Many of my prospective students and their parents ask about which keyboard I recommend to get started for piano study. I have decided to write down my "Budget Keyboard Buying Guide" here, so that all can benefit from it.
I recommend selecting a keyboard from Casio, Yamaha, Kawai, Korg or Roland. I would be wary of other brands in a price range below $1000. (For example, Guitar Center's house brand, Williams, seems to have trouble functioning much past the expiration of the warranty) To budget properly, I would recommend spending about $500 on a keyboard. Anything that is below $300 brand new is likely lacking important features that will make practicing at home much more difficult than it should be. I would much rather a student delay starting lesson by a couple of months and get a quality instrument for practice, rather than jumping right in and not being able to practice effectively at home.
I’ve added a new book to my reading list. It’s called Station Eleven and it’s about a traveling troupe of Shakespearean actors and classical musicians. They call themselves the Traveling Symphony. Poorly paid, fed and clothed, their lives are hard; they travel from small town to small town in the Midwest. Oh, and their world has been devastated by a flu-like pandemic, civilization has all but collapsed.
I think that most people today would wonder why, of all the things, these survivors try to keep alive the traditions of Shakespeare and Beethoven. Isn’t there something more important to do? Shouldn’t they be trying to rebuild the internet? The electrical grid? Something useful? Maybe so, it’s certainly important work. But I think these fictional artists are on to something we too easily forget.
Purchasing a first guitar for yourself or the new guitarist in your family can be a lot like purchasing a car or a pair of shoes, they come in many different styles to serve different functions, and some different sizes are available, but beyond that, most of the differences are a matter of taste.
There are simply too many options to create a definitive list of which instruments you should buy, especially as the availability of brands and prices will depend on where and when you are shopping. Sometimes you can hit a really good deal and get twice the guitar for the same price. The goal here is to present you with the questions you need to ask yourself to make an informed decision.
You may recall the definition of practice from our previous blog about the book "Outliers." It stated that practicing is "purposefully and single-mindedly playing [your] instrument with the intent to get better." But how do we accomplish this? I can't take sole credit for any of the following ideas, as most of them were taught to me by my own teachers and method books along the way. Regardless, this the approach to practicing I have internalized and aspire to pass on to my own students.
Playing an instrument is just as much, if not more, an intellectual task than a physical one. But, when we are first learning our instrument, the necessary physical development is often more taxing than the mental development. So early on we spend most of our practice time training our fingers, or limbs to do what we want them too. But soon the fingers learn how to move and the primary focus becomes developing our mental ability to tell the fingers what to do.
I've recently read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. The concept of "10,000 hours to mastery" is intriguing. He claims that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to master any skill. The examples used in this book include musicians, computer programmers, lawyers, and clothiers. Of course we are especially interested in mastering the skill of playing our instrument.
Gladwell contests, and I certainly agree, that innate ability, or talent, is not enough to achieve proficiency. All of the violinists from an elite school were categorized into three groups: (1) potential world-class players, (2) players considered to be good, and (3) players who were unlikely to play professionally. Then they all answered the question, "How much have you practiced?"
Here is what they found:
"Everyone from all three groups started playing at roughly the same age, around five years old. In those first few years, everyone practiced roughly the same amount, about two or three hours a week. But when the students were around the age of eight, real differences start to emerge. The students who would end up the best in their class began to practice more than everyone else: six hours a week by age nine, eight hours a week by age twelve, sixteen hours a week by age fourteen, and up and up, until by the age of twenty they were practicing - that is, purposefully and single-mindedly playing their instruments with the intent to get better - well over thirty hours a week. In fact, by the age of twenty, the elite performers had each totaled ten thousand hours of practice."
A close look at the legendary band "The Beatles" tells a similar story. Before reaching world-renown, they had played together more than 1,200 times, mostly in Hamburg, Germany. Some musicians don't play that many gigs in their whole lives, let alone with the same band. It was the substantial amount of time they had put in that enabled them to have such a huge impact on music.
10,000 hours is a LOT of time. If you practiced your instrument non-stop, it would take more than a year to get that many hours. But, with regular practice and perseverance, it is an obtainable goal, especially if you have the opportunity to start young. Look closely at the graph, how many years would it take you to log 10,000 hours at your current rate of practice?
It is important to note that no one gets to spend the necessary time honing their craft to become a master without help from family, teachers, friends, and their community. Helping a young child recognize and begin to develop their skills and talents while they are young will give them an enormous head start towards mastery and success. The goal is that we spend our time - or empower those we wish to see succeed to spend their time -, wisely. All it takes is time, but another moment has just slipped away.