year), it is worth it to pay a reputable piano technician to inspect the piano and evaluate the instrument before handing over your money.

7.  NEVER accept a free piano without having a technician look it over first.  Free pianos can be quite expensive.

8.  Don't buy a spinet.  They are more difficult and costly to repair. They usually don't sound very good because the strings are too short, and the actions on these pianos generally don't function as well as console or upright actions.

9.  "Grand" does not always equal "good", even when the piano is really a "Grand" and not a "Cabinet Grand".  Like upright pianos, grands age and are built with a wide range of quality of parts and workmanship.  There are some good looking but TERRIBLE grand pianos on the market.

10.  Take your time and look and don't be afraid to haggle for a lower price.  There are a lot of pianos out there, and the more time you allow yourself to shop around, the better informed you will be and the better deals you will find.