Acoustic vs Digital Piano/Keyboard

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Lori Bolt said: Apr 24, 2012
Lori Bolt
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
San Clemente, CA
226 posts

As a piano teacher, I am often faced with new student inquiries from parents who have purchase the “latest, greatest” digital piano or keyboard with weighted keys, etc. I have explained why I would prefer that they upgrade soon to a standard piano ~ “Suzuki teaches student to produce beautiful tone, student won’t be able to duplicate some of what I teach when practicing, tone is pre-programmed into an electric instrument….” etc. Sometimes I have an effect, sometime not. My Teaching Policies state that families w/ keyboards need to acquire a piano within 6-9 months of beginning lessons.

So, piano colleagues, what are your talking points or policies regarding electric instruments?

Lori Bolt

Paula Bird said: Apr 24, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

Often it comes down to financial issues. I try and help my families find affordable pianos. We are in touch with local piano tuners, who often know of a bargain here and there. We scour piano sales events and also review secondhand piano programs tied into the university.

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio
http://teachsuzuki.blogspot.com (blog)
http://teachsuzuki.com (podcast)

James said: Apr 24, 2012
James Guerin
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
27 posts

Hi Lori. I believe that the electric weighted keyboards are not adequate for Suzuki practice, but I will allow them and not turn down the student. That would be a greater loss. I think it is better to bait the hook….tell them they must get an acoustic to continue lessons.

My “policy” for those students has been to promote listening and tone production in the studio while assigning them note practice at home, all the while making it clear that this is temporary. I want to win them over to Suzuki. That is all that counts. In 3-6 months those I’ve taught have mostly either gotten a real piano or stopped taking lessons.

I refuse to give up until the student gives up. Of course, non-weighted keyboards are totally unfeasable, at least to me.

Carrie said: Apr 25, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
58 posts

I have found children to be quite resilient in this. Adults, not so much. The children are able to take in what I teach and accomplish it on my piano at their lesson even if all they have to practice on at home is a keyboard. My adult students with keyboards at home have been more frustrated. In either case, they do eventually end up buying an acoustic piano.

I get frustrated with salesmen who sell people these keyboards, telling them they are the same as acoustic pianos. I even went into a local piano store and told the owner my frustration. Parents that buy keyboards and come to me asking for piano lessons are totally convinced a keyboard is a piano only better because it doesn’t need tuning. Argh!

carebear1158

Lori Bolt said: Apr 25, 2012
Lori Bolt
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
San Clemente, CA
226 posts

Yes, yes and yes to all the answers so far.

Paula, I do suggest affordable ideas if families are looking for a “real” piano, but more and more, parents have just invested in this fantastic (to them) digital piano. I could kiss the rare family that inquires about lessons but has no instrument yet!

Jim, I agree about the weighted vs non-weighted keys. My approach to the matter has been similar to yours, but I think occasionally mentioning this as “temporary” situation is a good idea. There is much “winning over” in Suzuki ~ I wish we didn’t have to win them over about needing a piano!

Carrie, you’re right ~ children are adaptable and resilient. However, I have found that those who practice on keyboards, even the best, have poor tone at lessons (I do address it, but impossible for child to follow through) and poor tone in recitals. Yes, parents are apparently being convinced that digital is the best. What response did you get when you spoke to the local dealer?

Lori Bolt

Terri Parsons said: Apr 25, 2012
Terri ParsonsCello, Flute
14 posts

I don’t know if I agree with not allowing weighted electronic keyboards for learning. I perform with a master pianist and she loves my Kawai electronic keyboard. It’s in a case so it looks like a real acoustic piano, but it’s a weighted keyboard. Getting this keyboard was the only way I could encourage her to come to my studio to practice, eliminating the need for me to haul cello and gear to her place. So, if a master pianist is fine with it why wouldn’t Suzuki teachers be fine with it?

Terri Parsons
Cello/Flute Teacher
Cellist
La T Da Music
www.lajollastrings.com

Karen said: Apr 26, 2012
Karen Huffman
Suzuki Association Member
Piano, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
Portland, OR
28 posts

Terri:

In some ways, you are right. Kawai has made some really great improvements on the electronic keyboard. I love their digital keyboards with the new weight system they have in there. For awhile I was thinking of getting one myself for my home. However, unlike electronic string instruments, the tone on a digital piano will never be made first and foremost by the person playing it. It is pre-recorded or digitally produced. Since one of the goals of Suzuki teaching is coaching students from the very beginning to produce good tone, a digital piano is not at all ideal. For a master pianist who already knows these things, though, one of the Kawai digitals is a great rehearsal instrument, but I bet your performance partner would not much want to perform on it. I want my students to be practicing at home on a piano that is as close as possible to the instrument they will walk up to at the recital. As a lot of people have said, a digital piano is ok for awhile, but pretty soon, a real practice piano is vital for learning how to make that beautiful tone.

Lori Bolt said: Apr 26, 2012
Lori Bolt
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
San Clemente, CA
226 posts

Karen ~ great point! You took the words our of my mouth re: why Suzuki teachers would not want digital pianos used. This is the argument I use most often w/ parents, however, it takes time for them to “get it”. It has nothing to do with how the piano “feels”. Suzuki is very much about the student creating beautiful tone. What we do at the piano ~ how we touch the keys ~ makes a huge difference in tone quality. See my previous comment on tone. This is my consistent experience as a Suzuki teacher.

While Terri’s cello teacher may have enjoyed the digital Kawai as an accompanist, she probably would not want to teach on it due to the preprogrammed electronic tone. It’s very much like playing a computer! Great for some situations, but not all ~ though the piano dealers would seem to be convincing parents otherwise.

I’m just realizing how many traditional piano stores have closed here. I live in a congested county in s. CA, and I think the nearest store is now ar least 25 miles from my town. Sad…

Lori Bolt

James said: Apr 26, 2012
James Guerin
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
27 posts

I think the fascination with digital pianos is exactly like that with a futuristic android. We’re amazed by how it simulates a human being and proceed to have a conversation about history and religion and music with it, about which it has nuanced opinions. Wow!

But for some reason…..we can’t express love to that android.

Karen said: Apr 26, 2012
Karen Huffman
Suzuki Association Member
Piano, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
Portland, OR
28 posts

Lori: I definitely deal with all of your same concerns. I have even had parents lie to me about the instrument they have at home. They only admitted to having a 4 octave non-weighted key keyboard when I consistently expressed concern that their fully capable child must not be practicing with Mom because they would leave at the end of a lesson with much improved tone and come back with the same wimpy sound the next week. I am also frustrated with the “well we just want to make sure Suzie Q will like it first, then we will invest in a piano.” First of all, once I expressed interest as a child and my parents agreed to lessons, it was then seen as my obligation to see that commitment through. Second of all, if they don’t have a good instrument from the beginning, of course their child will become frustrated eventually and lose interest because they have a hard time performing at the same level of their peers. Their are a lot of issues that the digital piano problem brings into the limelight. Unfortunately, as piano teachers, we can’t fix them all!

I also agree with jimmykeys. One of the grands in my studio is a Kawai that my parents bought for me when I was 11 years old. She is my baby and I don’t think I could ever part with that instrument. I also used to have an electronic organ that I got rid of as soon as I could. It was fun, but the circuits took so much maintenance and the thing used so much power I just got disgusted with it. At least with an acoustic, your parts are always available and if properly tuned, it will last you for years and years and years

JoAnn said: Apr 26, 2012
 Violin, Viola
20 posts

I would like to reinforce the response regarding the difference between a master pianist not minding playing on an electronic keyboard as an accompanist and a piano teacher not wanting their students to learn on this as opposed to a real acoustic piano.

There is no comparison, even with the best of the electronic pianos, and the sound of a real string being hit by a real hammer and resonating with the instrument and the acoustic properties of the room it is in. There are some EXTREMELY expensive digital keyboards (if you can afford that- then get an acoustic instrument!) that can duplicate the sound of an instrument very well that professionals will use when they can not possibly have access to a real instrument of the type they need (such as concerts in venues without harpsichords, celestas, pipe organs, etc.) but these can not duplicate the actions necessary to get that sound from a real instrument and no mater hard you try, that sound has been programmed in and is not being generated by the player. And there can be no way, no matter how weighted, etc the keys rate, that the response of these actions can be felt properly unless the student is dealing directly with an acoustic instruments. Pianists who already know how to do this and have experienced this will be able to deal with a digital piano- and of course appreciate them, the closer they can approximate the feel of an acoustic piano if there is no other recourse, but I am very, very sure they would not want to substitute this over an acoustic piano unless they had absolutely no other option or really don’t know the difference…which would be truly sad.
My master accompanist will play on my weighted digital piano because she knows I have no other option, for routine accompanying and for less advanced pieces, but when it comes to more advanced pieces, I always have the students play with her on a “real” piano (i teach violin and viola). Even with my moderate piano skills I can tell the difference between playing on a digital piano and an acoustic piano and they are definitely not in any way the same thing.

Ann Marie said: Apr 26, 2012
Ann Marie Novak
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
Stevens Point, WI
4 posts

I absolutely concur with jhaasler on this topic. I especially enjoy hearing this from a string player. As a pianist, I am faced with this issue frequently, and it can be a bit frustrating. I have played some very “high-end” keyboards, and none of them compare with the experience of playing the real thing.

Ann Marie Novak
Instructional Specialist in Suzuki Piano
Aber Suzuki Center
University of Wisconsin Stevens Point
(715) 346-4889
Fax: (715) 346-3858

JoAnn said: Apr 26, 2012
 Violin, Viola
20 posts

I want to apologize for the excruciating number of typos and bad grammar in my last post!!

Thank you, Ann Marie, for being able to get through that and respond- it must haven taken some effort!

I will be more careful next time—haste makes waste!
JoAnn

André said: Apr 27, 2012
André AugensteinViolin, Piano
55 posts

Dear Lori,i believe you have already found their answer,
because my specialty is Violin.
Greetings
André Gomes Augenstein
Violin Teacher

Violin Student(International Suzuki Association) in Germany 1987
Violin teacher (International Suzuki Association) in Dublin 1995

Lori Bolt said: Apr 27, 2012
Lori Bolt
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
San Clemente, CA
226 posts

Thank you, Andre ~ yes, great discussion. Much that can be gleaned and used in “selling” the virtues of an acoustic piano. But we’re preaching to the choir….

What I think would be of great use for us is if those who commented would come back and boil their argument down to a concise, but strong statement or two about the topic, as if speaking to a parent about the need for an acoustic instrument. What would you tell them?

Lori Bolt

Lori Bolt said: Apr 27, 2012
Lori Bolt
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
San Clemente, CA
226 posts

On another subject, I encountered some kind of email scam while reading another discussion here…one of those we all know from just seeing a link when we open. I clicked the link while here and my contact list was hacked almost immediately. A bogus email from me was sent out….could be a virus…..please be careful! It looked just like a teacher’s comment, but only the link. It may use me for that purpose, so don’t open!!

Lori Bolt

James said: Apr 27, 2012
James Guerin
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
27 posts

I think the most important thing is for the parent to experience the acoustic piano and electronic keyboard via playing. We should not just ask but assign them an ear task, since the general discussion of “which is better?” is abstract.

Perhaps give them a few things to play that are slow and sonorous—use different registers, dynamics, pedal—at exactly their level (it could be five notes played different ways).

They can comment on how the tones are different in each one. They can judge which one allows their dynamics and tone to be more expressive. Their children can participate. This may take a lesson to do.

I also have a Casio Privia right in my studio. This is the standard now for inexpensive musical keyboards. So we can do the comparison right in my studio. I will try this.

Karen said: Apr 27, 2012
Karen Huffman
Suzuki Association Member
Piano, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
Portland, OR
28 posts

What a great idea Lori! I think this is something I will definitely put on my website in the FAQ section (when I finish redesigning it haha).

Here is what I am thinking:

Why is it so crucial that my child learn to play on an acoustic vs a digital piano?

There are several reasons your child’s first experience at a keyboard should be on an acoustic piano.

  1. First and foremost, the tone produced by a digital piano will never originate from your or your child’s fingers. That sound was either pre-recorded or digitally produced to imitate the sound of a real piano. If you have looked around elsewhere on this site, you know that one of the tenets of Suzuki study is learning to produce that amazing tone! They will not learn if they don’t practice on an acoustic instrument and that lack of success will only produce frustration in the end.

  2. You will not have to upgrade later. Inevitably, your child’s skill will outgrow that digital keyboard and you will probably find yourself picking up that acoustic piano anyway.

  3. Repairability. One of the biggest selling points on those digital pianos is the fact that they “never have to be tuned.” This is absolutely true, but when they break, they really break. If it has been long enough since you purchased the instrument, you may have a pretty hard time finding parts and labor willing to repair it. Remember, a lot of technology these days is built to be thrown away and bought again.

  4. Value and investment. I put this last because I don’t want this to truly be your reason for buying an acoustic piano but it should definitely cross your mind. If you make the investment in a good quality acoustic piano (and I would make sure you consult your teacher or a knowledgeable friend when shopping), when you take it back to the dealer to either sell it or trade it in for another instrument, you will find that for the most part, that piano will retain a good portion of it’s original value, especially if you are trading it in at the store where you originally bought it. A digital piano will NOT. Digital keyboards are much like a car. The moment you drive it off the lot, it’s price drops dramatically. If you make this mistake, you will regret it.

What do you guys think? More? Less? I am copying this to a document on my computer so I can remember to put it up on my website.

I like jimmykeyes idea to have them try it out too. Since my studio is inside a piano studio, this would be a really easy thing for me to do. And I know for a fact the dealers would not mind, especially if I am encouraging them to spend more on an acoustic piano. :P I already try to always come shopping with my students and parents when they go to the store now. That was mostly to be sure they invested in a good quality piano but it would probably also prevent them from buying the digitals now too. I will definitely try it. I think I have just the thing too! A lot of the Adult method books have pieces with lots of resonant pedal.

Karen said: Apr 27, 2012
Karen Huffman
Suzuki Association Member
Piano, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
Portland, OR
28 posts

Also, kudos to jhaasler for your support as well. Not sure why I didn’t see your post before but good to know that other musicians agree!

Lori Bolt said: Apr 28, 2012
Lori Bolt
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
San Clemente, CA
226 posts

Thank you, Karen! Your list is great ~ hits some major points without being too long for a parent (or even a teacher!) to read. You make another good point, not previously mentioned, about the cost of some digital pianos.

I agree ~ kudos to jhaasler for insightful support! And Jimmy ~ the comparison idea is fantastic….I think I may need to arrange a field trip to a piano store!

Lori Bolt

Karen said: Apr 29, 2012
Karen Huffman
Suzuki Association Member
Piano, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
Portland, OR
28 posts

Thanks Lori! And thanks for bringing up this topic. It is definitely an important one.

Jennifer Visick said: May 1, 2012
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

Question: I’m not a pianist, but in a less than ideal economic situation, do students ever share pianos successfully?

Presumably if your students all come to the teacher’s studio for lessons, then they all live within the same general area, and could be teamed up for buddy practice sessions. Or, maybe a local community center, or a place of worship, has a piano that is not being used every day, and families could arrange for weekly practice time there. Or, if a teacher’s studio is not super full, what if students who didn’t have acoustic pianos were required to “rent” practice time on the teacher’s studio piano?

Paula Bird said: May 1, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

Wouldn’t it’s also be wonderful if students could find a piano in the home of an elderly person or a nursing home. The student’s practice session would be a lovely gift to the elderly or otherwise infirm. I remember as a child that my mother frequently asked us to go play on pianos in the homes of homebound neighbors who greatly appreciated our playing hymns and other solos.

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio
http://teachsuzuki.blogspot.com (blog)
http://teachsuzuki.com (podcast)

Jennifer Visick said: May 1, 2012
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

I don’t know about “practice” being a gift to listen to. If the student is really practicing, won’t it be previews of this or that hard bit, or polishing of the phrasing of a single line (or measure) over and over again? And overly slowed down? I’m more inclined to think it would be a favor to the student, not a gift to the person whose home the piano is in. There’s a reason people go to see polished performances, not practice sessions.

Perhaps the review part of practicing is more like a performance. And, of course, if a student were able to practice on such a piano, they would also want to give a performance for the person whose home they are working in!

By the way… this is only loosely related to the discussion of using community pianos, especially as it’s not usually permanent… but has anyone had students go out and play on the “Play me! I’m Yours!” art-piano exhibits in their cities? http://www.streetpianos.com/

Laura said: May 12, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

I am jumping in late to this discussion, and don’t have much to add… other than to emphatically agree with the difference between students and trained pianists playing weighted electronic keyboards.

A trained pianist can still “tease” the appropriate sounds out of an electronic keyboard, albeit it is still noticeably frustrating that the “voice” truly doesn’t come from one’s fingers. A trained pianist who can control an acoustic keyboard will transfer this technique to an electronic keyboard; the only loss being what a significant portion of what is being “said” by the fingers.

A student who is still learning to control one’s fingers will not be able to feel or hear the difference in her good vs. poor technique—because, as it has been mentioned, the “voice” is programmed and doesn’t directly come from the fingers. It is impossible, for example, to make “bad” sounds (e.g. harsh, thin, or dull), or “extra beautiful” sounds (e.g. singing, warm, or sparkling) on an electronic keyboard—so the student will never have the appropriate feedback to adjust her technique. A student who sounds “good” on an electronic keyboard will find his playing completely lacking on an acoustic piano, because his fingers have not fully learned to “speak” properly.

Glad to hear I’m not the only one using this reasoning to my parents!

Lori Bolt said: May 13, 2012
Lori Bolt
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
San Clemente, CA
226 posts

Thanks, purple_tulips….I like the way you explain it. We’re all using great reasoning with parents…I only wish we didn’t have to! Why do those seeking piano lessons run out and purchase an instrument w/out even having a teacher to consult? I know some may have “inherited” a piano or keyboard.

Do the parents of new violin/flute/cello run out and purchase/rent first? Or do they get the guidance of the teacher once they’ ve found one?

I feel like a salmon swimming up stream!

Lori Bolt

Connie Sunday said: May 13, 2012
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

I would prefer everyone have an acoustic instrument, but it’s just not going to happen. Another issue, if the teacher has the MIDI facility, you can teach on Skype and demonstrate on the student’s instrument, if they also have the MIDI setup and the software (which is only $69.00). See:

http://www.zenph.com/im2

However more mechanical all of this is, I suspect it’s on the forward side of history.

Free Handouts for Music Teachers & Students:
http://beststudentviolins.com/library.html#handouts

Alissa said: May 13, 2012
Alissa Rieb
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools, Viola
61 posts

Oh I can’t tell you how many families have bought a violin off eBay without
even being sized! The blue ones are my favorite :-/

Alissa Rieb
ABQstrings

On May 13, 2012, at 10:25 AM, SAA Discussion
wrote:

New Comment on Acoustic vs Digital Piano/Keyboard from Lori Bolt
Acoustic vs Digital
Piano/Keyboard

Lori Bolt said:

Thanks, purple_tulips

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