Buying a Piano

Recently a new student of mine got her first acoustic piano! It is a used upright piano, but of a good brand and in great condition. The student had been practicing on her keyboard for over a year before coming to my studio, but shows immense talent and motivation. I am happy for her that she finally has a real instrument and can start to develop a solid technique and musicianship. I am especially moved by the family’s commitment for her music education when I heard that they had to sell their current car and get a smaller one in order to make this happen. It reminded me of how I got my first piano. I was 5, had just begun taking lessons, and my father had just graduated from college. He and my mother married very young, while he was still attending a private medical school. By the time he graduated, he had a young family to support and a huge student debt to pay off. The day finally came that he got a resident job at a hospital; he went to the bank and borrowed some money. I do not know exactly how much he borrowed, but not too many years ago I found out from my mother that he spent half of that loan to buy me a brand new piano so I could practice. I grew up with that beautiful red mahogony upright Yamaha U3 until I was 20. I guess you can say my father had a LOT of faith in me! He spent the other half of that loan to buy himself a used car, so he could commute to and from the hospital.

I have told this story not too many times at all, because it gets me every time. I am moved to tears by this extraordinary gesture from my parents. If I was in their shoes, I do not think I could have done the same. I can not even begin to imagine how many hundreds of things they could have gotten instead, having three young children in the family to provide for.

Throughout my teaching career, I have encountered many types of students and parents. One of the most frequent comments I have heard from parents is that they do not want to buy an acoustic piano unless they know the children will practice. Apart from financial reasons (which I totally understand), other ‘excuses’ I have heard include space limitation, noise level, movability, and even in some cases the odd belief that today’s digital pianos are just as good if not better! (Can you imagine!) What saddens me the most is that often a great deal of money is still spent on keyboards or digital pianos, when a used acoustic piano would have been a much better investment and definitely better choice for the student in terms of developing technique and aural sensitivity. On the other end of the spectrum, I have known parents that work two jobs, forgo holidays or home renovations, so that they can buy a decent instrument; they are willing to ‘take a chance’ on their children’s music education. The most disappointing comment I have ever heard from a parent is actually not to do with whether to get a piano or keyboard, it is that they do not think it is a good idea to give their children piano lessons because they do not think the children will ‘stick with it’. That is like saying I do not want to send my children to school because I do not think they will want to study!

One of the nice things about being a member of many music organizations and teacher’s associations such as MTNA and MTAC is that I am notified by companies in the music business about their latest publications or products. Recently I received a letter from Steinway & Sons about their new line of Boston Performance Edition Pianos. While browsing the Steinway website to find out more information, I came across the page on The Value of Childhood Music Education. (I am always looking for new ‘evidence’ to convince potential parents how great and important music education is for children!) I could not agree more with the last paragraph:

“With such clear evidence of the benefits of childhood piano education, the choice as to which piano to purchase still remains. It is highly advisable to buy the best piano you can afford. It stands to reason that the higher the quality of the piano, the better it will sound. And that’s certainly encouragement to get your budding young pianist to play, play more often, and play longer!”

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