More and more “piano” students are going Digital. Is it a good idea?

It’s sad but true that a glut of former piano buyers who would have considered piano lessons for their children at age 7 or so, have made the choice to invest in a DIGITAL. (known as a DP)

Of further testimony to the culture’s relatively new fixation on electronic piano technology, are the 35,000 plus You Tube hits my DP overview has amassed, compared to a mainstream “acoustic” offering that snagged the spotlight because of my bench potato CAT.

The CAT and Chopin

Considering the above, which musical purveyance is more pleasing?

I’d say hands down that Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” (below) would be better rendered on an acoustic than a Roland, etc. based on tone dimension and timbre alone. The “feel” of a real piano, also cannot be compared to any so-called mimicked “hammer-weighted” electronic keyboard, though many buyers have tried to trick their hands, not to mention EARS into believing so.

“Fur Elise” rendered on a Steinway (Compare to Roland/Yamaha samples)

So having voiced my bias against digitals, why would I have invested hours of time scoping them out at Guitar Center and Best Buy? No less, bringing a video camera along for the ride? (thanks to Guitar Center’s CEO, Jeremy Cole for the written permission, and to Matthew Wheeler at BB)

Well, reality is, that the purchasing trend is in this direction, and if I tabulated all the inquiries fielded for an opinion on which one to buy, it would stagger the reader’s imagination.

It’s a fact that shoppers are flocking to acquire DPs at every opportunity and they haven’t stopped for a moment to think of what they are sacrificing in this fever-driven pursuit.

***

Elaine Comparone, a well-known New York City-based concert performer injected a bit of social commentary about the wave of DP buying. It was after I had bemoaned the number of parents contacting me for piano lessons who had electronic keyboards. Some of their prize musical possessions amounted to 61, bell and whistle sounds, with a few “belches” thrown in for special effect.

Elaine’s thoughts were riveting:

“I think a lot of this is economic along with the pervasive effect of pop culture. Which of these kids, or parents for that matter, have ever seen or heard a real instrument on TV or live? Real music study has become a pastime for the wealthy elites where years ago it was a sine qua non of immigrant working class culture. But it behooves us to hang in there and pass along genuine musical values, which can exist in myriad musical forms. Blah blah…..”

I added to the mix that “real” pianos sold at dealerships were beyond the financial means of the average instrument buyer, though, ironically, struggling consumers might in a flash, slap down a credit card for a $4100 Roland equipped with EVERYTHING, like a snazzy new car with all imaginable options.

Try this DP out for size:

One Facebook correspondent owned a 9-foot Steinway grand, but had the luxury to invest in a pricey Digital console that would yield hours of pleasure with its fancy accouterments.

Initially plagued by making a choice between a LX10 Roland at $4,100 and a $2900 Yamaha CLP 440, she was biased toward the Roland based on its “accelerated action and weighted keys from bass to treble unlike the Yamaha.”

It could also simulate the so-called Steinway grand piano sound with a simple finger tap.

Other consumers, of more modest means, might have gone the less expensive route buying a portable or more modestly priced console like the Yamaha Arius going for about $1100 plus tax.

Still, when it came right down to it, teaching piano to a child or adult equipped with a “hammer-weighted” digital wouldn’t be same as working with an acoustic.

I Skyped a few piano lessons to rural Pennsylvania, where a DP flashed up on the screen. In time, after the first virtually transmitted instruction, it was tossed in favor of a twangy Haddorff 1941 console. To call the latter a saloon piano would have been an understatement, though its “feel” and “resonance” appealed to the owner.

I could relate.

The decay rate of any note on this “real” piano was astounding. It reverbed to the heavens despite its shortcomings attached to a poor maintenance history.

By coincidence, I had purchased my treasured Haddorff 1951, advertised on Craig’s List for $700, and it played circles around any digital in the tone and timbre department. (Though I will admit that its tuning needs were frequent, compared to tune-free electronic instruments)

Nonetheless, the above example alone, proves to me, that there are many worthy used pianos waiting to be purchased, and like mine, they may be located around the corner.

I’ve helped any number of students acquire pianos before the digital rage took hold and these purchases included Baldwin Acrosonics and Wurlitzers from the 50s, 60s and 70s era.

Just a decade ago most parents who contacted me for lessons had one of these acoustic pianos in their home. Today, the majority own a Casio, Yamaha, or a lesser known DP, and they have no idea that embarking upon instruction might require the real deal as far as some piano instructors are concerned. (myself included, though I’ve made adjustments for students who have little or no space for even a console or spinet piano)

***

But for piano study to be meaningful, it entails properly teaching the singing tone, touch, phrasing, nuance, “feel” which means a student needs to practice on a functional acoustic piano– one without sticking notes, missing notes or blanks, etc. In addition, the instrument needs to have tuning viability. (an able technician can examine the tuning pins, hammers, strings, etc. before a particular piano is acquired)

Many DP owners boast the critical lack of need and cost associated with tuning or regulation. (not to mention having climate-free concerns ) While these may be definite advantages, the trade-off in other areas of assessment is, in my opinion, not worth it. And I’m not talking about the hours of recreation and pleasure afforded by DPs. That’s FUN and great. My concern surrounds TEACHING and passing on a traditional legacy that has been time-honored for generations. (and that goes for mentoring “beginners.” There’s no reason for the training-wheels equivalent of a digital as predecessor to a real piano) One piano teacher’s website, for example, shows a row of 3-year olds wearing over-sized ear phones, hooked up to computer screens and attached digitals. She claims they are Mozarts in-the-making.

I’ve heard that song sung so often, that it’s become a dissonant reminder of the status quo.

But to inject some humor into this posting,

Evgeni Bozhanov, a distinguished Bulgarian pianist who competed in the last Cliburn International Piano Competition, was quoted as being unhappy with the complimentary Steinway grand donated to his host family in Fort Worth Texas as he prepared for his first-round musical appearance.

Pictured at a Yamaha Clavinova practicing a warhorse Rachmaninoff piano concerto, he was the poster boy for musical sobriety, shrugging off the arrogance of effete snob pianists who might discredit him. (Would that happen to be me?)

So on this disturbingly confusing note, I’ll conclude by sharing my voiced fears about the survival of the acoustic piano culture as channeled in a previous blog.

http://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/22/is-the-piano-a-dying-breed/

RELATED:

My “new” old 1929 Baldwin grand–a tribute to a seasoned used piano. For me, no digital can come close to it.

***
Footnote to item about Evgeni Bozhanov, from Wilson Pruitt who blogged about the last Van Cliburn Piano Competition

http://varropieces.blogspot.com/2009/06/bozhanov.html

“Things we know about Bozhanov: … He doesn’t like Steinways, especially American-made Steinways, and definitely not the brand-new New York grand that was delivered to his host family’s house so he could practice. Instead, his host family bought a Yamaha Clavinova electronic piano for him to use for practice (while in Texas) … He travels with his own piano bench.” (which looks like one of those DP jobs)

About arioso7: Shirley Kirsten

International piano teacher by Skype, recording artist, composer, piano finder, freelance writer, film maker, story teller: Grad of the NYC HS of Performing Arts, Oberlin Conservatory, NYU (Master of Arts) Studies with Lillian Freundlich and Ena Bronstein; Master classes with Murray Perahia and Oxana Yablonskaya. Studios in BERKELEY and EL CERRITO, California; Member, Music Teachers Assoc. of California, MTAC; Distance learning and Skyped instruction with supplementary videos: SKYPE ID, shirleypiano1 Contact me at: shirley_kirsten@yahoo.com OR http://www.youtube.com/arioso7 or at FACEBOOK: Shirley Smith Kirsten, http://facebook.com /shirley.kirsten TWITTER: http://twitter.com/arioso7 Private fund-raising for non-profits as pianist--Public Speaking re: piano teaching and creative approaches
This entry was posted in acoustic piano, Evgeni Bozhanov, Haddorff piano, musical cat, phrasing at the piano, pianist, pianists, piano, piano blog, piano blogging, piano blogs, piano buyer, piano finding, piano finding adventure, piano instruction, piano instructor, piano keyboard, piano lesson, piano lessons, piano lessson, piano playing and phrasing, piano playing and the singing tone, piano study, piano teacher, piano teachers, piano teaching, piano teaching repertoire, Piano World, piano world-wide, Pianostreet.com, pianoworld, pianoworld.com, private party marketplace of pianos, private party piano sale, publishers marketplace, publishersmarketplace, publishersmarketplace.com, Roland digital, Roland digital piano, RolandF110, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, shirley s kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, shirley smith kirsten blog, Skype, skyped piano lessons, Skyping piano lessons, Steinway grand piano, Steinway M grand, teaching an adult student, teaching Beethoven Fur Elise, teaching Fur Elise, teaching piano, teaching piano to adult students, teaching piano to children, teaching piano to teenagers, Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, virtual piano lessons, virtual piano teaching, word press, word press.com, wordpress, wordpress.com, Wurlitzer piano, Yamaha Arius YDP141, Yamaha Clavinova, Yamaha Disclavier, you tube, you tube video and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to More and more “piano” students are going Digital. Is it a good idea?

  1. Veronica says:

    Compared to the AP220 Digital Piano, my out of tune haddorf satisfies me more. If I ever went with a digital I prefer the Roland HP307, which I had an opportunity to play and was pleased with the heavy weighted keys, grand piano sound, and synthetic ivory touch. I also, tested out a Roland Fantom G8, which had a nice touch, and I was partial to the brite grand sound samples. I prefer acoustic though.

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  2. Terri O.A. says:

    I agree completely. I don’t care how “wonderful” Dp ever becomes the “real” pianos will always have the most powerful feel. My heart isn’t going anywhere near a Dp!

    Like

  3. Thanks for your input, Terri.. Both your heart and mine belong to the piano.

    Like

  4. fame1444 says:

    Wow! This is such a well thought out post! I too love love love the sound and feel of the acoustic piano far more than any digital I have ever played or heard. However, when I look at what people are playing in popular music you hardly ever see a real piano. So, what parents and kids have gotten accustomed to is digital. When I was a child taking piano lessons (on a real piano) I was always at a disadvantage when I went to play at church or some other venue because they usually had some type of keyboard or digital piano. And that was over 20 years ago! Being used to the feel of a real piano made it almost impossible for me to produce a sound on the plastic keys of the digital. That being said, I think we have to face the fact that digital pianos are here to stay and we have to be prepared to play them and we must prepare our students to do the same… Even as we teach them how to play acoustic pianos.

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    • Thanks for sharing. You have an interesting perspective. I tell parents up front that I don’t teach digital piano.. but acoustic, and that bundles in dynamics, feel, nuance, that will never be the same on a D.P. I then try to steer them into the private party market of used pianos, and help them get an affordable one. Baldwin Acrosonics and Kawais are my preference in the price range that is not over the top.

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