Tag Archives: Piano

Buying a Piano – Electronic vs Acoustic

By: Aaron Zimmerman

“Should I buy a piano or a keyboard with weighted keys” is one of the most commonly asked questions.  The answer I usually give is: It depends, but probably a piano.

Reasons to Buy a PianoAcoustic Piano

It is more fun.  There is something about the experience of playing an acoustic, string-vibrating piano that is more enjoyable, more engaging that a keyboard where sound comes from speakers.  Students will practice longer, and be more apt to continue with piano lessons if they are practicing on an acoustic piano.

It is the actual instrument they are learning.  Most students who take piano lessons do so because they want to perform the piano in some guise or another (Church, Recitals, entering conservatories, etc).  Playing a weighted keys keyboard is a different tactile experience than a piano, no matter how good the keyboard is.  The theoretical knowledge will translate just fine, but the piano technique will not.  Intermediate students will start playing their pieces poorer in lessons and recitals, because they aren’t used to the feel of a real piano.

It’s not as expensive as you think.  Many people think they will gauge interest for a year or two before investing in a real piano.  Many piano stores have rent, or rent to own programs that can make owning a real piano easier in this situation.  You can also find a decent, affordable piano on online marketplaces like craigslist.  If you go this route, enlist the help of your teacher, a pianist friend, or a piano technician to evaluate the piano before purchase.

Pianos have higher resale potential.  Pianos tend to go up in value.  (Of course, I’m not giving investment advice, just stating my experience).  Keyboards are electronic, and will eventually degrade.  A well maintained piano will go up in price year over year.

Reasons to buy a keyboardElectronic Piano

You don’t care about piano technique.  If you are just looking for a musical foundation to transfer to another instrument, piano technique isn’t as important.

You have sound or space restrictions.  You can plug headphones into a keyboard and practice at any hour without disturbing others in the house or apartment building.  If there aren’t any hours in which you can play an acoustic piano, there’s not much point in owning one.

It is not financially viable.  When it comes down to it, any instrument is better than no instrument.  If your choices are keyboard or nothing, the keyboard wins.


If at all possible, I highly recommend an acoustic piano. There is a higher probability of your child sticking with lessons, and being exited about practicing during the week.  You will probably be able to sell the piano in the event that they end up quitting, and it is a beautiful piece of furniture for you living room in the meantime.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/virgilinojuca/8253770176/”>Jucá Costa</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>

Read Music like a Book

By: Aaron Zimmerman

What is Music Reading?Reading Music

As in any language, fluency requires not only the ability to speak, but the ability to read and write.  Music reading is very similar to reading any other written language.  It has small elements that are put together to create larger elements.  In spoken languages, we put together letters to form words, and words to form sentences, and sentences to form stories.  In music, we start with notes, put them together to form intervals, and then put intervals together to form phrases, etc.

When learning to read, we first learn to recognize letters, then we learn common groupings of those letters over years of practice.  Recognizing letters alone is not reading, one must recognize words, and understand how the words are put together to form coherent thoughts.  In music, we must learn to recognize notes, and then learn how those notes are put together to form intervals, and finally, how intervals are used to form coherent musical ideas.

Note By Agonizing Note

Most young students learn music from a combination of memory and note spelling.  The teacher plays the piece when it is introduced, and later, at home, he plunks it out until he can recreate approximately how it sounded.  At the next lesson, minor mistakes are corrected.  This technique is supplemented with various mnemonics for identifying notes on the staff, such as Every Good Boy Does Fine (where the first letters are the note names of the lines on the treble staff), or FACE, (the spaces of the treble staff), etc.

The problem with this strategy is that it does not scale to more advanced music.  When a student is learning beginner pieces, with one note sounding at a time, (mostly quarter notes and half notes), they can get away with playing by ear, because there isn’t much to remember.  But as the pieces get harder, it will be impossible to remember and they will have to fall back to the only other skill they know, note spelling.  This works, but it is agonizingly slow to go through a piece note by note, and this frustration is a big reason intermediate students end up quitting.  Imagine reading a book letter by letter, not only is it non-sensical (a letter doesn’t “mean” anything), it is impractical for a book of any significant length.


The human brain is incredibly good at finding patterns.  We cannot help but group things, seeing larger scale object rather than the aspects that create them. When reading a book, we perceive a word, not letters. Rather than windows, wheels, and a metal frame, we perceive a car.  Rather than seeing a football defense move as individuals, a quarterback perceives a zone blitz.  Operating on a higher level lets us process much more information than we could at a lower level.

How music is read

To read music, students have to learn to see the patterns that pitches create.

Level 1 Reading with Note Names

Level 1 – Note Names

Level 1 is identifying notes on the staff.  Initially this is done by learning specific landmarks.  The treble clef circles around “Treble G”.  The dots of the bass clef enclose “Bass F”, and the first ledger line above the bass staff, or below the Treble staff is “middle C”.  As the student progresses they will pick up the names of all of the notes.  If they have trouble with this, flashcards or mnemonics are very useful.


Leve 2 - Intervals

Level 2 – Intervals

Level 2 is quickly identifying the distance between two notes, the “interval”.  These intervals are given names, based on how many steps of the scale away the notes are.  I have my students write an arrow with a number next to it between every pair of notes in their music when they are starting out on the staff.  Sometimes I even introduce a piece of music by giving them a starting note and then verbally instructing them “Third up, step down, step down”, etc.

Level 3 - Patterns

Level 3 – Patterns

Level 3 is identifying larger scale patterns.  There are many types of such patterns (just as there are many sentence structures, many grammatical rules one has to learn when learning English or any other language).  The most useful to work on identifying are things like chord progressions, scales, accompaniment patterns.

Read music like a book

The world of music is so much richer, so much wider, and so much more satisfying with the ability to read music.  One adult student described it as follows:

Before I could read music, playing the piano was like snorkeling in lake Michigan.  Now, it is like scuba diving the great barrier reef!

photo credit: djwtwo via photopin cc