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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.


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

“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)

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SKYPING Chopin: sculpting phrases with relaxed arms and supple wrists in the Waltz no. 19 in A minor, Op. Posthum. (Videos)

Aside from the prelude to this transmission having been launched by Aiden Cat, most of yesterday’s lesson was noteworthy for its focus on phrasing the Chopin Waltz No. 19 in A minor, Op. Posthumous.

Between California and Australia

A new Logitech camera provided an astonishing over the shoulder view of “Daniel” seated at his resonating Petrof vertical. It was stage center, with desired close-ups of each musical partner.

But as expected, Chopin stole the show.

Lesson feature: The whole arm with spongy wrists must sweep through musical lines in a relaxed choreography. The nuance of cadence tapering requires not only attentive listening but a physical translation. A wrist forward movement for soft note resolutions is recommended.

Various weight applications into the keys pertained to the realization of the Waltz as it unfurled to its riveting climax in A Major. Dead weight into the keys and shaping lines with a free swing of the arms were explored.

The video below snatched some of our work in progress.

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Aiden Cat Dozes off to Debussy (Video)

Looks like Aiden was out like a light… except for 2 well-timed ear twitches … otherwise, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Arabesque no. 1
Played on my Haddorff console piano (manuf. 1951) a real musical treasure with divine resonance.

Aiden’s awake-time pics:

A Purrr-fect Musical Match Made in Heaven

Aiden Cat Joins Ilyana, 8, at the Haddorff piano

Aiden Cat and Willie Wonka

Aiden and Chopin:

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The view in my living room with an iMac, Tripod, Three Pianos, and Aiden cat

This about sums it up. Now that the iMac arrived right after Haddy Haddorff replaced a digital keyboard, Aiden cat found space for himself dwindling, yet he still managed to plop himself right in the middle of the muddle.


Aiden cat sits in on a concert…

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My First Skyped Piano lesson from California to Oregon

I must say I was skeptical going into this until I watched the Skype screen enlarge an 8-year old to nearly life-size proportion as she sat comfortably at her piano. Her dad, a tech savvy parent with an ability to guide me through the basics of Skyping, was co-director with his web cam weaving around at different angles allowing me a full view of the keyboard and his daughter at any given time. Not to mention that the sounds emanating from a Heilun grand piano were robust and resonant. But where was I in the picture? From my perspective in Fresno, I was compressed in a box, while the out-of-town student was center stage taking up most of the screen. From her end of the Skype universe, I was big and she was small.

I had to pinch myself.

This couldn’t be happening unless I had driven for hours on end, hopped a plane, or took Amtrak plus a bunch of buses to the suburban part of Portland. I would have had to scope out the piano, and introduce myself to the new student.

But how did I manage to avoid all the travel and still sack out in my own warm bed by 10 p.m?

Aiden cat was initially perplexed as he viewed himself fleetingly on the i Mac computer monitor but he still got with the Skype hype as he waved to the 8-year-old. After his assortment of flirtations, he stroked a piano key hoping he’d get some long distance pets but that was out of sight.

So what was accomplished during this first virtual lesson that ran for over an hour?

The student improved her singing tone and worked on some technical problems related to the wrist. She polished her legato arpeggios and learned how to melt out cadences with a delayed wrist forward movement as applied her Chopin Waltz. As things unfolded, her playing got better and better as my ears were attuned to every note.

Frankly, I was blown away as I demonstrated a wrist forward spongy motion. Looking at myself in the box beneath the student, I was sure I was in outer space floating weightless around my space capsule. Lift-off anyone?

For certain, I could get hooked on this SKYPE thing to the point of addiction. But so what. It was better than the vile habits of smoking or drinking that destroyed people’s lives.

If everyone jumped on the SKYPE bandwagon when they felt like taking a swig, or grabbing a cancerette, they’d be giving themselves a new lease on life.

I definitely can’t wait for the next virtual piano lesson because I’m itching to go out-of-state again to get a break from the Fresno heat wave. Even if the climate changes don’t register on Skype, I can still pretend and con myself into believing that I took a long delayed vacation.


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Aiden Cat joins Ilyana, age 8, at the Haddorff piano (Video)

On a scorching Wednesday morning, Aiden was piano plopping. First it was the Steinway piano bench — then he moved on to Haddy where he joined Ilyana who played “Firefly” and the first section of “Little Flower Girl of Paris” by William Gillock.

Ilyana declared that she liked Haddy more than the Steinway grand because of its nice and easy feel. It seems to fit her perfectly as it does, Aiden.

Aiden and Chopin

Aiden sits beside Claudia