If you learn to play this one... Cartoon ImageIf you are considering enrolling your child in piano lessons (or, better yet, investing in the Pianokids™ curriculum), your first question may very well be, “Should I buy an actual piano to learn on?”

As a piano teacher, my answer to that is obviously going to be, “Yes!”

The second question, which typically comes to mind immediately after the first question, is, “How much should I spend on a piano?”

The answer to this second question requires a bit more explanation.

In my years of experience talking to parents interested in signing their child up for piano lessons, the first hope of most parents who don’t already own an instrument, is to find a low-cost option that “will do” until they determine if the child will stick with it.

This is understandable if your child is older, say eight or nine, because at that age they may very well decide that learning to play something cool on the piano is WAAYYY too much work!

But do we really want to leave such an important decision up to a child of 3 or 4 years of age,  whose other major decisions during the day are when to have a snack and how hard to fight with Mommy about taking a nap?

Isn’t it our job, as parents, to make important decisions for our children, because they’re not mature enough to make them for themselves?  Isn’t this especially the case with decisions that could positively impact the rest of their lives?

If a parent really wants a low-cost option that “will do” for their child’s practice piano, isn’t it fair to deduce that that parent views learning to play music as optional? As extra-curricular? As a “trial” experience to be quickly eliminated if their child fusses too much?

Now, a parent can’t be faulted for something they don’t fully understand.  That’s why it’s my job, as a professional piano teacher of 35 years, to help educate parents so they can make better decisions.

My view is that learning music is a life skill and that everyone should be exposed to. The ability to play piano is truly life changing.  Every child has the potential to learn music, and helping children increase this innate musical aptitude — by teaching them piano at an early age — expands their life experiences so much that it shouldn’t be considered optional or extra-curricular.

Having your child grow up to be an accomplished and highly-skilled musician is not the goal (although it’s wonderful when that occurs!). The goal of early music training is to give your child the advantages in life that can’t really be derived from anything else.

I feel learning to play a musical instrument should be considered as important as eating your vegetables, learning to read, and not crossing the street without looking.

Parents who don’t understand the importance of this skill, and who settle for a low-cost instrument, don’t realize what that says to their child. It says, “I don’t have confidence that you’re going to succeed at this, so I’m not going to invest too much in it.”

Is that what you want to say to your child, as they begin to learn a life-enhancing skill?

So my answer to the question, ultimately, is “Spend as much as you are comfortable spending; just make sure you get something of quality.”

If you’re extremely budget-conscious, try Craig’s list or a similar site and look for bargains. You can often find a “gently used” digital piano for a couple of hundred bucks.

Just make sure to get one with heavy-weighted keys that feel like a real piano. An important part of playing piano is learning the feel of the keys, their responsiveness, and how finger pressure affects the sound.

You might even find a used upright, or a good deal on a baby grand at an estate sale. Make sure it’s not too old, though — you won’t need musical training or a discerning ear, trust me: it it’s too old, it will SOUND OLD!

But don’t worry if it’s a little out of tune, because you’ll need to have it tuned anyway after you move it. Be sure to factor that into your cost as you shop. And have a tuner on standby to tune it up as soon as you get it home.

Avoid the smaller keyboards available new at your local music store for $100-$150. In that price range they won’t have the heavy keys you want.

Bottom line: get a decent instrument that will give your child a chance of being successful in a new experience that will be very good for them.

Here’s the disclaimer of sorts:  I have taught many young children who started on $100 keyboards. BUT… (you knew that was coming, right?) I would only agree to teach someone’s child who was practicing on a cheap keyboard at home if they promised me two things: that they would buy a decent instrument within 6 months, and had a plan to pay for it; AND, that during the lessons, I could tell the child during lessons that Mommy and Daddy “…are going to get you a BIG surprise soon, as long as you keep practicing and trying your best.”

The picture sums it all up.  Don’t cheap out and risk alienating your child from music forever. Buy something that will help your child achieve success.  When they learn to create sounds that make everybody feel good, you’ll be glad you did.