Practice Instrument

PRACTICE INSTRUMENT

We highly recommend purchasing a quality digital or acoustic piano for your child to practice on at home.  

There are many options out there that range from free to multiple thousands of dollars.  There are acoustic pianos, digital keyboards, stage pianos, synthesizers, hybrid pianos, silent pianos, digital workstations, midi keyboards, portable keyboards, console instruments…. They can have 60, 76 or 88 keys….  They might be able to mimic the sounds of many different instruments, including birds, fire engines and crashing waves, or they might concentrate on the highest piano sound possible.  They might have a similar feel and touch to pressing a computer keyboard, or they might have the latest technology in replicating the touch of a concert grand.  The options are seemingly endless.

How do you decide which instrument is right for your family?

We know that this is unfamiliar territory for many, so we’ve put together a guide to help you navigate.

No matter which option you choose, there are a few non-negotiable items that your instrument must have:

  • it must have all 88 keys (60 or 76 is not sufficient, even from the earliest lessons).
  • it must have an integrated music stand, instrument stand, music bench and pedal (at least the sustain pedal). Do NOT set it on the table, do NOT use a kitchen chair.  The ergonomics are terrible!!! Your musician’s entire body will be put under undue stress, and they will be prevented from playing well.
  • it must be touch sensitive (be able to play soft and loud by varying the strength of key strike, not the volume button) with semi-weighted keys (fully weighted is best).

If you are not able to provide these minimum requirements, we kindly suggest that you delay lessons for now.

Acoustic Pianos

Acoustic Piano

Pros:

  • A well-maintained** acoustic instrument is the best option.
  • They have a beautiful rich sound and authentic touch.
  • It’s just impossible to replace the sound and touch of an acoustic piano, though the highest end hybrids with the latest technology (i.e. Kawai NV5s and Yamaha NU1x models are impressively good!)

However, there are some serious caveats to be aware of…

Cons:

  • They require ongoing maintenance and care.  You will need to have an acoustic piano tuned by a professional technician every year or two.
  • They generally do not improve with time.  The life span of a piano is approximately 60 years.  As pianos get older, they lose their ability to hold the correct pitch, and things may start to break that are not worth repairing.
  • They are affected by environmental changes.  Temperature swings, changes in the humidity and exposure to moisture can negatively affect your instrument.
  • You get what you pay for.  That “free” piano your well-meaning neighbour has had sitting in their basement could easily cost a couple of thousand dollars to bring back to playing condition. Pianos are very complex instruments.  It is WELL worth having a technician check it over before you buy, the same way you would have a mechanic check over a used car.
  • Pianos are HEAVY.  They require professional movers to move.

** If you are looking at a cheap, used acoustic, it might be worth considering a decent digital piano.  You very well might end up with a better instrument for less money.  

Digital Pianos

There are many different kinds of digital pianos.  Below are the 3 main categories, displayed from least to most expensive.

In the world of digital instruments, the old adage “you get what you pay for” definitely holds true.  Not just any instrument will work for learning to play the piano.  A quality instrument will set up your child for their best chance of success.

Some families are reluctant to make a purchase before they are sure that their child will love lessons. We totally get that! The last thing you need is another hobby collecting dust! Check out the local music stores – most have appropriate instruments you can rent, often for around $50/month.

Preferred brands: Yamaha, Kawai, Roland

Touch Sensitive Keyboard

This is the ABSOLUTE MINIMUM level of keyboard.  Any level below this is just a toy, and is not suitable for lessons.  Check the instrument carefully to be sure that it meets the requirements.

Pros:

  • Some instruments in this category are sufficient as a starter instrument.
  • “Touch sensitive” means that you can get loud and soft sounds from the keyboard by pressing the key faster or slower.
  • It MAY have the full 88 keys.  But it also might have only 76 or even 60 (you need all 88, right from the first lesson!)

Cons:

  • There is no weight behind the keys so it can’t be used to effectively practice any kind of technique.  The lack of weight means that fingers don’t develop their strength.
  • Many don’t have the full 88 keys.  Even the earliest songs require all 88 keys.
  • It is unlikely to come with a music stand, keyboard stand, pedal or proper bench.  Each of these items are REQUIRED, not optional, so you will need to purchase them separately.
  • There is very little resale value when you need to upgrade, which is usually within the first year of lessons.

If at all possible, skip this option and head straight to the next category.  It will save you money in the long run, and will set up your pianist with their best chance of success.

Semi-weighted Keyboard

Pros over the previous level:

  • It has weighted keys meaning it not only responds to the touch with a louder or softer sound, but the keys feel and respond more like piano keys too.
  • It can be a sufficient practice instrument for the first few years.
  • A cheap “X” stand (for the instrument), music stand, plastic pedal and bench may be included.

Cons:

  • You may need to upgrade in a couple years as you begin to play more sophisticated music.
  • You may need to purchase an additional instrument stand, bench, music stand and pedal, bringing the total cost closer to a higher quality instrument.  Again, each of these items are REQUIRED, not optional.
  • They don’t have fantastic resale value.

Digital Piano

Pros over the previous level:

  • Usually a digital piano refers to a semi-weighted or fully weighted keyboard with a more ‘piano-like’ furniture stand which is much sturdier than the “X” stand given with most keyboards.
  • A pedal unit is normally integrated.
  • If you can’t get an acoustic piano right now, a high end digital piano is the next best thing.

Cons:

  • Not suitable for advanced study.

Where can I find a practice instrument?

The main piano stores locally are:

Long & McQuade – sales and rental of digital instruments
13785 104 Ave
604) 588-9421

Tom Lee Music – sales and rental of digital and acoustic instruments
19638 Fraser Hwy
(604) 532-8303

We are happy to help guide you through the process of acquiring an instrument.  Once you find something you are interested in, feel free to email me a link.  I can let you know whether it fits the necessary criteria!