17. Upright, Grand & Electronic Pianos; Purchasing and Care

a. Grand, Upright, or Electronic?

Grands have certain advantages over uprights. However, these advantages are minor compared to the importance of the skill level of the pianist. There are great pianists who became technically advanced practicing mostly on uprights. There is no evidence that you need a grand for initial technical development, although a few piano teachers will insist that any serious student must practice on a grand. An argument can be made in favor of uprights, at least for beginners, because uprights require firmer playing and may be better for early finger development (you need to press harder in order to make louder sounds). They may be superior even for intermediate students because uprights are less forgiving and require greater technical skill to play. These arguments are controversial, but do illustrate the point that, for students up to intermediate level, any differences among uprights and grands are small compared to other factors such as student motivation, quality of teachers, practice methods, and proper piano maintenance.

Another factor is piano quality: good uprights are superior to low quality grands (which includes most grands under 5.2 feet). The rule concerning uprights is simple: if you already have one, there is no reason to get rid of it until you buy an electronic or a grand; if you don’t have a piano, there is no compelling reason to buy an upright. Students above intermediate level will need a grand piano because the most technically difficult music is harder (if not impossible) to play on most uprights and electronics.

Electronics are fundamentally different from acoustics (grands and uprights). The construction of their actions is not as good (not as expensive) and most electronics do not have good enough speaker systems to compete with the acoustics. Acoustics, therefore, produce sound in a fundamentally different way which causes many critics to favor acoustics because of better control over “tone”. Thus the question of which instrument is best is a complex one depending on the person’s circumstances, and specific requirements. We will now discuss each type below so that we can make an intelligent decision on which type of instrument is best for which student.

b. Electronic Pianos

Warning

This book was published back in 2009, some of this information may be out of date. Take it with a grain of salt.

Today’s electronic (or digital) pianos are still inferior to good grands for technical development but are improving rapidly. Even the best electronics are inadequate for advanced pianists; their mechanical response is poorer, the musical output and dynamic range are inferior, and fast, technically advanced material becomes difficult to execute. Most inexpensive speakers can not compete with the soundboard of a grand. The electronic pianos do not allow the control of tone, color, pianissimo, staccato, and the special manipulations of the damper and soft pedals, that good grands provide. Thus there is no question that an advanced pianist will prefer a grand piano over an electronic; however, this conclusion assumes that the grand is tuned at least twice a year, and is regulated and voiced whenever necessary. Most uprights do not provide sufficient advantage for technical development to warrant their use over quality electronics that are readily available, comparatively inexpensive, and costs little to maintain.

The electronic pianos have some unique advantages, so we discuss them here. Because of these advantages, most serious pianists will own both an acoustic and an electronic:

  1. For less than half the price of an average acoustic upright, you can buy a new electronic piano with all the features you need: headphone and volume control, touch control, organ, string, harpsichord, metronome, recording and midi/analog out, transposition, different tunings and canned accompaniments. Most electronics provide much more, but these are the minimum features you can expect. The argument that an acoustic piano is a better investment than an electronic is false because an acoustic piano is not a good investment, especially when the initial cost is so much higher and initial depreciation is large. The electronic piano requires no maintenance, whereas the maintenance costs of acoustics are substantial, since they require tuning, voicing, and regulation about twice a year, plus occasional repairs.
  2. The electronics are always in perfect tune. Very young children exposed sufficiently to perfectly tuned pianos acquire absolute pitch automatically, although most parents never discover this because, if it is not discovered and maintained, it is lost during the teen years. The acoustic piano begins to go out of tune the minute the tuner leaves your house, and some notes will be out of tune most of the time (in fact, most of the notes will be out of tune most of the time). However, these small deviations from tuning will not affect the learning of absolute pitch unless the piano is allowed to go way out of tune. Because too many acoustic pianos are inadequately maintained, the fact that the electronics are always in tune can be a big advantage. The importance of a well tuned piano for musical and technical development cannot be over-emphasized, because without the musical development, you will never learn how to perform. The sound of an electronic can be greatly improved by hooking it up to a set of good speakers or sound system.
  3. You can use headphones or adjust the volume so that you can practice without disturbing others. The ability to turn down the volume is also useful for reducing ear damage when practicing loud passages: an important factor for anyone over 60 years old, when many will start to suffer from hearing loss or tinnitus. If you are an advanced player, even an electronic will create considerable “playing noise” (with the volume turned off) that can be quite loud to anyone nearby and these vibrations can transmit through the floor to rooms under the piano. Therefore it is a mistake to think that the sound from an electronic (or an acoustic with “silent” feature) can be completely turned off.
  4. They are more portable than acoustics. Although there are light keyboards with similar features, it is best for piano practice to use the heavier electronics so that they do not shift while playing loud, fast music. Even these heavier electronics can be easily carried by two persons, and will fit in many cars.
  5. Variable touch weight is more important than many people realize. However, you have to know what “touch weight” means before you can use it to advantage; see the following paragraphs for details. In general, the touch weight of electronics is a little lighter than that of acoustics. This lighter weight was chosen for two reasons: to make it easier for keyboard players to play these electronics (keyboards are even lighter), and to make them easier to play compared to the acoustics. The disadvantage of the lighter weight is that you may find it slightly more difficult to play an acoustic after practicing on an electronic. The touch weight of acoustics needs to be heavier in order to produce a richer tone. One advantage of heavier weight is that you can feel the keys of an acoustic while playing, without inadvertently playing some wrong notes. However, this can also lead to careless playing with some inadvertent finger motions because you can lightly hit a key of an acoustic without making any sound. You can practice getting rid of these uncontrolled motions by practicing on an electronic and choosing a light touch weight so that any inadvertent strike will produce a sound. Many people who practice only on acoustics don’t even know that they have such uncontrolled motions until they try to play on an electronic, and find out that they are hitting a lot of extra keys. The light touch is also useful for acquiring difficult technique quickly. Then, if you need to play on an acoustic later on, you can practice with increased weight after you acquire the technique. This two-step process is usually faster than trying to acquire technique at heavy key weight.
  6. Recording piano music is one of the most difficult things to do using conventional recording equipment. With an electronic piano, you can do it with the push of a button! You can easily build up an album of all the pieces you learned. Recording is one of the best ways not only to really finish and polish your pieces but also to learn how to perform for an audience. Everyone should cultivate a habit of recording every finished piece from the very beginning of her/is lessons. Of course, the initial performances will not be perfect, so you may want to go back and re-record them as you improve. Too many students never record their performances, which is the main reason for excessive nervousness and difficulties during performances.
  7. Most pianists who follow good practice methods and become proficient when young will end up composing their own music. Electronic pianos are helpful for recording your compositions so that you don’t need to write them down, and for playing them in different instruments, as appropriate for each composition. With some additional software or hardware, you can even compose entire symphonies and play every instrument yourself. There is even software that will transcribe (though imperfectly) your music onto sheet music. However, there is nothing like a quality grand to help you compose – the sound from a great piano somehow inspires the composing process; therefore, if you are a serious composer, most electronics will be inadequate.
  8. If you can acquire technique rapidly, there is nothing stopping you from broadening your horizon beyond classical music and playing popular music, jazz, blues, etc. You will appeal to a wider audience if you can mix music genres and you will have more fun. The electronic piano can help by providing the accompaniments, drums, etc., for those types of music. Thus these extra capabilities of the electronic pianos can be very useful and should not be ignored. They are more easily transportable for gigs.
  9. Buying electronic pianos is very simple, especially when compared to buying acoustics (see e. Purchasing an Acoustic Piano). All you need to know is your price range, the features you want, and the manufacturer. You don’t need an experienced piano technician to help you evaluate the piano. There are no questions about whether the piano dealer made all the proper “prepping”, whether the dealer will honor the agreements to ensure that the piano functions after delivery, whether the piano was properly “stabilized” during the first year of ownership, or whether you got one with good or inferior tone and touch. Many established manufacturers, such as Yamaha, Roland, Korg, Technic, Kawai, and Kurzweil, produce electronics of excellent quality.
  10. And this is only the beginning; electronics will improve in leaps and bounds with time. One recent development is piano modeling (see Pianoteq), instead of the sampling used before. Good sampling requires a tremendous amount of memory and processing power, which can slow down the piano response. Modeling is more versatile and enables things you can not do even on a grand, such as partial soft pedal, control the hammer shank flex or let you play Chopin’s Pleyel.
  11. We should all move towards WT (Well Temperaments) and away from ET (Equal Temperament that is universally accepted today). Once you decide to use WT, you will need several of them. Learning to discern and bring out key color is a most valuable skill. ET is the worst tuning for this. With electronic pianos, you can get most of the common WTs.

The touch weight of a piano is not a simple matter of adding or subtracting lead weights to the keys to change the force required to depress them. The touch weight is a combination of the down weight, the inertia of the keys and hammers, and the force required to produce a certain volume of sound. The down weight is the maximum weight that the key will support before it will start to move down. This is the weight that is adjusted using lead weights, etc. The down weight of all pianos, including the “weighted key” electronics, is standardized at about 50 grams and varies little from piano to piano regardless of touch weight. When playing a piano, this 50 gram weight is a small fraction of the force required to play – most of the force is used to produce the sound. In acoustic pianos, this is the force needed to impart velocity to the hammer. In electronics, it is the electronic reaction to the key motion and a fixed mechanical resistance. In both cases, you also have to overcome the inertia of the mechanism in addition to supplying the force for producing the sound. For example, when playing staccato, most of the force required is for overcoming the inertia whereas when playing legato, the inertial component is small. Electronics have a smaller inertial component because they have only the inertia of the keys whereas the acoustics have the additional inertia of the hammers; this makes the acoustics less sensitive to inadvertent hitting of the keys. Therefore, you will feel the most difference between acoustics and electronics when playing fast or staccato and little difference when playing slow legato. For the pianist, touch weight is the effort required to produce a certain volume of sound and has little to do with down weight. For acoustics, touch weight is determined mostly by hammer mass and voicing (hardness of the hammer). There is only a narrow range of hammer masses that is ideal because you want heavier hammers for larger sound but lighter ones for faster action. Thus a lot of the touch weight can be adjusted by the piano technician by hammer voicing, rather than by changing the down weight. For electronic pianos, touch weight is controlled in the software by switching to the sound of a softer hammer for heavier touch weight and vice versa, which simulates an acoustic grand; there is no mechanical change to the down weight of the keys or the inertial component. Thus if you switch to the heaviest key weight, you might feel that the sound is somewhat muffled and if you switch to the lightest weight, the sound might be more brilliant. In electronic pianos, it is easier to decrease the touch weight without adversely affecting the sound because there is no hammer to adjust. On the other hand, the maximum dynamic range of most electronic pianos is limited by the speakers, so that it is generally easier to play a larger dynamic range with acoustic grands. In summary, touch weight is mainly a subjective judgment by the pianist about how much effort is required to produce a certain volume of sound; it is not the down weight (resistance of the keys to the keydrop). Some pianists have asked their tuners to increase the down weight (with the hope of increasing finger strength), but this throws the piano out of regulation and is bad for technical development (velocity, musicality).

You can demonstrate this subjective judgment by turning the volume up or down using the electronic piano and trying to achieve the same loudness. Thus if you practice on an electronic for a long time with the volume turned down, and then play an acoustic, the acoustic can feel downright light. Unfortunately, things are a little more complicated because when you switch to a heavier touch weight with the electronic piano, it gives you the sound of a softer hammer. In order to reproduce the sound of a properly voiced hammer, you need to strike harder. This adds to the perception of a heavier key weight, and this effect cannot be simulated by changing the volume control. From these discussions, we can conclude that: there are small differences in the touch weight between grands and electronics, with the grands tending to be heavier, but those differences are not sufficient to cause major problems when switching from one to the other. Thus the fear that practicing on an electronic will make it difficult to play on a grand is unfounded; in fact, it is more likely to be easier, although it may take a few minutes of playing on the grand to get used to it.

If you are a beginner purchasing your first piano, an electronic is the obvious choice, unless you can afford a quality grand and have space for it. Even in that case, you will probably want an electronic piano also because the cost of the electronic will be negligible compared to the grand, and it gives you so many features that the grand does not have. Most acoustic uprights are now obsolete.

c. Uprights

Acoustic uprights do have some advantages. They are less expensive than grands. They take up less space, and for small rooms, large grands may produce too much sound so that they cannot be played full blast with the lid fully open without hurting or even damaging the ears. However, the electronics have these same advantages plus many more. Owners of uprights too often neglect hammer voicing entirely because this neglect results in more sound. Since uprights are essentially closed instruments, the neglect of voicing is less noticeable. Uprights also tend to be less expensive to maintain, mainly because expensive repairs are not worthwhile and are therefore not performed. Of course, there are quality uprights that are competitive with grands in feel and sound quality, but they cost as much as grands.

Among uprights, spinets are the smallest and generally the least expensive pianos; most do not produce satisfactory sound, even for students. The small height of spinets limits the string length, which is the main limitation on sound output. In theory, the treble should produce satisfactory sound (there is no limitation on string length even for spinets), but most spinets are weak in the treble because of poor quality of construction; therefore, be sure to test the higher notes if you are evaluating a spinet – simply compare it with a larger piano. Console or larger size uprights can be good student pianos. Old uprights with poor sound are generally not salvageable, no matter what their size. At such an age, the value of the piano is less than the cost of restoring them; it is cheaper to buy a newer upright with satisfactory sound. Most uprights have been “obsoleted” by the electronics. Therefore, there is no reason to buy a new upright, although some piano teachers and most piano stores might suggest otherwise. Many piano teachers have not had enough experience with electronics and are more accustomed to the feel and sound of the acoustic uprights and tend to recommend acoustics as “real pianos”, which is generally a mistake. The difficulty of purchasing a quality upright, the problems frequently encountered with having it properly “prepped” before and after delivery, and the need to keep it regulated and in tune, are not worth the slight difference in “tone”, if any.

d. Grands

The advantages of most grands are: greater dynamic range (loud/soft), open structure allowing the sound to escape freely (which provides more control and expression), richer sound, faster repetition, smoother action (use of gravity instead of springs), a “true” soft pedal (see 24. Soft Pedal: Hammer Voicing, Physics of the Piano Sound), clearer sound (easier to tune accurately) and more impressive appearance. An exception is the class of “baby” grands (less than about 5’-2”) whose sound output is usually unsatisfactory and should be considered mainly as decorative furniture. A few companies (Yamaha, Kawai) are beginning to produce baby grands with acceptable sound, so for these very new pianos, don’t write them off without testing them. Larger grands can be classified into two main classes, the “student grands” (those below about 6 to 7 ft), and the concert grands. The concert grands provide more dynamic range, better sound quality, and more tonal control.

As an example of this “quality versus size” issue, consider the Steinway pianos. The baby model, model S (5’-2”), is essentially a decorative furniture and very few produce sufficient quality sound to be considered playable and are inferior to many uprights. The next larger size group consists of models M, O, and L (5’-7” to 5’-11”). These models are quite similar and are excellent student pianos. However, advanced pianists would not consider them to be true grands because of poorer sustain, too much percussive sound, and notes with too much harmonic content. The next model, A (6’-2”), is borderline, and B(6’-10”), C(7’-5”), and D(9’) are true grands. One problem with evaluating Steinways is that the quality within each model is extremely variable; however, on average, there is a significant improvement in sound quality and output with each increase in size.

Grands require hammer voicing more frequently than uprights; otherwise, they become too “brilliant” or “harsh”, at which point most owners will end up playing the grand with the lid closed. Many homeowners ignore voicing entirely. The result is that such grands produce too much and too harsh sound, and are therefore played with the lid down. There is nothing technically wrong with playing a grand with the lid closed. However, some purists will express dismay at such practice, and you are certainly throwing away something wonderful for which you made a significant investment. Performances at recitals almost always require the lid to be open, resulting in a more sensitive piano. Therefore you should always practice with the lid open before a performance even if you normally practice with it closed. In a large room, or in a recital hall, there is much less multiple reflection of the sound so that you do not hear the deafening roar that can result in a small room. A concert hall will absorb the sound from the piano so that, if you are accustomed to practicing in a small room, you will have difficulty hearing your own playing in a concert hall.

One of the biggest advantages of grand pianos is the use of gravity as the return force of the hammer. In uprights the restoring force for the hammer is supplied by springs. Gravity is always constant and uniform across the entire keyboard whereas non-uniformities in the springs and friction can create non-uniformities in the feel of the keys of an upright. Uniformity of feel is one of the most important properties of well-regulated, quality pianos. Many students are intimidated by the appearance of huge grands at recitals and competitions, but these grands are actually easier to play than uprights. One fear that these students have concerning these grands is that their actions may be heavier. However, touch weight is something that is adjusted by the technician regulating the piano and can be adjusted to any number regardless of whether the piano is an upright or a grand. Advanced students will of course find it easier to play demanding pieces on grands than uprights, mainly because of the faster action and uniformity. Consequently, good grands can save you a lot of time when you try to acquire advanced skills. The main reason for this is that it is easy to develop bad habits when struggling with difficult material on uprights. Challenging material is even more difficult on electronic pianos (and impossible on models without proper touch weight) because they do not have the robustness and response to touch that are required at high speeds.

Some people with small rooms agonize over whether a large grand would be too loud in such a space. Loudness is usually not the most important issue, and you always have the option of closing the lid to different degrees. The maximum loudness of the medium and large grands is not that different, and you can play softer with the larger grands. It is the multiple sound reflections that are most bothersome. Multiple reflections can be easily eliminated by a carpet on the floor and sound- insulation on one or two walls. Thus if the piano physically fits into a room with no obvious difficulties, then it may be acceptable from the sound point of view.

e. Purchasing an Acoustic Piano

Buying an acoustic piano can be a trying experience for the uninitiated, whether they buy new or used. If a reputable dealer can be found, it is certainly safer to buy new but even then the cost of the initial depreciation is large. Many piano stores will rent you the piano with an agreement that the rental will be applied to the purchase price in case you decide to keep it. In that case, make sure that you negotiate for the best purchase price before you even discuss rental; after you agree to a rental, you will have very little negotiating power. You will end up with a higher initial price so that, even after subtracting the rental, the final price is not a bargain. Even with expensive pianos, many dealers find it too costly to keep them prepped and in tune. At such dealers, it is difficult to test the piano by playing it. Thus buying an acoustic piano is usually a hit-or-miss proposition and is usually a stressful and time-consuming experience. For mass produced pianos such as Yamaha or Kawai, the quality of their new pianos tends to be uniform, so that you know pretty much what you will get. The sound quality of the more expensive “hand made” pianos can vary considerably so that buying these pianos is more difficult if you want to pick a good one.

Good used acoustic pianos are difficult to find in piano stores because playable pianos sell first and most stores are left with an excess inventory of unplayable ones. Obviously, the best bargains are to be found among the private sales. For the uninitiated, you will need to hire a piano tuner/technician to evaluate the used pianos in the private market. You will also need a lot of patience because good private sales are not always there when you need them. However, the wait can be worthwhile because the same piano will cost only half as much (or less) at a private sale compared to the store. There is a steady demand for good, reasonably priced pianos. This means that it is not easy to find bargains at widely accessible sites, such as the internet piano markets, because good pianos sell quickly. Conversely, such sites are excellent places to sell, especially if you have a good piano. The best place to find bargains is the classified section of newspapers at large metropolitan areas. Most such advertisements are placed on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.

Only a few name brand pianos “hold their value” when kept for many years. The rest quickly lose their value so that trying to sell them years after purchase (new) is not worthwhile. “Hold value” means that their resale value will keep up with inflation; it does not mean that you can sell them for a profit. Thus if you bought a piano for $1,000 and sold it 30 years later for $10,000, you have made no profit if inflation is 10X during those 30 years. In addition, you will incur the cost of tuning and maintenance of at least $2000 for this example. It is cheaper to buy a brand new 7 ft Yamaha grand every 30-40 years than to buy a new Steinway M and completely restore it every 30-40 years; therefore, the choice of which piano to buy does not depend on economics but on what type of piano you need. With very few exceptions, pianos are not good investments; you have to be an experienced piano technician in order to find bargains in the used piano market that can be resold for a profit. Even if you find such a bargain, selling pianos is a time consuming, labor-intensive task. For more details on how to buy a piano, consult Larry Fine’s book. Even with the most famous brands, a newly purchased piano will immediately lose 20% to 30% of its purchase price upon delivery, and will in general depreciate to half of the price of an equivalent new piano in about 5 years. As a very rough “rule of thumb” a used piano will cost about half the price of the new one of the same model in a piano store and almost 1/4 at a private sale.

The price of pianos can be roughly classified according to whether they are worth rebuilding. Those worth rebuilding tend to cost at least twice as much when new. Practically all uprights and all mass produced grands (Yamaha, Kawai, etc), are not rebuilt because the rebuilding cost is about as high as the price of a new piano of the same model. Rebuilding such pianos is often impossible because the rebuilding trade and necessary parts are non-existent. Pianos worth rebuilding are Steinway, Bosendorfer, Bechstein, Mason and Hamlin, some Knabe, and a few others. Roughly speaking, it costs about 1/4 of the price of a new piano to rebuild and the resale value is about 1/2 of new; this is why rebuilding such pianos can be cost effective, for both the rebuilder and the buyer.

f. Piano Care

All new pianos need at least a year of special care and tuning after purchase, in order for the strings to stop stretching and the action and hammers to equilibrate. Most piano dealers will try to minimize the cost of servicing the new pianos after delivery. This is assuming that the piano was properly prepped prior to delivery. Many dealers postpone a lot of the prep work until after delivery, and if the customer does not know about it, may omit some steps entirely. In this regard, among the less expensive models, Yamaha, Kawai, Petroff, and a few others may be easier to buy because most of the prep work is completed at the factory. A new piano will need at least 4 tunings the first year in order to stabilize the stretching of the strings.

All pianos require maintenance in addition to regular tuning. In general, the better the quality of the piano, the easier it is to notice the deterioration caused by normal wear and tear, and therefore the more maintenance it should receive. That is, more expensive pianos are more expensive to maintain. Typical maintenance chores are: leveling the keys, reducing friction (such as polishing the capstans), eliminating extraneous sounds, re-shaping the hammers and voicing them (needling), checking the innumerable bushings, etc. Voicing the hammer is probably the most neglected maintenance procedure. Worn, hard, hammers can cause string breakage, loss of musical control, and difficulty in playing softly (the last two are bad for technical development). It also ruins the tonal quality of the piano, making it harsh and unpleasant to the ear. If the action is sufficiently worn, it may need a general regulation job, which means restoring all parts of the action to their original specifications.

If the bass wire-wound strings are rusted, this can deaden those notes. Replacing these strings is worthwhile if those notes are weak and have no sustain. The upper, non-wound strings generally do not need replacing even if they appear rusted. However, for extremely old pianos, these strings can be so stretched out that they have lost all elasticity. Such strings are prone to breakage and cannot vibrate properly, produce a tinny sound, and should be replaced.

Pianists should familiarize themselves with some of the basic knowledge about tuning, such as the parts of a piano, temperaments, stability of tuning, and effects of temperature and humidity changes, in order to be able to communicate with the tuner and to understand what s/he needs to do. Too many piano owners are ignorant of these basics; consequently, they frustrate the tuner and in fact work against her/im, with the result that the piano is not properly maintained. Some owners get so accustomed to their deteriorated piano that, when the tuner does a good job of restoring it to its original glory, the owner is unhappy about the strange new sound and feel of the piano. Worn hammers tend to produce overly bright and loud sounds; this has the unexpected effect of making the action feel light. Therefore, properly voiced hammers may initially give the impression that the action is now heavier and less responsive. Of course, the tuner did not change the force required to depress the keys. Once the owners become accustomed to the newly voiced hammers, they will find that they have much better control of expression and tone, and they can now play very softly.

Pianos need to be tuned at least once a year and preferably twice, during the fall and spring, when the temperature and humidity are midway between their yearly extremes. Many advanced pianists have them tuned more frequently. In addition to the obvious advantages of being able to create better music and to sharpen your musicality, there are many compelling reasons for keeping the piano tuned. One of the most important is that it can affect your technical development. Compared to an out-of-tune piano, a well-tuned piano practically plays itself – you will find it surprisingly easier to play. Thus a well maintained piano can accelerate technical development. An out-of-tune piano can lead to flubs and the stuttering habit of pausing at every mistake. Many important aspects of expression can be brought out only on well-tuned pianos. Since we must always pay attention to practicing musically, it does not make sense to practice on a piano that cannot produce proper music. This is one of the reasons why I prefer Well Temperaments (with their crystal clear chords) to the Equal Temperament, in which only the octaves are clear. See Chapter Two for more discussions on the merits of various temperaments. Higher quality pianos have a distinct edge because they not only hold the tuning better, but can also be tuned more accurately. Lower quality pianos often have extraneous beats and sounds that make accurate tuning impossible.

Those who have absolute pitch (AP) are very much bothered by pianos that are out of tune. If you have AP, severely out of tune pianos can accelerate the gradual loss of AP with age. Babies and very young children can automatically acquire AP if they hear the piano sound sufficiently frequently, even if they have no idea what AP is. In order for them to acquire the correct AP, the piano must be in tune.

If you always practice on a tuned piano, you will have a difficult time playing on one that is out of tune. The music doesn’t come out, you make unexpected mistakes, and have memory blackouts. This holds true even if you know nothing about tuning and can’t even tell if a particular note is out of tune. For a pianist unfamiliar with tuning, the best way to test the tuning is to play a piece of music. Good tuning is like magic to any pianist. By playing a piece of music, most pianists can readily hear the difference between a poor tuning and an excellent one, even if they cannot tell the difference by playing single notes or test intervals (assuming they are not also piano tuners). Therefore, along with technical development, every pianist must learn to hear the benefits of good tuning. It may be a good idea to play an out-of-tune piano once in a while in order to know what to expect in case you are asked to perform on one with questionable tuning. For recitals, it is a good idea to tune the recital piano just before the recital, so that the recital piano is in better tune than the practice piano. Try to avoid the reverse case in which the practice piano is in better tune than the recital piano. This is another reason why students who practice on inexpensive uprights have little problem with playing recitals on large, unfamiliar grands, as long as the grands are in tune.

In summary, grands are not necessary for technical development up to about the intermediate level, although they will be beneficial at any level. Above intermediate level, the arguments in favor of grands over uprights become compelling. Grands are better because their actions are faster, they can be tuned more accurately, have a larger dynamic range, have a true soft pedal, can enable more control over expression and tone (you can open the lid), and can be regulated to provide more uniformity from note to note (by use of gravity instead of springs). These advantages, however, are initially minor compared to the student’s love for music, diligence, and correct practice methods. Grands become more desirable for advanced students because technically demanding material is easier to execute on a grand. For such advanced pianists, proper tuning, regulation, and hammer voicing become essential because if the piano maintenance is neglected, practically all of the advantages will be lost.