Acoustic Piano or Digital Keyboard?
Copyright Hellene Hiner 2016
Saverio dalla Rosa. The fourteen-year-old Mozart plays the harpsichord in Verona, 1770
When you make a decision to buy your first musical instrument for piano practice, you may come across the opinion that an inexpensive, 5-octave (61 key), keyboard is not worth buying. Moreover, many professional musicians will tell you that your child will ruin her hearing, her hand, and her whole musical career if you don't buy an acoustic piano with weighted keys and a pedal.
But is it really true?
As a musician with a classical music education, I used to think that cheap plastic keyboards were a degradation to education. And at the first opportunity, this instrument had to be changed to a “real” one before the child was “irreversibly damaged by it.“
Today, having had students play on stage and taught in conservatories and colleges, I know for sure that inexpensive keyboards are a blessing. None of my students were “damaged" by such instruments.
Someday in a child’s life, perhaps “real" pianos will be necessary--if he wants to play music more accurately or wants to become a professional musician.
The art of the first steps.
In comparison to “real” acoustic instruments, keyboards that require a “light” touch and cost only up to $100 have many advantages for beginner students. They help get his music education off to a good start. Then his continuing success depends on whether or not he correctly chooses his method of education.My method and program, Soft Mozart, guarantees the effective musical development of any child.
I’ve had many students who later became professional musicians and successful people, who started their music journey with a 61-keys keyboard in a small group. Their parents wanted to make sure that music classes were effective for their children. This is a realistic and correct way to approach music education.
Franz Xaver Wolf. Portrait of Mozart
Do you know the history of Music?
Not Bach, Mozart, Beethoven or Schubert had the opportunity to play on a “real” piano. But that did not stop them from becoming great composers.
The truth is, classical music education was formed on 5-octave clavichords and harpsichords not the 88-key piano we’re familiar with. In fact, many original instruments were much simpler, with a smaller number of octaves and significantly less impressive performance value than keyboards.
Let’s look closer at the most widespread myths about elementary music and piano education.
Myth number #1: Digital/Electronic Keyboards ruin a child's musical hearing.
Musical hearing is an ability to distinguish sounds according to their pitch.
Absolute pitch/musical hearing is the ability to identify the absolute pitch of every sound.
It is more true to say that aging acoustic instruments may damage the musical hearing of beginners (no such problem occurs with the use of digital keyboards).
Each sound has its own pitch that depends on the frequency of sound waves. Musical hearing is damaged by listening to sounds that are off key, as they often are in older pianos.
Keyboards from well-known brands will create sounds that are indistinguishable from the sound of an acoustic piano. These instruments are made in a way that allows guaranteed precision of the sound at all times.The condition of an acoustical instruments deteriorates with time: their core breaks down, and tuning pins, to which the strings are attached, gradually get loose and the instrument gets out of tune.
Round spaces holding pegs in a tuning block elongate with age, and the piano loses its ability to stay in tune.
On the left: a schematic illustration of a tightly positioned tuning peg with a slight tilt upward, for the best resistance against the pull of a tightened string. On the right: a broken and deformed oval space in a tuning block. The tuning peg is sagging from the pull of the string
Photo is from the following website: http://musickost.ru/slovar/xorosho.html
An aging piano isn't any better than an aging car!
Regular tuning is necessary even if the piano is not in use.
For the development of the basics of musical hearing, I prefer digital keyboards (piano synthesizers).
Myth # 2: A child will never be able to comprehend the “magical” sound of an acoustic instrument because of the poor timbre and “metallic” sound of a piano synthesizer
Isn’t that true though?
The first thing a human being learns, even before birth, is to recognize different speech and vocal intonations, including timbre of voices and instruments.
This skill is given to humans by nature, and nothing, not even the most primitive musical instrument, is capable of “reformatting" our hearing to a rudimentary level. Our mind is able to enhance any sound and point out missing tones and timbres. How do you think our grandmothers listened to gramophone records?
Because of the earliest keyboard instruments, such as clavichord and harpsichord, piano music became widespread from the Baroque to the Classical period. Brass tangents hitting strings created the sound on a clavichord. The sound of harpsichord was short lasting and not very soft. Neither harpsichord nor clavichord was noted by the richness of the sound or timbre variability.
Despite that, piano music was developed on a massive scale. Whole generations were raised on such imperfect musical instruments: Rameau, Couperin, Scarlatti, Bach, Haydn, Mozart and even Beethoven!
Grace notes or musical "ornaments" were widely used in composing to help close the space between quickly fading sounds of both harpsichord and the first “real” pianos.
Imperfections in the sound of a keyboard have had no dramatic influence on musical education or musical culture of Baroque, Rococo and Classical eras. However, with the growing number of musical compositions, the need to improve the quality of the sound also grew.Therefore, beginning musical education with a keyboard may be compared to the path of development of Mozart and Beethoven: from clavichord to piano.
Myth #3: Nothing can be compared with the “live" sound of an acoustic piano.
Turns out this is not true either.
In 1984, 500 experts (musicians, sound directors, engineers and “just" listeners) evaluated the sound of a real piano by Steinway and an electronic piano by Kurzweil; the 500 experts WERE NOT ABLE to distinguish the sound of the electronic piano from the acoustic one.
Myth #4: If the child is not taught “the correct submerging" into the keys from the beginning, he will never learn to do it correctly.
This statement can’t stand up to criticism: the attention of human beings first focuses on investigating horizontal surface knowledge and afterwards goes into depth. Good knowledge of keyboard geography helps the student concentrate on the strength with which the key is hit.
Before the creation of piano in 1709 by Bartolomeo Cristofori (Italy), all keyboard instruments were not sensitive to the amount of power with which the keys were struck.
Frederico Ballesio (Italian, 19th century) - Gentleman playing a piano in an interior
“Single-escape action” was the only available design before1823, meaning one had to wait for the key to completely return to its place after it was pressed. The ability to manipulate the strength and volume of the sound through the touch of different strengths appeared only when a "double escapement” mechanism was developed by Sébastien Erard in the 1800's.
Therefore, not one musician could “submerge into the key” at that time, including Mozart and Beethoven, simply because that opportunity did not exist.
Myth #5: Without the ability to press the pedal, students lose the ability to play piano correctly.
Is that true?
The first pedal for a piano was invented in 1844. Even Schubert, a composer from the Romantic school, didn't have an opportunity to use it.
Do you think it had an influence on the quality of his music?
Clavichord of the 18th century. No pedal is found.
Society first experimented with the number and size of keys and color of a keyboard. It was only after they solved those issues that they focused on the depth, volume, and artistic quality of the sound. And this is the same way every child’s mind is structured.
First he must understand what and where to press. Later he must learn how to do it beautifully.
This is a fact: that in the history of music, there is no example of a musician who moved from harpsichord to a piano and lost his qualification or stopped playing and creating music.
Beginner students who develop their musical skills with Soft Mozart don’t have such a problem either. Perfecting visual precision in working with keys and learning the geography of the instrument, they quickly adapt to "real" pianos.
Copyright Hellene Hiner ©2016