Over the years of being a piano teacher I have been asked many interesting questions, but believe it or not, this is one of the most common ones. I have to confess, every time a parent asked me this one, I used to think to myself, "Oh no. Here we go again. That is the most ridicules a question. Why would you ask such a thing if you are signing up for PIANO LESSONS! How is your child supposed to practice what I am teaching them if they don't have a piano?" Honestly, these were the kinds of thoughts that went through my mind every time, and this question used to cause me to get angry and see the parents of potential students in a negative light. But a while back, as my studio flourished, I began to notice another question that parents ask, which is, "We have an electric keyboard at our house. Is that okay for my child to start on?", and then BAM!!!! It hit me like a ton of bricks: They are the same question in different variations!!!!!!!
I began to think that maybe my, "Do I need a piano, Parents" were actually asking "Does it matter if we have an acoustic stringed piano, or some plug-in-the-wall keyboard?" And if that’s the case, may I just take this opportunity to say, I am truly sorry to anyone who I may have slighted in the past and I applaud you for your diligent questioning. Because there is a difference between the two.
So let me give a two part answer to the question(s):
First, do you need some type of piano like instrument for your kids to play on and practice with? Absolutely. An iPad or iPhone app does not count. I had a dad ask me one time if his daughter could actually use an iPad piano…(sigh). Let me put it this way, would you like your surgeon to have only practiced cutting with a scalpel by playing Fruit Ninja? If you don’t know what that is, go to the app store and look it up.
Second, does it matter whether or not it’s acoustic or electric? No, but, if you are going to go the electric rout, let me give you a few highly recommended directions. I tell all my parents to consider starting out with an electric, because if your child doesn’t continue, it’s easier to get rid of. So, here are my recommendations in order of importance:
The keyboard should have weighted keys. Meaning if you press the key, first there should be some type of resistance and second there should be a noticeable difference in sound between pressing softly and pressing with force.
The keyboard should be a full size. All 88 keys.
A pedal feature is advisable
It should have a pleasant sound
I hope this has helped anyone who has had similar questions. Please contact me with any other questions you may have. Remember, if you are looking for a piano, I would be happy to offer my experienced opinion. And don’t forget to keep practicing.
Right now today, I have 60 active students. Over the years that I have been teaching, I have instructed easily more than 200. And in all those students, I have never seen one, that was exactly like the other. But what I find interesting, is that after two or three lessons, I can tell who will stick with me after their first semester, and who will not. I can tell which students are really going to have a chance at developing into great players and those that will just fall by the wayside wishing 20 years later that they would have stuck with it. What is most interesting, is that the students themselves are not responsible for this predictive power I have obtained, but rather the parents. *Gasp*
Yes mom and dad, I am talking about you. It is your attitude and actions that will keep a child in the game or take them out of it ... (Mostly). You might ask, "But Mr. Ales, how can I be responsible for my child not succeeding? I put them in lessons with you. You're the teacher. If they don't succeed, either they don't have the talent, or you're not a good teacher." I know that's what your thinking. But let me see if I can debunk those thoughts.
First (1st) Let me be clear. I don't believe that there are any lost causes out there. Almost anyone can learn to play music. Also, I hate the word TALENT. It is almost a curse word in my dictionary. It's a cop-out term that no one really understands. Allow me to explain myself. Talent is simply a head start. That's it. Nothing more. Imagine you were running a race, but the person you were racing was starting a quarter mile closer to the finish line than you. That's all talent is. For example, let's compare, very crudely, two of history's greatest composers. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven. Do you think that Mozart would have become known world wide for the past three hundred plus years if he had not used his natural talent (head start) to make music? Of course not. He was a child prodigy for sure, but the head start is useless unless you actually run the race. If he would have quit and gone off to be a carpenter, (not that there is anything wrong with that. My Savior was a carpenter) no one would have ever heard of him. On the flip side, Beethoven had no such head start. As a matter of fact, if you read about his life, he had most things going against him. Beethoven slaved for months or sometimes years over every note he wrote, whereas Mozart had completed symphonies in his head all the time and all he had to do was write them down. Even though Mozart had the greater Talent by far, Beethoven is still more widely known. Hard work and dedication beats natural talent every time in my opinion. Encourage your kids to keep at it even if they don't see to have the knack (yet). It can be learned.
Second (2nd), I as the teacher can only do so much in a 30/60 min lesson once a week. I would love to spend hours a day with all my students, making sure they truly understand every facet of the piano. But I also want to pay my mortgage and buy groceries. You, parents, hopefully see your kids every day. I need you to make sure they are practicing what I went over with them in their lessons. I need you to listen to them and say things like: "Good job", "I love that one", "You play so well", "I can tell you are getting better". Clap for them after they play. Ask them to teach YOU what they learned in their lesson. If they are real young beginners, ask them to teach you their songs. Ask them to play for your friends and extended family. Show them it's important to you, and it will be important to them.
Mom and dad, your kids look up to you more than you or anyone else probably realize. What you decide is important in your household is what your children will decide is important in their lives. I am nothing compared to you.