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Wed, 08 Jun 2005
More parents must grow up - music lessons

Abigail is getting old enough to be ready for some music lessons. Actually, some people would say that she's getting started a little bit late -- more on that in a bit. We're planning to start her on the piano, and a friend of ours who is herself a good pianist recommended a teacher. The teacher prefers the students to be a little older before starting them, and Abigail is close to that preferred age. So on Saturday, I took Abigail over to the teacher's house to sit in on a student recital.

The students spanned ages 8-18 and the selections included Chopin Nocturnes, Liszt's La Campanella, and a Prelude and Fugue from The Well Tempered Klavier. Abigail sat very quietly and seemed quite interested in what was going on, particularly when the younger students were playing. I was very impressed with what I heard and also with what I saw. Despite the fact that some of her students have gone on to a very high level, I didn't get the sense that the players felt in a pressure cooker, and a number seemed to be enjoying the pieces that they were playing.

It was fun, enjoyable, and the music was good. It also brought back memories of my own musical endeavors: some piano lessons when I was young, a few years of violin lessons, a hiatus until late in high school, and a humanities concentration in music as an undergraduate. As I sat, I found myself in the grip of parental aspirations -- wanting Abigail to really enjoy music, hoping that she might reach the level of some of the students (I was particularly impressed with the 17 year old who played La Campanella). I realized that I was going to have to curb my own (well meaning) desires for my girls. It is easy for parents to get super invested in having their kids succeed at something, whether that be sports, music, or academics, and there's a fine line between the role of a parent helping a child to learn discipline or to push through a difficult spot, and a parent driving a child for the parent's sake as opposed to the child's.

I'm also shaped by my own childhood musical hiatus. I was the one who wanted to stop the violin lessons, a decision which I now (of course) regret. I think that part of what happened there was that I just didn't see the big picture of what was happening. I didn't like the practicing, and I wasn't that good. I didn't have the counterweight of hearing lots of classical music and the inspiration that it might have provided to pull me through the difficulties of practicing. One thing that we are trying to do at home is to expose our kids to lots of music and different kinds of music. The ability to check out CD's of music from the local library is a huge resource -- it gives you access to a repertoire that you'd be hard pressed to assemble on your own. Today when I came out of my office for dinner, the first thing that happened was that Elisabeth looked up from the dinner table and announced "I like Jazz" (it me a moment to understand what she had said). Julie and the girls came home from the library with some new CD's.

Back to the piano lessons. Pianos represent a significant financial investment, and I've been trying to read up on the pros and cons of pianos (new and used) and digital pianos (the teacher said that we should look for weighted keyboard action if we went that route). If there are any readers out there with opinions or experience in this area, I would be grateful for a comment (or two).

[00:10] | [education] | # | TB | F | G | 20 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post

I have some expertise in this area, the son of an absolutely knock-your-socks-off musician and music teacher; dad has a Gerard Heinztman grand piano that his (rather poor) father bought for him and had rebuilt for him. It's now a little over a century old, and it's the piano I spent a decade of my life learning on.

While I've had the experience of playing some very good digital pianos (technology has advanced greatly and gotten much cheaper since I was a young lad), even the best weighted action DPs still feel artificial. I'm convinced that students who learn on digital pianos don't have the same "feel" for the dynamics of the real honest-to-god instrument, and when observing a recital, the difference between those who learned on the real thing and the simulation is noticeable to a nuanced observer. Nevertheless, the headphones option mentioned by a previous commenter is attractive to some.

If you do purchase a piano, grand or upright, it obviously is a big investment, not only in terms of purchase but in terms of subsequent maintenance. You should expect to have it tuned at least every six months, but more frequently in the first year or two as it settles. You should put it in a place where you can carefully control the humidity and temperature, probably via the use of a humidifier; dry air during a harsh winter (I'm not sure if this is a problem where you live) can have a rather devastating effect on the tuning and timbre of the sound. I've seen many a fine piano wrecked by even a short period (several years) of neglect.

As for brands, Steinway and Baldwin are all safe bets; slightly towards the lower end of the price spectrum, Kawai pianos seem to have a solid reputation, as do Yamaha. As with any purchase, be very weary of used merchandise. I haven't read the Piano Book myself but I've heard great things about it.
Posted by
David Warde-Farley at Wed Jun 8 12:48:19 2005

Ted, we met at Northern Voice here in Vancouver, and I'll probably see you at Gnomedex later this month (my wife and kids are coming down to Seattle as well), but I wanted to note that I have a page outlining the process we went through to get a digital piano for our daughters (5 and 7 now) to learn on. While I'm not a pianist, I've played music professionally for over 15 years, so I was reasonably thorough. :)

While it's true that a digital model cannot duplicate the experience of playing a genuine acoustic piano, newer models come quite close enough for learning, and have a number of advantages (headphones, no tuning, other sounds, computer interface, being able to move them single-handed, much lower price).

I'd recommend a good digital "stage piano" (i.e. for gigging musicians, rather than a decorative model with extra frou-frou for the living room set): the Yamaha P series in particular, Roland RD or F series, Korg SP series, or some of the other models I discuss on my page. If your kids go on to study piano more seriously, an acoustic model will probably become necessary, but it's worth waiting some years before considering a purchase like that which could cost as much as a nice car.

If you want to talk about it in Seattle, I'll be at the conference. But beware: I can go on and on about the subject.
Posted by Derek at Sat Jun 11 23:37:33 2005

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