Whether you’ve been lucky enough to hear Alicia Keys playing the piano in New York, a piece of music by Phil Collins, or gone to a concert with the legend that is Stevie Wonder, the piano has converted millions!
Around the world, different artists, composers, and conducteurs have all left their mark on the world of piano and made the instrument’s music their own. Piano melodies have transversed time and social divides, and the notes of piano masterpieces have reached in and grabbed the emotions of its listeners.
For those lucky souls who’ve started learning to play the piano from a young age (think Ray Charles, Mozart, or Nina Simone), you might have begun your piano career on a compact piano, a digital piano, or a keyboard.
Piano is a versatile instrument - it can be played in one place - on a grand piano - or in many places - on a keyboard. You can choose to learn music theory if you’re interested in the structure of a piece of music, or you can choose to focus on creating your own music in total liberty.
But first, before becoming a virtuoso, a composer, or even an amateur pianist, you need to learn to play the piano, and become an expert on this ‘king of instruments.’
It’s always good to speak to a music teacher for their advice on learning to play the piano, and to a music store owner about shopping for a piano, but in the meantime, we can provide a few pieces of advice for you here. If you’re confused about whether you want a Casio or a Yamaha, a Steinway or a Clavinova - have no fear, we’ll talk you through how to find the right restored or new piano for you.
It’s up to you to find out just what makes music enthusiasts so excited about the piano in music schools, conservatories, and private lessons.
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How to choose the right piano for your child
The first signs of a musical inclination in a child are usually a point of pride for many parents, whether their child is singing, dancing, or tapping their hands.
Whether or not they’re already immersed in the world of music, rocked to sleep by the dulcet tones of their musical parents, a child’s musical awakening should be managed in a way that is fun and responds to their interests.
It’s best to let children try a few different musical instruments out, either through children’s music classes, kindermusic sessions for children under the age of 6, or private music lessons at home.
If it’s the piano that your child takes a fancy to, there’ll come a time when it might be worth investing in one for the house. Having a piano at home will make it easier for them to practice their chords, hand positions, and rehearse pieces of music to improve their skill on the piano. If you’re tired of shuttling them back and forth for music lessons, it’ll also mean that their piano teacher can come to you.
The piano is often considered the perfect ‘starter’ instrument for children, especially since it’s so versatile musically. On the piano, your child can explore the world of jazz, classical music, and soul in total tranquility…and without creating too much noise either!
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Advice choosing a piano for your child
To make this easy, before we spend too much time discussing piano tonalities, let’s quickly go over a few pieces of advice regarding the purchase of a piano for a child, and how to find the best piano for them:
- consider renting instead of buying from your local piano store - small children can change their minds quickly and you don’t want to make a costly long term commitment in vain. A budding musician one day, a future heptathlon athlete the next.
- Consider a keyboard instead of an acoustic piano. They are much more practical to carry around, take up less space (especially if you’re living in an apartment) and are easier to clean (imagine dusting all the keys of an acoustic piano)
- Find a keyboard that you can plug headphones into. As much as you love your child, you probably aren't going to want to listen to all of their missed notes and wrong keys every day when you get home from work.
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How to play a grand piano
The ‘specialness’ of a grand piano
First created in Italy in the 18th century by Bartolomeo Cristofori, the grand piano is also known by its Italian name “piano forte.”
The grand piano represents an evolution of the clavichord and tympanon - part of the family of table sitars - and is a work of art on its own.
The grand piano is considered an instrument of luxury, for special occasions, and has a much more powerful sound than a compact upright piano. Built horizontally, the grand piano is the Rolls Royce of pianos with a unique sounding board.
Structurally, it’s made up of many different pieces including:
- The key case and lid which protect the inner workings of the instrument
- A sounding board which makes the notes
- The bridge and bridge pins which fix the strings
- bass and treble strings
- tuning pins and pin blocks.
- The hammers and dampers to strike the strings and stop their vibrations
- The pedals, which let you amplify or accentuate the resonance of a particular note.
- The keyboard of a grand piano, with its 88 black and white keys.
The different kinds of grand pianos
Over the years, different versions of pianos have been created, which offer varying levels of sound quality, size, and practicality. These include:
- The baby grand piano - essentially anything measuring less than 6 feet in length
- The classic, or regular grand piano - these fall in between baby and concert grands, and generally measure between 6 and 7 feet in length.
- The concert grand piano - basically anything over 7 feet long, used for a grand impression, or for occasions like concerts and symphonies.
How do you play a digital piano?
Choosing a digital (or synthesizer) piano is a choice to embrace new technology
Much easier and simpler to use than a traditional acoustic piano, the digital piano also offers more functionality. A digital piano is to an acoustic piano what a digital camera is to a traditional camera.
There are two main types of digital pianos:
- Fixed digital pianos - not meant to be moved, these pianos are often of higher quality (and weight) than portable digital pianos, and often cost more too. Included in this category are concert (stage) pianos, upright models, and console pianos.
- Portable digital pianos - often cheaper than fixed digital pianos, these can often be found in music halls, cafes, theaters, and concerts. Practical and easier on your wallet, they’re often slightly lacking in the quality of their sound and they lack pedals.
The advantages of choosing a digital piano
There are many reasons that digital pianos are so popular today.
The features of digital pianos make them popular to buy.
For example, the digital piano records - in a digital format - what is played on it. Therefore, it becomes easy and simple to listen to your practice, check the sound of your playing with a teacher, and record your own compositions.
The different key sets on a digital piano
Whatever brand you’ve chosen, the price, or the quality of your new digital piano, it’ll be made of one of three types of key sets:
- Classic keybeds - the first digital pianos did not adjust their sound to imitate traditional pianos when they’re played. These models are best for beginners.
- Dynamic (or smart) key beds - these are keys where a digital algorithm in the piano will adjust the way in which they sound, based on your playing, in an attempt to emulate the sounds of an upright or grand piano
- Weighted keys: digital pianos with weighted keys will be the best at replicating the sound and feel of the keys on an acoustic piano. These days, some even have hammers in their key beds.
It’s also worth noting that certain digital piano models - rare and expensive as they may be - incorporate the same key bed as an acoustic piano.
Learning to play the piano on a keyboard or portable digital piano
64 keys ?
88 keys ?
What material should you look for when shopping for a piano?
Next on our list of different types of pianos are keyboards, which look quite different again from upright and grand pianos, whether they’re acoustic or digital pianos.
Unfortunately, we don’t have time in this article to go through all the different models that you can find in your local music store, but there are a lot.
If you’re a bit worried about placing yourself in the hands of the shop assistant, who’s often payed based on commission and seems likely to point you towards the most expensive model possible, here’s our selection of a few different keyboard models.
Made with 64 keys and with a unique sound all its own, this keyboard model has featured in multiple musical performances since its debut in the 1970s.
Now often relegated to music schools since the debut of Rhodes keyboards, the Wurlitzer has a unique sound that you can hear in the music of artists like:
- Ray Charles.
- Steely Dan.
- Daft Punk.
- The Doors.
- Sun Ra.
- Neil Young.
Roland Digital Pianos - RD-300 NX / RD-64 / RD-800
The Roland brand has a range of three digital pianos perfect for performances:
- RD-300 NX which tries to emulate the feel of an acoustic piano. Its price usually comes in around $900
- RD-64 includes some of the sounds of an upright piano, grand piano, digital piano, and even the organ, for the small sum of $1500
- RD-800 which costs about $2700
The Korg SV1 stage piano
Korg put particular effort into the look and style of this model, with a retro look and chrome case. In addition to its software which includes a wide range of sounds, the key bed is available in two models:
- 73 keys.
- 88 keys.
The Kurzweil Forte
Is is a keyboard or is it a digital piano? This model from Kurzweil offers features that leave most other digital piano models in the dust, and includes 16 sets of sounds to use, which are:
- Rhodes pianos.
- Wulitzer pianos
- Clavinet pianos.
- Celeste pianos
It's 88 keys feature ‘aftertouch’, and other functions of this digital piano include:
- 23 customizable buttons
- recording and compressing functionality
- a 3 band equalizer
- Instant charging