The future of piano - Is it bright?

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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Wed Feb 11, 2004 10:45 am

Fifty years ago, a piano in the parlor and lessons for the kids to play it were accepted parts of family life. Today, our lives are so busy and time so precious that it seems hard to find time for piano and lessons. Given the general "coarsening" of our society's sense of value and appropriateness, something as "genteel" as piano and serious music seems out of date to some and downright useless to others. After all, it's not easy to learn to play and non-trivial to maintain skill once you have learned.

Yet, in many areas, piano studios are largely full with students. Competition for position at the highest levels of performance is stiffer than ever. I wonder if we can take a step or three back and try to understand where we are now with piano and where we might be going. Will piano be relevant in the future or will it largely die out, much like the lute, for example? I don't know the answers to these and lots of related questions, but I hope that we can begin to understand where we might be going and what we can do to participate meaningfully in that future.
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Postby 65-1074818729 » Thu Feb 12, 2004 6:01 pm

I believe the piano will be around for a long time yet. The reasons I say this are as follows.

(1) The piano is one of the most versatile musical instruments in existence. It can be used to play almost any genre of music and can do so without accompaniment. There are few, if any, other instruments that can claim this capability.

(2) There is something about the acoustic piano which is almost mystical to many people. I have noticed that whether at a lounge, hotel, private home or wherever, if a piano is being played, people gather around. Other instruments, when played alone, do not seem to have the same drawing power.

(3) As you noted, piano studios are doing a brisk business. I am familiar with a couple of studios in my area when business is growing constantly. Fifty years ago, not as many boys took piano lessons as did the girls. (that was considered sissy) Today that has totally changed.

(4) “Keyboards” and “digital pianos” are much cheaper than the acoustics, and this allows many kids to learn to play who would otherwise be left out due to high costs of an acoustic piano.

The styles of music will undoubtedly change as time goes on. Singing war songs sitting around the piano in the parlor is pretty much finished, as the main source of family entertainment. I do believe though, that the piano as we know it will still be around for a long time to come.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Thu Feb 12, 2004 6:47 pm

Thanks AFlat. By the way, although I didn't say it very clearly, I meant "piano" in the topic in the same sense as we say "learn piano," meaning not only the instrument, but the range of piano music, as well.

I guess what I'm trying to convey is that, to play "devil's advocate" for a moment, as computing power gets cheaper per CPU cycle and digital signal processor chips get better, we can expect keyboards and computers to come closer and closer to be able to produce realistic sound from a whole range of instruments. For example, even now, it's possible to have entire symphonic works played in MIDI just by overlapping tracks and changing patch maps. These capabilities will get more impressive as time goes on. Thus, a student could "learn piano" and a whole lot of other instruments by learning to read music and playing a MIDI keyboard. I don't know if these technology-assisted versions of piano will become more important, but it raises the interesting question of whether teachers should teach some of this stuff. Some do now. Most don't.

Of course, purists like me (and probably you) will say that nothing will ever replace the real thing, and that will be true for us. But will it be true for our grandchildren's generation, who may not have heard much serious piano literature, or much serious anything else for that matter, having mainly been exposed to the music and standards of MTV, VH1 and so forth. Will the piano be relevent to the "rap generation" now or to the "avant garde" generation in the future?
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Postby 81-1074658942 » Wed Feb 18, 2004 9:12 pm

That's a very interesting question... of course we can't answer it, but the speculation can be interesting. I'm with Aflat. Very good points! Another thing I would add is that there is such a HUGE amount of literature for the piano. If you play this instrument you never really run out of music to explore.
As far as the avant-garde/rap generation... I don't really know. I'm part of that age group, but actually a lot of my friends really enjoy classical music too. Although I do know a lot of kids that like the music they do because it's very energizing. Lots and lots of bass, fast, fun lyrics. If music is deemed "boring" it is extinguished really quickly. My friends are very smart thoughtful people, but when it's music they don't really like it to be serious. It's basically head-banging/ party music. That's just one end of the spectrum of course. Not every thinks the same way or has the same taste!
The avant-garde people... I don't actually know any, so I can't say anything first-hand. But I have once heard it said that modern music is "too too". meaning to say that it's a bit excessive. Sometimes when you listen to the ultra-modern music you kind of wonder "where in the world are they going to go now?" hopefully something that's a bit more accessible. But again, people have all kinds of different tastes.
Well this post has, once again, showed my stunning ability to digress! he he :) I'm really wondering what the future of music in general is. Obviously it's hard to tell , so I don't really know how piano will fit into that. Although I would say that this instrument is probably going to stay and remain popular with performers and composers. And I really think there are enough purists to keep things from going totally electronic.
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Postby Mins Music » Mon Feb 23, 2004 9:29 pm

I think there is a 'concern' about 1) the piano as an instrument and 2) 'learning piano', i.e. taking advantage of the absolutely wondferul heritage that has been left to us by the great composers of the 18th and 19th century.

My studio in Australia has a 'waiting' list. Yet ALL of my students who own an acoustic piano have had it in their homes since their great grandmother's time, or have got it from "Great Aunty Sonja" etc. Music has run in their family to some extent.

The students 'new' to music (i.e their parents didn't play, nor did an uncle, cousin etc) have 'keyboards'. That's what their parents figured was a good thing - even if they were in a position to buy two acoustic pianos!

When I told one of 'these' mothers you could buy a piano for as little as two thousand dollars, she said "Oh .... I just assumed they would be about ten thousand."

I've managed to convince one parent to sell their keyboard and invest in a second hand piano - the student hasn't looked back. He's loving it, keener than ever to learn and 'perfect' new pieces. That mother too, just "assumed" that electricity was the 'in' thing. There were lots of lights and flashing buttons on his keyboard - surely that would be the best.....

This 'trend' to go electric does concern me a little. Is that reflecting what today's society thinks? I hope not, but it sure seems that way in my part of the world.

As for 2) learning the piano. Method books today may slot in a 'simplified' version of the classics, but mostly mingle it with 'popular' music. Popular music DOES appeal to kids.

Another thing that is a concern is the fact that teachers do seem to use only these 'method' books, instead of developing their own collection of classics, and Czerny and Hanon are not even heard of.

Another point, piano today is seen as being an opportunity for 'fun' not for serious study. Many people interpret 'fun' as 'easy' and certainly not 'disciplined'. I don't, (but that's another thread).

So the question is a good one. If this trend takes over and grows, where does it leave the absolute treasure given us? (You need the disciplined skill to play Liszt and Brahms).
Wouldn't it be terrible if all the world new how to play was the Simpson's Theme - simplified version
:O

What to be done about it. Maybe that's another thread.
"I forget what I was taught, I only remember what I've learnt." - Patrick White, Australian novelist.
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Postby 81-1074658942 » Fri Feb 27, 2004 12:35 am

I definitely see a trend for learning just to play by chords or whatever. Being able to play by chords is good, but you really need to be able to read music.
It seems like a lot of people just want to be able to play tunes right off the bat. They aren't as interested in developing good technique and learning music reading skills. That's kind of a problem for piano teachers. Most people my age want to play Christmas carols and "My Immortal" and that's about it.
However, we're all here aren't we? and We're all students or teachers or just fans of piano in general, so I think we represent some of the bright sides of the future of piano.
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Postby 80-1091265929 » Mon Aug 02, 2004 3:09 am

Oh, I think the future of piano is here to stay... Its still is an artform and the staple of anything musical... and it's so mystical and its sound so beautiful, vibrant, conforming to whatever touch you give it.... It's definitely here to stay. :)
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Mon Aug 02, 2004 2:22 pm

I see this topic has been revived, so I'll add a comment or two.

In 1948 I heard a lecture by Olga Samaroff, eminent pianist and teacher who taught William Kapell and other successful artists. Her thesis was that live concerts were about to disappear forever, since canned music would replace it; the LP record had just been marketed and radio and the movies were all the rage. So it's goodbye to live performances, she said.

Now, at that time TV was in its infancy, the most advanced electronic instrument was the Hammond organ, and there were no CDs, VCRs, DVDs, home computers, or internet. Now we have all that, and more to come, and there is STILL more attendance at live classical concerts than ever before.

It's the same with the piano: the piano has been buried many times by many prophets, and it's certainly true that the acoustic piano industry is a mere shadow of its old self. But the great wealth of 18th, 19th and 20th century piano music continues to speak to our deepest selves, and as long as that continues the piano will continue. Add to that the great interest in building harpsichords, recorders, lutes, viols and other ancient instruments so that we can hear older music pretty much as the composers wrote them--the piano will benefit from this as well.

There's something else, too: people actually get tired of perfection. The great acoustical limitations of the piano--it's distorted overtone spectrum and its inability to sustain a tone--are part of its character, and the many innovations that have sought to overcome these have never caught on. The instrument has not really changed in basic character and design since about 1855, and we still love it. I think it still has a long way to go.

Dr. Bill.
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Postby 80-1091265929 » Tue Aug 03, 2004 2:22 am

If technological improvements would be used as an argument to support the imminent obsolence of the piano, I would have to reply that then the piano would have been phased out long by now by the player piano, and of LP's and digital music. But still many many young and old americans alike continue to pursue their musical spirit and take lessons and still learn to play the piano. I understand Yamaha piano sales are still doing very well, so I think that is an indicator of how well it is being embraced by society. :)
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Postby 80-1091265929 » Tue Aug 03, 2004 2:26 am

Min's Music - From what i know from meeting a lot of young kids playing the piano they don't particulary enjoy classical music, only after being subjected to it and growing musically with it they begin to love it, but I'm sure theirs some that naturally love it without the involvement of constantly playing it.
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Postby 81-1074658942 » Wed Aug 04, 2004 9:07 am

hey welcome to the board! I think you're right about kids and classical music. I've always liked it, because it was harder than the things I started out with and it was kind of unexplored territory. But I didn't always like all of the different styles. When I was younger I HATED baroque until I learned some pieces from that period. Once I understood it I really liked it.
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Postby Wild Rose » Mon Aug 09, 2004 2:29 am

All my students are teenagers and I don't live in the States, or Europe. That means that ALL of my students come expecting to learn electronic keyboard!

Past experience has taught that it is very very difficult for them to get to advanced levels without solid background in the piano basics and developement of the left hand - not to mention Theory, Scales and Chords. So they have to sit down and play on my piano, even thought they don't have one at home.

John, you should be comforted to hear that one mother caught me at the shopping center starting the whole converstion with "I am NOT buying my daughter a PIANO!!!"

Over half of my students fall in love with this most marvelious of instraments. Many of them ask for more classical pieces and ALL of them want to be able to play Fur Elise!

The electric keyboard has many advantages, mostly portiability. And they are, in the end, more expensive than a piano. Computers get upgraded all the time - do you know what the upgrade cost is for keyboard?
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Postby Mins Music » Mon Aug 09, 2004 5:06 pm

Wild Rose wrote:Over half of my students fall in love with this most marvelious of instraments.

I teach keyboard as well, but if I see something a little extra in a student, I assign a piano piece and start having lessons on the piano. After a while I ask which they prefer, the keyboard or the piano. They all have answered "the piano!"

The problem is what Lyndall is going through at the moment - trying to convince the parents that the initial outlay for such an instrument is worth it.
"I forget what I was taught, I only remember what I've learnt." - Patrick White, Australian novelist.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Fri Aug 13, 2004 9:09 am

Pianoloverinwashington wrote:If technological improvements would be used as an argument to support the imminent obsolence of the piano, I would have to reply that then the piano would have been phased out long by now by the player piano, and of LP's and digital music.

I think it's premature to predict the demise of the acoustic piano, too. However, I don't think the player piano and certainly not LP's and digital music offer the compelling advantages for flexibility, portability, and personal creativity that top notch keyboards do. Moreover, the price of keyboards is going down rapidly and the capabilities increasing almost as rapidly, while acoustic piano prices are slowly increasing for the same capability.

Does this mean we should stop learning the acoustic piano? NO! Does it mean that learning the piano should include exposure to the use and capabilities of digital keyboards? I think the answer has to be - Yes! In his interview on PEP (available in a day or two), no less an authority than Dr. Robert Pace has made strong arguments for the power and value of technology, broadly considered, in the piano curriculum. I would want to take lessons from a teacher who could at least introduce me to that world, even though I might prefer the acoustic piano sound and "feel." :cool:
All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. - Albert Einstein
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Postby Wild Rose » Thu Aug 26, 2004 2:23 am

I think one of the biggest advantages of keyboard is that it forces improvisation at the intermediate stages as opposed to advanced in piano. I feel there is an important message here.
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