Forte Piano’s reputation is made through passion and dedication of a former Steinway employee who devotes time and life in rebuilding and restoring fine pianos for 30 years.
George Michalski, the founder was trained in Europe and has a masters degree in piano rebuilding, uses the old world craftsman philosophy.
Each piano contains thousands of moving parts. His delicate touch makes for precise adjustments to each key. Rebuilding a piano requires a high degree of skill and talent.
The Right Piano
A piano is like no other instrument, or any item for that matter, you will purchase. As a musical instrument it should be pleasing to the touch and the ear, and as a piece of furniture – a large one at that – it can enhance the elegance or warmth of a room. A piano is a marvel of both old-fashioned handcrafting and high-tech ingenuity. It has so many intricate, moving parts that your head may spin when trying to learn how it works, let alone how it works, let alone when buying one. A piano is expensive, even at the lower-end of the prestige and quality scale. It is, simply, a major purchase, one worthy of research, investigation, and contemplation to ensure you secure the right piano to meet your needs.
Whether you’re buying a piano for your home or for an institution, such as school, group home, or house of worship, for a young beginner or an accomplished player, you want to select the right piano to meet your needs. The best place to start is to identify those needs. We’ll help you identify your piano selection criteria, address common concerns about buying a piano for a beginner, and give you some pros and cons of renting versus buying.
You will know the provided foundation and we will help you walk through pitfalls to avoid, help you understand how pianos work, survey pros and cons of various models and styles, and offer tips for striking a favorable deal.
Determining What’s Important
Any major purchase process should start with identifying your selection criteria. So let’s look at the factors that will help you decide if a particular piano is right for you or not. Here are three basic questions to help you get at the most critical criteria:
Who will play the piano?
What’s the budget?
Where will the piano be located (or fit in your home or other space)?
Who will Play It?
Is the piano for a child, an adult, various family members, a group of students? Is it a gift for someone else? Will the piano be used for teaching or in an institutional setting, such as accompaniment for a choir? If the piano is for a beginning student, there are several options available. The more advanced the student, teacher, or institutional need, the narrower the choices become, since these situations call for a more professional instrument.
A piano being in tune (the notes sounding in the correct relationship to each other) and at concert pitch (all of the notes at the international standard tone) is an absolute minimum requirement, for any piano, for any player. For the beginning student, a piano needs to be able to be tuned and should have a consistent touch (each key feeling like its neighbors) across the keyboard. Ear training is a critical for beginners since they need to learn how each note is supposed to sound. For instance, the middle C note on the piano they play and practice on needs to sound the same as their teacher’s middle C note. If it sounds different – if it’s at a different pitch – a student can become confused.
Touch training is also critical for beginners. Having each key play like its neighbor is important. Piano keys that are worn or feel irregular add an extra layer of difficulty to learning how to play. If beginners have to remember that they must play certain keys harder to achieve the same volume, they can tire easily and lose interest in playing. There are some notes in western music that are played more often than others, sort of like vowels in language. These commonly played notes will wear faster and more noticeably than the rest of the keys. Technicians can make adjustments to make up for their differences, but only for so long before the keys simply cannot be adjusted further. Not to mention, if E key sticks every time it is played and so the player has to pull it back up, it will be hard to keep time to the music.
Today there are thousands of used pianos available that have aged long beyond their useful musical life expectancies. Many of these instruments may have been mediocre to begin with, so today the exhibit little touch consistency, poor tone quality and little or no tuning stability. Their cabinets may be less than inspiring as well, often with broken legs, cigarette burns, drinks rings, or cracked key tops. Just because most of the pieces are there and it sort of works does not mean the piano is necessarily good enough to be a practice instrument. The essence of successful beginning piano progress is repetition through regular, daily practice, and that requires a suitable instrument to practice on each and every day.
If you are an advanced player or teacher, or represent an institution with such, you will need to select a piano that matches your more sophisticated needs in touch and tone and one that can stand up to heavier, more frequent play. As we describe pianos and their functionality here, you will find references to features and models that are particularly suitable for institutions.
What’s the Budget?
Pianos aren’t cheap, so price and budget are big considerations. Some families decide they will buy a better instrument after the beginner progresses. Unfortunately, this isn’t the best logic when it comes to buying a piano, and it can actually mean spending more than if you invested in a solid instrument to begin with. Spending more money now on better instrument can help you avoid a more costly upgrade years down the road if you or the player you’re buying for progresses to upper-intermediate or advanced levels of play. Pianos last a long time, so plan for long-term need.
Beginners are really at the mercy of the piano they must practice on, so it’s important that tone and touch are as good as possible from the very start. Plus, after a less expensive starter piano is purchased, the acquisition of an upgraded instrument often doesn’t happen, and the student either continues on an inferior piano or loses interest altogether. Advanced players can usually play around the limitations of most pianos and still create something musical, but beginners don’t have that ability.
Pianos that are suitable for beginners come in various price ranges. A new, good entry-level vertical piano will cost in the neighborhood of $20,000, an entry-level grand piano $5,000 or more, and just over $1,500 for a suitable digital piano. These are street prices will likely be suitable in performance and serviceability.
The ballpark of what a good piano will cost, and later we’ll talk about new vs. used pianos. Also, we’ll cover the pros and cons of renting a piano, an approach that can work well for families with serious budget limitations, but that is not without its downside.
Where Will It Fit?
As part of your selection criteria, you will need to identify where you are going to put the piano. Vertical pianos are about five feet wide and two feet deep, and they vary in height from about three feet to five feet. Digital pianos typically have a slightly smaller footprint, usually reaching only four-foot ten inches from side and less than two feet in depth. Grand pianos measure about five feet across the front and extend back from the keyboard about four-feet seven-inches to more than nine feet for a concert grand piano.
Determine where you will place your piano and measure that area before you start shopping. Also, take a look at the look at the room’s acoustics – the qualities of the space that determine how the piano will sound. These include size of the room, whether the ceilings are vaulted or low, floor coverings such as carpet, wood, or tile, and whether windows have drapes or are uncovered. Thinking about these details will help you and the salesperson narrow down the field of available pianos to those that will best match your space.
Pianos, Children, and Parents
As parents, we throw money, time, attention, love, and care into the pot, stir it for eighteen years, and hope for the best for our children’s development. There are no guarantees of success for your child’s attempts to learn piano and become a serious player, but learning to play piano will enhance a child’s life. We encourage you to consider piano lessons as a critical part of your recipe for your child’s development.
Will Your Child Stick with It?
We often hear parents say, “I don’t want to spend a lot of money on a piano until I’m sure my child will stick with it.” Let’s break this statement down to think about what it really means.
“A lot of money …” What does that mean? You now realize that a $400 keyboard will not do the child justice, and you have some idea what beginning-level piano cost.
“Until I am sure …” The learning curve on piano is steeper than on some other instruments. It will take at least 18 months in the best case scenario for beginners to edge ahead of the learning curve and sound somewhat musical. “…sure my child will stick with lessons.” the decision to have your child take piano lessons and learn to play the piano belongs to you. If you let children quit lessons, they all will. Liberace probably would have quit lessons if his mother had let him. All beginners want to quit lessons. Learning how to play an instrument takes work. Anything that takes work requires a lot of commitment.
If your child must “demonstrate” stick-to-it-iveness to you, set a reasonable goal such as six months or one year to practice on a rental piano, then buy a decent piano.
The Case for Piano Lessons
Several studies have proven that piano lessons facilitate and enhance synapse development of the nerve cells in the brain. This development benefits spatial relationship reasoning, verbal skills, cognitive memory, hand-eye coordination, and more.
In 1993, Dr. Gordon Shaw, a physicist, and Dr. Frances Rauscher, a psychologist, both at the University of California, Irvine, coined the phrase “The Mozart Effect” to title their research conclusions. Their original experiments tested college students who had listened to 10 minutes of Mozart’s Sonata in D Major for Two Pianos compared to those who had ten minutes of silence or relaxation tapes. The Mozart listeners scored significantly higher on a spatial-temporal test than the other two control groups. This type of testing measures the ability to recognize objects as the same or different but also tests the ability to form mental images of physical objects. This is a key to the higher brain function required for mathematics, physics, and engineering.
Their next studies focused on actual brain development. Rauscher and Shaw worked with inner-city preschoolers to see the effect of musical training on brain development. Group 1 was given piano lessons. Group 2 was given computer lessons. Group 3 was given singing lessons. Group 4 was given no lessons, only the standard school curriculum. Six months later, the piano students performed 34 percents better on spatial-temporal ability testing than did the control groups.
The conclusions of these and other studies are that, although the child is born with trillions of neurons in the brain, if these circuits are not connected and stimulated by a child’s environment, they are trimmed by the brain and discarded. Patterning, or connection building, begins shortly after conception and continues until at least age 10. The richer and more stimulating the child’s world is, the more enhanced the brain network becomes.
Typically, girls are started in traditional piano lessons as early as five, boys at six. This four-or-five-year window between then and age ten is critical for many of the brain-building benefits we are discussing. This is not to say that piano lesson aren’t good for older children or adults. We see regular success stories with every age group in learning to play. There are just extra benefits to piano lessons for youngsters.
Piano lessons and regular practice teach discipline and build self-esteem. Piano lessons build work ethic and reinforce the idea that important things are worth working for. Piano lessons and regular practice counter current cultural trends promoting immediacy and instant gratification.