By: Jessica Petrus
NWE Voice and Piano Teacher
As we get swept up into the giving season, you may be asking yourself if it's time to consider an instrument upgrade (and if so, what that looks like.) With a wide array of options on the market, it's no wonder the task can feel overwhelming!
My aim here isn't to sway you one way or another on any particular instrument (though I'm happy to make some recommendations, and can also point you in the direction of other opinions as well), but rather to share some insights I've gained for when a student is ready for that more premium instrument.
I teach a lot of Beginning Piano, and the most common instrument I see is the five octave non-weighted-keys keyboard. Their portability and affordability helps parents make a cautious investment to see if the hobby will stick. If this is yours at home, we likely talked about how it will work in the beginning while they learn very basic music literacy and technique. But eventually, I highly encourage an upgrade as your student is limited on this instrument. Developing musicianship (the expressive and artistic elements of music) will be a necessary and a very satisfying part of making music. So, how do you know if you're ready to make the leap into a finer instrument?
I look for these clues:
1. When a student takes their own initiative to practice and explore music on their own. This means that while parents may help initially set a practice routine, the majority of the time it is the student who follows through with it.**
**It's worth noting, however, that for some, the opposite is true! The self-motivation to practice may take an unexplainable nosedive. They may still love the piano and love the idea of playing, but get easily frustrated and bored when they play on their instrument. They are now looking for more than just merely playing notes on a page!
2. When their practice starts to include more composing and improvising. The student wants to be expressive, but since dynamics are limited, they turn to other expressive qualities available on their keyboards (this is usually the many 'voices' which change the sound of the instrument).
3. When they play, their bodies are very wiggly. This is often because they are starting to develop the 'feeling' of musicality, but are not yet able to channel that energy into the piano due to their current instrument's limited expressivity.
4. They ask me lots of questions about my instrument in the studio, in particular what the pedals do (a standard piano has three pedals).
5. They simply ask for an upgrade! When it comes to making music, I'm a firm believer in intrinsic motivation and self-awareness. If your student can communicate solid reasons to you for why they want a better instrument, I say strike while the iron is hot!
Keep in mind there are numerous ways to acquire a better instrument. While buying a brand-new acoustic baby grand piano at Steinert's is certainly an option, so too are electric pianos and uprights. And don't underestimate a good used instrument! Facebook Marketplace, NextDoor, Buy Nothing groups, etc. are all great places to keep your eyes peeled for that next instrument. If you want a second opinion, you can send me the link and I'll take a look at it for you. If you already have an acoustic instrument but it needs a little tuning-love, I'm happy to help connect you with local piano technicians.
If you do feel you're ready to take the plunge, what should you do with that smaller keyboard? I say keep it on hand if you have room! A spare keyboard can come in handy on a vacation or mix up a mundane practice routine by playing it in another room in your home (or outside).
As always, I'm here if you have questions and I look forward to continuing guiding your student along their unique musical journey!