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10 Questions and Answers About the Piano

The piano is big news these days. Between the 300th anniversary of its invention and the latest research indicating its positive effects on brain development, there’s a lot of information for people to digest, especially for those who may be considering a piano purchase. Some of the most prevalent concerns are addressed in the Q&A below:

Q1.So the piano is 300 years old. How has the grande dame of the music world maintained her standing for such a long time?

A learned man once said, “The organ and the piano are the father and mother of all music.” From its invention in Italy circa 1700, the piano has been the foundation of all music; for solo and ensemble performance, as the vehicle for musical composition, in the church, and in the home as the center of family life. After 300 years, the piano still has the power to spread happiness and joy, and to bring the family together. Playing the piano is fun and something every child and adult should experience.
Q2. Is it true that playing the piano can make a child smarter?

The phrase “Music Makes You Smarter” is a media quote and somewhat of a generalization. What the studies have shown is that music training is linked to the development of higher brain functions such as spatial-temporal reasoning. A recent study at the University of California, Irvine, indicated that students taking piano lessons exhibited significant improvement in the understanding and grasp of proportional math and fractions. Coming in contact with music may not make you “smarter” in the broadest sense, but studying piano can give your children a leg up in their schoolwork and in life. It is an advantage that every parent should give his or her children.
Q3. Are there any specific cues that parents should watch for when deciding if a child is ready to begin piano lessons?

Parents can look for a child that tends to sing a lot, or, if they have a piano, one who tries to play melodies by ear. Their child might also be someone who gravitates to people playing music, or focuses on music on the radio or TV. But in some cases, you can’t really tell until you give them the opportunity to try it. Just remember, you are not trying to create a concert artist in a little tux or formal…just give them the opportunity to experience the joy and pleasure of music. After all, piano is fun, and it’s something everyone can enjoy and benefit from.
Q4. Is there a particular age that is appropriate to begin piano lessons or does it depend on a child’s maturity and/or interest?

When to start depends a lot on the child, including size, maturity, ability to focus, etc. In the first test market program to provide after-school group piano lessons to first and second grade students, most of the students did extremely well and truly enjoyed the experience. So first grade is not too early to start. One instructive story comes from a man who was handed a ball as a second grader and told to go out and play sports. He never looked back. Now as an adult, he has a bad knee and a ruptured Achilles tendon, and can no longer play ball. Now he wishes he had learned to play piano instead because that is something he could do and enjoy for the rest of his life.
Q5. How do you go about finding a competent piano teacher?

The Music Teachers National Association has a piano teacher search engine on its website where you enter your zip code and you get a list of MTNA member teachers in your area. And, of course, there is the “old friends and relatives network.” They are always happy to offer suggestions about piano teachers…and almost anything else you can think of.

Q6. Sports are always associated with building self-confidence in a child, but some kids just aren’t athletic. Can playing the piano have the same benefits?

The quarterback always seems to have a lot of self-confidence. But what about all those other kids sitting on the bench? The wonderful thing about piano is that everyone can be a winner. Piano playing is fun and every child can progress at his or her own pace. When you play for the beauty and enjoyment piano can bring, you can’t help but succeed. And that personal success brings self-confidence. As Billy Joel said at the opening of the Smithsonian Piano 300 Exhibit in Washington, DC, he loved piano because it helped him meet lots of girls, make lots of money, and, most important, it brought joy, happiness and fulfillment to his life.
Q7. Is it true that a recent study showed senior citizens who participated in group keyboard lessons had reduced stress, anxiety and loneliness scores as compared to those who did not play?

Yes. That was the “Music Making and Wellness” project at the University of Miami. Those in the study who took keyboard lessons had decreased anxiety, were happier, suffered less depression and indicated they were less lonely then the control group who did not take keyboard lessons. This study is another wonderful example showing that music and piano participation can improve your quality of life no matter what your age.
Q8. Are you ever too old to begin piano lessons? Our lifestyles are so hectic that playing a few bars of Mozart might be a good way for a parent to alleviate stress.

You are never too old to learn piano. A few years ago NPF produced a series of three videos called “The Possible Dream I, II and III” about men and women who discovered or came back to piano as adults. For them, piano provided moments of relaxation and brought an element of peace and civility to their all too often hectic lives. There was an airline pilot who played piano after each flight to relax, a professional athlete who found piano calmed him before a big game, and the stockbroker who depended heavily on the piano to reduce stress. Playing piano is fun and relaxing. It’s just what the doctor ordered. Too bad Medicare doesn’t cover it.
Q9. There are so many different types of pianos available. What factors need to be considered when purchasing a piano?

It’s important to buy the best piano you can afford, because it will be a center of family entertainment for many years. Choose a size, model and finish that fits your home. And choose the piano with the sound and touch you like the best. It needs to be an instrument you enjoy playing and listening to every time you or your children sit down at the piano to play. In addition, it’s preferable to get a new piano. Piano building techniques have improved dramatically in recent years, and families with a new piano will have an instrument–and a gift–that will last them a lifetime.
Q10. I understand that the piano is being celebrated in many different ways over the course of the year. Can you tell us what’s happening and the web site to key in to for the latest in the Piano 300 festivities?

The Smithsonian’s Piano 300 Exhibit is the centerpiece of a worldwide celebration of the 300th anniversary of the invention of the pianoforte in Italy around 1700. The Exhibit will be on display at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC until early June 2001. There is an excellent PBS television special called “Piano GRAND!” that is being shown on local PBS stations around the country this summer. A documentary on the history of the piano will be out next winter. And there are hundreds of related concerts, publications, programs and other activities celebrating the piano’s birthday both nationally and locally.