Top Ten Considerations in Giving the Family a Piano
John M. Zeigler, Ph.D.
t the holidays or upon other significant occasions during the year, many families will contemplate buying a piano for the whole family to use and enjoy. The benefits for children and adults from learning to play and enjoy music are well-documented, but is buying a piano the right thing for your family? If so, what should you get and how should you go about learning to play it? Below are my suggestions on what you should take into account if you're thinking about buying a piano for the family. This article is "relatively" terse by design, but it includes lots of links to other parts of the site where you can get more detailed information on each topic. The list below is presented in the approximate order in which most people should undertake the process.
Do you and your children have the time to learn piano? There isn't much point in buying a piano if you and your kids are so busy that you can't devote the serious time and effort required to learn to play. Most piano teachers would say that you need an absolute minimum of a half hour per day of effective practice. Many would say you need an hour of practice. You also have to allow for time to take and travel to lessons and other piano studio events. We have discussed this topic more fully in our article, Before You Start Lessons.
Should I buy a piano or keyboard? Probably the first decision you have to make after you have concluded that you have, or can make, the time for the piano, is not which one should buy, but whether an acoustic piano or a modern digital keyboard is the right choice. I suspect that some piano teachers will be "shocked", if not "awed", by this statement, but digital keyboards may be the best choice for those who want to interface the keyboard to a computer for in-home learning, have limited space, or whose interests demand the greater flexibility and lower maintenance costs of a good keyboard. Note that a good keyboard with escapement type action (similar to that of an acoustic piano) can cost over a thousand dollars, so you're not necessarily saving money over a cheap used acoustic piano. For what it's worth, keyboards now outsell acoustic pianos worldwide by a sizable margin (piano teachers take note!). For more discussion on the differences and similarities between the acoustic piano and digital keyboards, see my article, Keyboards, Digital Pianos and Piano Lessons.
It's about location, location, location. Not only must you consider whether you have the space for the acoustic piano, but whether that space is shielded from temperature and humidity changes and too much direct sunlight exposure, which can make keeping the piano in tune hard in the short term and damage it in the long term. Just as importantly, you must provide a location for it which is as free from distractions and interruptions as it can be. Otherwise, it will be hard to practice effectively. There are probably fewer location constraints on keyboards, but you will still need a quiet area for practice. For more on this topic, see our article on In-home Lessons.
What keyboard or piano should I buy? This is often the first question people ask, though it's not necessarily as simple to answer or as high in priority as some would think. A near top-of-the-line new acoustic piano can easily cost as much as a luxury car. A lesser quality used one in poor repair can often be bought for around a thousand dollars, but you'll have to spend some serious money to make the piano usable. Keyboards are somewhat less expensive, but they still represent a significant investment of money to get a good one. If you're not a piano expert, it's a good idea to pay a registered piano technician to look at any used acoustic piano you might want to buy. You can find out more of the ins and outs of acoustic piano and keyboard purchase in our article, Purchasing and Caring For a Piano or Keyboard.
Consider the ongoing costs of a piano or keyboard. An acoustic piano needs regular tuning and occasional regulation and repair. An acoustic piano which is not maintained is like a poorly maintained car. It decreases in value, rather than increasing in value, as most well-maintained fine pianos do. Keyboards have far lower continuing costs than an acoustic piano, but you may still have to pay for repairs occasionally, or, more likely, to upgrade to the latest and greatest. These matters are addressed in more detail in our article, Purchasing and Caring For a Piano or Keyboard.
Should I learn with a teacher or can I do it myself at home? There is no question that a teacher can make learning more efficient and pleasurable. For those who have the time and money, I would highly advise that they avail themselves of the help of a good teacher. However, some may not be able to travel to lessons, others may not be able to afford them; some simply may feel more comfortable teaching themselves at times they can work themselves free from other commitments. If you have such constraints, you can teach yourself to some degree at home, using tools and learning materials from several different sources (software, Internet, method books). Some of the options and considerations regarding self teaching are examined in my article, Learning to Play on Your Own
How do I choose a teacher? If you are going to learn with a teacher (and I advise that you do), choosing one is not really hard, but you should devote a little time to it, rather than simply choosing the nearest one or taking a recommendation from someone. Interview several teachers, watching carefully the interaction of the teacher with you or your kids. Just because a teacher is highly recommended by someone, even a knowledgeable person, doesn't mean that that teacher is right for your family. For more on this long topic, see several of our articles on the page, Learning to Play the Piano
Avoid misconceptions about lessons. Most people have some misconceptions about lessons, their conduct or the speed of their progress in lessons. Progress in lessons is mostly dependent on your willingness to work hard at learning. To learn how to avoid these damaging misconceptions, check out my article, Some Common Misconceptions About Piano Lessons.
Focus on lessons. A good teacher and a good piano will do you no good if you or your children can't or won't focus on really learning the piano. This means, among other things, regularly attending lessons, practicing every day, and fixing, rather than repeating, mistakes when you practice. To find out how to be the best pianist or the best piano parent you can be, see our Tips for Parents and Students pages.
Listen to music. This item could just as easily be listed near the top. It's hard to maintain enthusiasm for lessons if you can't see a goal for taking them. Make sure that good music, of whatever genres interest you, is heard regularly around the house. Even better, try to take a music appreciation course, either at a local school, from your teacher, or via some excellent software available for that purpose. You can find lots of good classical music to listen to here on PEP on our pages, The Audition Room and Listening List and Composer Resource.
Now, make music! You've done much of what you need to do to be successful at learning the piano. Enjoy it!