Friday, December 17, 2010

Decorate AROUND your piano, not on top of it...

Ah yes, 'tis the season. Why not decorate your piano too? Well, be careful. Pine garland, candles, glass Christmas balls and figurines can put micro scratches in your piano's finish. Christmas cookies and candy won't make your piano play any better. In fact, mice love little crunchy bits of the gingerbread man. Don't let this happen! (If "Tom and Jerry" manage to get inside your instrument, that old cartoon is not going to be very funny anymore because the damage they can cause could cost hundreds of dollars to fix.)

Little crumbs, if nothing else, can create a pricey repair job because the action will probably need to be removed to clear these pieces.

If you have a high gloss, ebony piano, I highly recommend that you decorate everything in the room, but the piano! Glass Christmas balls can break and the fragments can fall into the internal parts of the piano. Candles, candles, candles. Cool it with the candles! Yes, recreating the candlelit room that Mozart practiced in is exhilarating, but you may be playing with fire. Your piano may not love you back when candle wax oozes down into the tuning pin area. This can take hours or even days to have removed by a professional. Use the candles, but keep them off of the instrument. Runners and tablecloths can be creative, but this invites company to use your Steinway as a buffet table.

If you have a vertical, give it a good cleaning and shine up the finish. If you have grand, clean it and prop the lid up. Now decorate the room, but put nothing on the piano. If you're not sure how to clean your piano, call your piano tuner, have your piano tuned for the holidays and get an estimate on a piano cleaning. (If the tuner is already on-site, it should cost under $50 in most cases.)

Now simply place holiday classic sheet music on the music desk.

A word of advice...
"Deck the Halls" (not the piano).

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Choosing the Right Piano Lamp

Practicing the piano with the proper lighting will improve your performance.

Playing piano by candlelight was very popular before the light bulb was invented, but we've come a long way since the 1800's. Make sure there is proper lighting in the piano area so you and your family can get the most out of your practice sessions.

After all, the candle wax tends to melt down and burn the lid on the piano causing it to devalue and in some cases, cause internal damage to the instrument.

Piano lamps are designed to shed just the right amount of light on the sheet music as well as the keyboard area. If you shop around online, you will be amazed at the variety of piano lamp designs that are available. These decorative fixtures can range in price from around $100 to over $1,000.

Piano lamps are made from a number of materials including brass, bronze, chrome and all sorts of enameled metals. There are also some cheaper models made of plastic. There are even lamps that are specifically designed for the different types of pianos, namely upright and grand piano lamps. If that doesn't strike a chord with you, there are floor lamps, clip-on lamps and even counter-balance lamps.

Replacement bulbs are available at most hardware stores and lighting departments in your local home improvement stores and cost between $5 and $20 depending on the model. Some lamps have multiple bulbs some make sure you pick up a few spare bulbs to throw in your closet.

The most common piano lamp is a 14", brass adjustable lamp with two bulbs. The cost of this unit averages around $125 plus shipping online.

It's well worth the investment to have a nice looking, sturdy piano lamp on top of your instrument that will shed just the right amount of illumination for your practice sessions.

Remember: Starting a small fire in your piano area is no excuse for not practicing, so lose the candle and buy a piano lamp. You WILL improve your performance.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Keeping Liquids Away From Your Piano

Spilling liquids into your piano can result in costly repairs. In most cases, when water from a vase or hot wax from a candle makes contact with your piano cabinet, it will discolor or breakdown the finish. If the spill ends up inside your piano, it can cause multiple problems. It can end up on or under the keys causing them to become sluggish. If liquid makes contact with the action, many parts may need to be removed and cleaned or even replaced by a piano technician. This can easily cost hundreds of dollars. If the spill reaches the sound board, it can cause serious damage or even totally ruin your piano.

If you accidently spill something in your piano, call a qualified piano technician and get an estimate on an internal cleaning. In most cases, the problem can be resolved.

Birthday cake under the keyboard from 2 1/2 years ago, Hershey's kisses from yesteryear wedged in the piano action and green tea flowing down your soundboard will not improve your technique or give you "stunning staccato."

So keep all liquids, food and candles away from your piano because it's not a salad bar; it's probably the most expensive instrument in your home.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Cheap Keyboard vs. Used Piano For Students

Thinking about getting a keyboard for your new piano student? CHECK WITH YOUR PIANO TEACHER FIRST.

Most reputable piano teachers frown upon keyboards for students. There are several reasons why piano students should own a traditional "acoustic" piano rather then a cheap keyboard.

First off, it is very important that students practice on a piano that has the right "touch" or keyboard feel. The piano is a percussion instrument. A piano student practicing on a cheap keyboard is like a percussionist practicing on practice pads, instead of a traditional "trap" drumset; the feel is close, but not as accurate as the traditional instrument. If possible, it is best to have all music students practice on the best instrument available. Even if they are in college, it is better to wait for a practice room with a quality acoustic piano to open up, rather than to settle for practicing in the dorm on a cheap keyboard.

Second, even an old, used acoustic piano usually has three pedals. Once a student gets into their second book, they will need to practice pedal techniques. Keyboards usually have no pedals at all or come with a cheap version that does not have the same touch as a traditional piano pedal.

Third, the sound is not really the same. Learning how to make a note or chord sustain at the right time, for the right length of time takes practice on the right instrument.

And finally, what will the "teachers" think? It's a funny thing, but during the first lesson, piano teachers typically try to set their students at ease by having the student tell them a little bit about themselves. One the questions that ALWAYS comes up is, " you have a piano at home right now?" and "...what kind of piano do you have?"

The answer in my house once was, " Dad refurbishes and sells pianos, so we've had about five of them, but he keeps selling them!"

Now I'm happy to report that the answer finally is "...a Yamaha studio piano."

Believe it or not, when the student tells the teacher they have a quality piano, the teacher knows that they don't have to keep begging the parents to "try and buy a used piano soon."

(When I first took piano lessons, the teacher would not take you as a student unless they saw an acoustic piano in your living piano, no lessons!)

In the end, if the student always practices on a traditional instrument, they should develop their technique much faster with less frustration. (After all, you wouldn't teach your teenager how to drive a car by taking them out on a John Deere riding mower, would you?)

So take the plunge - invest in a used or new acoustic piano and keep your student off of cheap piano "imitations" if possible.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

How to Get Rid Musty Odors in Older Pianos

When you buy a used piano, you may be faced with the task of getting rid of its musty odor. Cigarette smoke, bug and rodent infestations and mold cause most of the piano odors. Pianos that give off a musty smell may have mold or mildew growing inside them. Remember, many pianos are over 30 years old and just because you found them in someone's living room, doesn't mean that they were never stored in a damp basement or dirty garage for a short period of time or even for years in some cases.

You can try removing the bottom panel located under the keyboard and vacuuming the dust out of the lower compartment. You may then place a new, opened box of baking soda in the lower right-hand side of the compartment. If you find that this helps, but doesn't completely solve the problem, call your local Piano Tuner-Technician and ask them to schedule a service call to perform an internal cleaning.

The tuner will come out to your home, take the piano apart and take all the keys out, exposing dust and mildew that has been trapped inside your piano since its first year. (I highly recommend that you DO NOT attempt to remove the keys yourself. You can severely damage your piano and it could end up costing hundreds of dollars to fix.)

The technician will then thoroughly vacuum and clean the internal cabinet of your piano the proper way. Cleaning solvents may be used in this procedure. They may also used a compressed air hose to get way inside the action and behind the strings. An opened box of baking soda should then be placed in the compartment. You may want to schedule a piano tuning also. Pianos should be tuned every six months. This procedure can cost anywhere from $125 to $250 depending on your tuner's rates and how dirty the inside of the piano is.

Your piano should be "ship-shape" after this procedure. In tune and without that musty odor, allowing the piano player to stay in "practice mode" for a longer period of time without breathing that unhealthy odor.

Monday, April 26, 2010

What's "under the hood" of that used piano?

When shopping for a used piano, make sure your look inside it. Bring a flashlight. Ask the seller if they would remove the panel beneath the keyboard and the panel that includes the music desk (the music holder).

If you are looking at a grand piano, ask the seller to lift the lid and slide the music desk off. In some cases, the seller may offer to remove the fall board which covers and protects the keys so you can look inside with a flashlight.

This will allow you to examine the general condition of most of the internal parts. You don't need to know what all the parts are called or what their function is. You just need to see the general condition.

Do the parts look fairly new, but dusty? If so, this is a good sign.

In most cases, you will find a coating of dust inside most pianos. This can be a very light coating or a very heavy coating of dust. The heavy coating of dust is often found in pianos over 50 years old. Many times, there will be foreign objects and old parts near the pedal area. Some of these parts may have come loose and fallen down over the years. In some cases, the parts up top have been replaced and the piano works fine, anyway. However, if some of the keys don't work properly, the piano will require some repair by a piano technician.

If the parts look rotted, cracked and some are broken, you should call a piano technician to come in and do a piano appraisal and a repair estimate BEFORE you buy the piano. Another alternative is to look around for another piano somewhere else.

Remember, buying a used piano is similar to buying a used car. It's easy for the seller to shine up the outside. It's what's inside that matters more than the outside. Many practice rooms in music schools across the country have beat up pianos that play really well. If the piano plays well (just like if the used car drives well), it may very well be worth buying. The outside is important, but not as important as how the piano plays and was maintained over the years.

Most pianos that have leg, pedal and cabinet damage were, at some point in their lives, moved by the owner. Lifting the piano up is only half the battle. Getting it from point "A" to point "B" without putting a scratch on it is the goal of a piano moving pro. Remember, people can be seriously hurt moving a piano if they are not experienced. I highly recommend hiring professional piano movers to deliver your used piano to your home because it's well worth the money. Plan on about $200 to $600 on the average. Pianos are like cars. Don't get stuck with a lemon!

So when shopping for a used piano, look inside, have a piano tuner-technician appraise and estimate repairs at a later date (if necessary) and hire a professional piano mover.