Keyboards and piano lessons - Merit of  keyboard use for piano lessons

Discuss the digital alternatives to the acoustic piano

Postby Stretto » Thu Dec 08, 2005 8:05 am

Can a student take piano lessons using a small unweighted keyboard with no dynamic capability? What about higher caliber digital pianos with a full-size keyboard, weighted keys, dynamic range capability, and pedal? Can one effectively take piano lessons with these?

What have been your personal experiences as teachers, students, or parents with using a digital keyboard or digital piano of any sort in conjunction with piano lessons?
Stretto
 
Posts: 745
Joined: Mon May 16, 2005 10:34 pm
Location: Mo.

Postby 108-1121887355 » Thu Dec 08, 2005 2:13 pm

Over the years I have had only a few who have used the smaller, low tech keyboards. It seems to be alright for maybe a year, depending on the age and ability and interest of the student. I encourage people right at the start to begin thinking about a piano if they have one or more children who are interested in music. It is a question I ask on the information card they fill out for me.
When I grew up, almost every home had a piano...now it is television, computers, etc. Ah, progress!?
I have a student now who is in her 3rd year and is 11 yo. I expected the parents would have purchased a piano by now. Last year, they were adding on to their house and as we talked, it seemed that one reason was space for a piano. It has not happened. Now it is definitely a draw back. She can not practice dynamics or pedal. I fear it is affected her interest, as she is not progressing as previously.
I have offered to go piano shopping with the Mother told her of ads and a local person who was selling one, and can't help but mention it at every lesson! I am not sure what the problem is. She has looked at a piano the school is auctioning, and she may bid, but no telling if she will get it. The school will not sell it to her. The husband is musical so I was hoping he would push for a piano...but...
I have not used the new digital ones but plan to try out some over vacation, It seems they would be much better than the regular keyboards and if the cost of a piano is out, it may be a good alternative.
For me, growing up with a piano, I don't know if I could ever 'replace' my piano- but wait until after I try some. I will update you.
Joan
User avatar
108-1121887355
 

Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Thu Dec 08, 2005 7:49 pm

I know I'm usually in the minority on this (I don't mean just on the Forum), but I believe the answer to Stretto's question can be had by answering this one: are you asking the student to be conscious of, and try to control, the sound they are producing?

B. L.
Technique is 90 per cent from the neck up.
Dr. Bill Leland
 
Posts: 548
Joined: Sat Feb 21, 2004 5:58 pm
Location: Las Cruces, NM

Postby 108-1121887355 » Thu Dec 08, 2005 9:31 pm

Dr. Bill Leland wrote:I know I'm usually in the minority on this (I don't mean just on the Forum), but I believe the answer to Stretto's question can be had by answering this one: are you asking the student to be conscious of, and try to control, the sound they are producing?

B. L.

Bill, You are not in the minority here. You are right on target.
Yes, yes, and yes!
Joan
User avatar
108-1121887355
 

Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Fri Dec 09, 2005 8:55 am

Dr. Bill Leland wrote:I know I'm usually in the minority on this (I don't mean just on the Forum), but I believe the answer to Stretto's question can be had by answering this one: are you asking the student to be conscious of, and try to control, the sound they are producing?

B. L.

I'm not sure that I understand the meaning of Dr. Leland's comment. It seems to pose the question of an acoustic piano versus a digital keyboard as one with a yes or no answer regarding whether the student wants to control the sound or not. That is, if the student wants to have control over the sound he must have an acoustic piano.

I think that might be true, particularly for the smallest, cheapest beginning digital keyboards. Does that really matter for the beginning student, who is trying hard just to learn to read music and develop the motor skills to play? While a good acoustic piano is probably preferable from the standpoints of learning both the sound and feel of playing the piano, I think a decent digital keyboard might be a good option for a beginning student whose level of interest and motivation is basically unknown. It's certainly less expensive than a decent, off-brand piano (though probably only about half the price).

As for control, I suppose that point is to be conceded if your standard for judgement is "producing the exact sound of an acoustic piano." However, if your standard takes into account the immensely greater flexibility in sounds (even a small digital keyboard has at least 64 MIDI "voices") that a digital keyboard can produce and its ability to be interfaced to a computer, both to use learning software and to do composing, I think the question is not as black or white as Dr. Leland suggests in his comment. Modern, top of the line digital keyboards can do amazing things, both in imitating the sound and feel of an acoustic piano and producing sounds that an acoustic piano simply couldn't.

I don't mean to suggest that Dr. Leland is wrong, recognizing the standard he seems to be applying, but a broader standard, which takes into account the full capabilities of both the acoustic piano and the digital keyboard might lead to a choice which is far less "binary" in nature. Indeed, in an ideal world, I think piano students would have access to both a good acoustic piano and a good digital keyboard. That's one of the things a teacher can do for a student. Going back to Dr. Leland's original comment, I guess that would put me in the majority :)




Edited By Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Editor on 1134140369
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
User avatar
Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed
Site Admin
 
Posts: 994
Joined: Sun Jun 08, 2003 6:46 pm
Location: Rio Rancho, NM USA

Postby Beckywy » Fri Dec 09, 2005 11:37 am

Can a student take piano lessons using a small unweighted keyboard with no dynamic capability? What about higher caliber digital pianos with a full-size keyboard, weighted keys, dynamic range capability, and pedal? Can one effectively take piano lessons with these?

The students I teach at the school are given old electric keyboards to practice on. Only the students in the advanced grades are given acoustic pianos to practice on. Yes, I find it difficult to have them remember the dynamic expressions of the piece from week to week and controlling the sound, but they are doing okay. The piano I teach on is not the greatest either - a turn of the century Bell upright, but the kids don't mind.
"The real purpose of studying music-to unite ourselves with our special gifts in such a way that one would add strength to the other" Seymour Bernstein
Beckywy
 
Posts: 193
Joined: Sun Nov 14, 2004 10:33 pm
Location: Mississauga, Ontario Canada

Postby 108-1121887355 » Fri Dec 09, 2005 12:36 pm

Beckwy,
Do you notice a difference when he students switch to the acoustic pianeo? Maybe it is hard to say as they are more advanced anyway. I think to bgin, especially considering the financial part, keyboards are great. They offer s child who may have no other outlet or musical opportunity to play. An old piano is better than no piano, I say!

Maybe Dr. Bill's comments were a little too one sided. But in the end, that is where it is! You do want the student to produce and control the sound?

I have had beginners use keyboards at home, but there comes a time when something more may be needed. An 11 year old girl is an example. She is more than ready to go on with more dynamics and pedaling but she cannot. Her interest is waning. I wish the public school would offer use of their pianos before and after school for those who wish to practice.

When I first began, the neighborhood childen often came over to pracice. It was a boon for them as they got extra 'lesson' time, as I would call out something from the kitchen or come in and help. I found that lessons twice a week at the start was also great! You could not give them too much at first and they and the parents got tired of one piece all week! That was the good old days and all the children walked to my house!
Joan :;):
User avatar
108-1121887355
 

Postby Stretto » Fri Dec 09, 2005 1:00 pm

I have more thoughts on the whole subject to add when I have more time, but Loveapiano, your comment about kids being able to use your piano brought up something I've always been curious about as I went for about 4 years or so with no piano (talk about withdrawals.). Anyway, I've often wondered if people ever would "lend out" their pianos not as in loaning it and moving it, but as in letting other students or pianists, say college students and such come to one's house and use their piano to practice on regularly. I've always thought this might be a good way to earn some extra income, charging a small fee to let other's come to my house and practice on my piano. When I had no piano, I always wished I knew someone who would let me do that.

Well, more thoughts on the topic of keyboards for piano lessons coming.
Stretto
 
Posts: 745
Joined: Mon May 16, 2005 10:34 pm
Location: Mo.

Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Fri Dec 09, 2005 1:48 pm

I should have been a little clearer on that, because I didn't mean my comment to sound black-and-white--meaning acoustic vs. digital, period. The greater the sophistication of the keyboard, the more control one has over the sound--but I was speaking of touch control, not getting variety by pushing buttons, and the more expensive digitals are achieving a certain degree of touch sensitivity. (Isn't it interesting, though, that we consider the best and most sophisticated ones to be those that come closest to imitating a piano?)

So let me be more specific. I believe that the pace of learning in piano lessons, even if begun at age 5, should be governed by the ear, not the fingers, so that the business of making musical tones is kept uppermost in the consciousness of both the student and the teacher, and progress proceeds with the ear staying always slightly ahead of the mechanics in priority. (If you just want to learn to type, go to a typing class.)

That's why I'm in the minority, because it's invariably done the opposite way--hand position, finger numbers, etc. FIRST, then we'll worry about the sound (but somehow we often don't ever get around to it.) Even many piano professors with advanced students believe that you have to get the mechanics first, and only then refine the musical elements and concepts. I'm old enough to have seen a very large number of results of this, and to have judged them in auditions and competitions, and that's one reason why my opinion of this approach is negative. Music is sound, not athletics, just as a football game is ultimately the score at the end, not the mechanics of blocking, throwing, tackling and catching. We admire these things, to be sure, and they are indispensable to the game, but we don't send football players out on the field just to be admired and applauded for their technique, but to prevail in the end on the scoreboard.

Now, of course I'm discussing all this in the context of traditional lessons in which traditional music by the standard composers is to be brought to life by the player in sound. I believe that in the present state of digital technology it is possible to a degree to have this happen on an electronic keyboard, depending on its degree of sophistication; certain limits apply as well to 36-inch spinets vis a vis 7-foot grands, for that matter. My point is that the more limited you go in instrument quality, the more difficult it is for any player to learn and master the varieties of sound that need to be addressed in order to bring music to life, and the easier it becomes to teach, learn and perform unimaginatively and mechanically.

Dr. Bill.
Technique is 90 per cent from the neck up.
Dr. Bill Leland
 
Posts: 548
Joined: Sat Feb 21, 2004 5:58 pm
Location: Las Cruces, NM

Postby Stretto » Fri Dec 09, 2005 3:17 pm

Dr. Zeigler: As usual with your posts, you gave us a lot to consider. I could go several directions with my ideas on this topic, so I might have to post some of my thoughts in bits and pieces as I'm sure I will leave something out.

Dr. Leland, your post is so full of good points, I can't began to respond to any of them, but to say, "well said!" I did get a good chuckle out of the comment about "typing"!

I can really understand and appreciate the standpoint of parents not wanting to make a major investment in an instrument like a piano until they knew for certain there child was going to stick with it. For my own children I couldn't afford to run out and spend over a few hundred dollars on something whether a keyboard or piano until I knew for sure my child's interest would last.

Although I haven't recently gone out and tested first hand some of the higher caliber digital pianos, I would venture to say, they still haven't completely made them to where they can exactly duplicate the capabilities of an acoustic piano. Please correct me if I am wrong on this. My opinion on the whole subject is this: acoustic pianos and keyboards or digital pianos for that matter are totally and completely different instruments with unique capabilities and cannot be interchanged. While one can learn to play the piano as well as be able to play the keys on a keyboard, one cannot learn on a keyboard and expect to play the piano. How could they? A keyboard or even a good digital piano for that matter is not an acoustic piano. One cannot expect to play the piano efficiently or fluently without a piano to learn and practice on. While I am not praising one as better than the other, they have different touches, different responses, both very different but both very beneficial capabilities. Dr. Zeigler had a good point, ideally every home would benefit from both a keyboard or something digital that could be interfaced with a computer as well as an acoustic piano. It would equal the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, people think they can get the best of both worlds getting by with a keyboard and then trying to learn to play the piano.

With that said, what I would say to someone coming to me to take piano lessons who had a keyboard at home for practice would be: "While I can give you music lessons, I will not be able to teach you to play the piano as an instrument." Then I would explain why and that one can still learn a lot and I can still teach a lot about music with a student using a keyboard. Although a student cannot learn to play the piano with only a keyboard for most of their practice, they can still learn a lot about music: theory (rhythms, scales, chords, progressions, etc.), ear-training, improv., composing, music appreciation. I could teach a student learning from a keyboard "everything their is to know" (not literally), about music, but I can't teach them to play an acoustic piano. Actually, I think just learning about music in general as in private music lessons as opposed to pianolessons is more important to me than how well or whether a student can fluently play the piano, although I try to work toward both ends. If a student wanted a career in performing on the piano, they will need a good acoustic piano early on.

I had only one student when I first started teaching who had a basic keyboard. It was more difficult at lessons for them to really demonstrate how well they had practiced or could play because the keys on my piano had a different touch, harder to press, for example then their keyboard. It's kind of like trying to get an excercise workout with empty plastic water bottles for weights - :laugh: ! If I were to encounter a student with a keyboard again I would go with the above approach: offer music lessons, and teach their lesson on my keyboard rather than my piano. When they were able to get a piano, I would make the switch to piano lessons. They would already have a good grasp and foundation of several musical concepts. The other thing I might recommend is that a student find a class or instruction that uses keyboards. A local music store here gives group instruction using keyboards. This would be where I may start with a child I wasn't sure would stay interested. If the child stayed in the lessons, then continue down the path of finding a piano and switching to piano instruction.




Edited By Stretto on 1134163232
Stretto
 
Posts: 745
Joined: Mon May 16, 2005 10:34 pm
Location: Mo.

Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Fri Dec 09, 2005 3:47 pm

Dr. Bill Leland wrote:(Isn't it interesting, though, that we consider the best and most sophisticated ones to be those that come closest to imitating a piano?)

(If you just want to learn to type, go to a typing class.)

My point is that the more limited you go in instrument quality, the more difficult it is for any player to learn and master the varieties of sound that need to be addressed in order to bring music to life, and the easier it becomes to teach, learn and perform unimaginatively and mechanically.

Dr. Bill.

Those of you who have read my article, Creating Sound and Music on the PC, know something of how difficult it is to exactly mimic ANY sound with a computer. The problem is not so much whether it's possible or not, but how much computer capacity you're willing to devote to doing it. With enough electronics, it's possible now to get arbitrarily close to the sound of the piano or any other instrument, especially using hardware based on wavetable DSP's (read the article if interested) My point here is that, because the piano was developed first and had a couple hundred years to become a sound we're used to hearing (not to mention one in which many people were trained to play), it sets the standard for historical reasons. If the digital keyboard had been developed first, we might have acoustic piano manufacturers trying to mimic the digital keyboard. In the end, this argument seems to me to have a certain sterility. The question is not whether the digital keyboard can, or even should, be a better acoustic piano than an acoustic piano or whether the acoustic piano should be given all the capabilities of the digital keyboard, but rather, how best to utilize the unique qualities of each in piano training. I, for one, like both for different things.

No comments about typing class, please. I got my only C in high school in typing and I'm still sensitive! :D
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
User avatar
Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed
Site Admin
 
Posts: 994
Joined: Sun Jun 08, 2003 6:46 pm
Location: Rio Rancho, NM USA

Postby Beckywy » Fri Dec 09, 2005 3:56 pm

Insisting on a piano in the student's home to practice on is a little elitist - if all the family could afford or able to get their hands on is a cheap keyboard. - a determined and talented student will make due with whatever is offered and still thrive in piano instruction. All a teacher can do in this situation is make sure the student does have opportunities to play on acoustic pianos for lessons and recitals. I have students who come in an hour early at the school before their lessons to practice on an acoustic in the waiting room. When there is a studio empty, I often find students going in to practice.
"The real purpose of studying music-to unite ourselves with our special gifts in such a way that one would add strength to the other" Seymour Bernstein
Beckywy
 
Posts: 193
Joined: Sun Nov 14, 2004 10:33 pm
Location: Mississauga, Ontario Canada

Postby 108-1121887355 » Fri Dec 09, 2005 4:19 pm

Dr. Bill, very interesting that all the new gimmics try to come as close as possible to the piano!
I do not like all the 'things' the kids have now but my grandchildren do have them, (I don't purchase them, but my children do).
My oldest granddaughter has a computer, scanner and printer and a digital camera. She loves to take and print pictures. She does do a lot of learning on the computer. She took some classes at the Science Museum in Boston last summer and some this fall and made lego cars that she could control by using the computer. I can't begin to fathom that. Fortunately she also likes arts and crafts and puzzles and games and MUSIC. She has a good ear and has my Mom's piano.
I guess we have to move on into the future, but I still prefer many of the things we did in the 'old' days. Everyone had a piano and played instuments and sang. There was more family feeling than there is around the television set or the computer.
So, should I buy a new computer or a fancy keyboard?

:p

Joan
User avatar
108-1121887355
 

Postby Stretto » Fri Dec 09, 2005 5:01 pm

Beckywy wrote:Insisting on a piano in the student's home to practice on is a little elitist - if all the family could afford or able to get their hands on is a cheap keyboard. - a determined and talented student will make due with whatever is offered and still thrive in piano instruction. All a teacher can do in this situation is make sure the student does have opportunities to play on acoustic pianos for lessons and recitals. I have students who come in an hour early at the school before their lessons to practice on an acoustic in the waiting room. When there is a studio empty, I often find students going in to practice.

I agree, Beckywy, that a student can make due with what they have and still thrive particularly if they are determined to learn as you said. I guess some parents aren't sure how eager their children are is why they opt in the beginning for a keyboard. Perhaps some students that go the route of starting on inexpensive keyboards may lack determination to learn to begin with. So "sticking with lessons" may fail regardless of whether they had a keyboard or piano. Perhaps determination to learn is the most important factor in taking lessons regardless. Yes, it would be more feasible or more effective if a student could have some opportunities to practice on an acoustic piano at school, relatives or friends houses, etc. I really think schools should, if they don't already, have programs for kids to take piano lessons and practice right at the school especially for those whose parents both work and they are in after school programs. What better thing to do with a student's time in an after school program than to take music lessons. Of course, private citizens would have to see the importance in private funding of rooms and pianos used for school student's practice. Well, getting off topic a little. Beckywy, your students see the value in practicing on pianos in that they are coming in early and going in to practice on available pianos whenever they get a chance. Actually I got my 4 yr. Bachlor's degree with only a small, inexpensive ($100) keyboard at home but did the majority of my practice on pianos available in the music dept.
____
In general, it seems that piano teacher's are going to have to come up with creative ways to "keep up with the times" and perhaps one solution would be for teacher's to keep up with the latest in technology on digital instruments and provide lessons on these even teaching students the capabilities that these instruments provide. I agree with Dr. Zeigler on this count that I too like certain capabilites about both acoustic and digital technology. That's why I posted earlier, they are not one in the same.

Dr. Zeigler: You stated, "With enough electronics, it's possible now to get arbitrarily close to the sound of the piano . . . " I was curious, do you feel that it is possible to duplicate very closely the touch response of an acoustic piano. I haven't gone around testing the latest and best digital pianos that come close to matching acoustical pianos. I tried out a grand digital piano at a dealer 10 yrs. ago, so I'm sure a lot of improvements have been made. Now my curiousity is sparked to go test some recent digitals out. On the other hand, there is something about an acoustic piano I can't explain, or put a finger on but to me there are such subtle nuances in sound and touch that perhaps only future technology if at all can exactly duplicate and even then I have my reservations if that will ever happen. Now again, I may have to take a step back in my opinion if I tried some of the recent electronic pianos available. But we are talking about student's taking lessons, in which a high quality digital piano that closely matched an acoustic piano would be out of the average beginner's price range as well. Back to what I was saying also is that there is a certain "feedback" I get from an acoustic piano, I can't explain. I don't think I would get that same feedback or response from even the best electronic pianos. Well, more to follow later . . .




Edited By Stretto on 1134169821
Stretto
 
Posts: 745
Joined: Mon May 16, 2005 10:34 pm
Location: Mo.

Postby 108-1121887355 » Fri Dec 09, 2005 5:08 pm

I am going to explore these new digital sounds too. Let me know what you find.
User avatar
108-1121887355
 

Next

Return to Digital Pianos and Keyboards

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 0 guests