Free Pianos! Part 2

So, we’re going to pick up where we left off from the last Free Pianos post, where you’ve found your piano, and got it home.

Luckily, you didn’t break anything or hurt yourself moving the piano.  So you call your piano teacher over, and she tells you that it is horribly out of tune, and there are a number of keys that don’t work.  You say, “well, it’s just for little Susie to get started on…I think it’ll be OK.”  Your teacher, in the nicest way possible, tells you that, no, it’s not OK, and if the piano is out of tune, little Susie’s ears will not train correctly to hear the right pitches, and if the keys don’t work correctly, then her technique will not develop properly.  Your friendly piano teacher gives you the name and number of her piano tuner, and says for you to please call him at once.

So you call the piano tuner, relate your story, and set up an appointment.  When the piano tuner arrives, he advises you that the piano probably hasn’t been tuned in at least 20 years, possibly longer, and there are a number of mechanical problems that will need to be recitified before the piano is useable for a student.  The tuning will require a pitch raise, which is essentially a double tuning in one sitting, in order to bring all of the strings into a relative pitch with each other, and then another tune to raise them some of the way toward standard pitch.  It wil take 3-5 more tunings to get the piano all the way to standard pitch, and to get it to hold at that tension reasonably well.  In addition, there are a number of small wooden and felt parts that need to be replaced, as they are dry rotted from years of neglect, and there are signs of mouse infestation from some point in the past (evidenced by the nest built under the keys, as well as the droppings everywhere inside).  He says that all is not lost, though, and yes, once cleaned up and serviced out, that yes, this will be a perfectly decent and serviceable piano.  The fees will break down like this:

  1. Pitch raise:  $250.00
  2. Cleaning/removal of mouse remains/vacuuming/disinfecting: $100.00
  3. Mechanical repairs/replacement of damaged felts: $300.00
  4. Total cost, initial visit: $650.00.
  5. Additional tunings:  $125.00 each, minimum of 3-5 more to get to standard pitch, total $375.00-625.00.

Going forward, to keep the piano at pitch, the piano will require service every six months, at a fee of $125 per visit.

Suddenly, our free piano doesn’t seem like such a bargain anymore.  And, sadly, there is no amount of work that you can put into an upright piano that will increase its value.  Pianos that people have in their homes do not appreciate in value, so any money spent on maintaining one is simply a cost that you have to bear.   And, the other sad fact is, I was not simply making up these numbers.  This is very, very typical of most free pianos, and bears out time and time again, and has for years.

So…. what should you do, then?

For a beginning student, my strongest recommendation is to buy a digital piano.

The upside is that there is only a moderate initial investment.  $500-1000 will get you a very decent model that plays and sounds very nice.  Also, they are lightweight, easily moved around the house if need be, and the volume can be turned up and down as needed, or headphones plugged in for silent practice.  The biggest draw, however, for most people, seems to be that they do not require any tuning or maintenance of any kind.  You simply turn it on to play, and turn it off when you’re done.

What if we really want an acoustic piano?  Resist the urge to buy one for now.  Your beginning student will be better off with a good quality digital piano that plays right and sounds good.  It will be quite some time before little Susie starts playing very nuanced music that would require an acoustic piano (music of this type really needs a grand piano, anyway, so even then, an upright wouldn’t really do). There will be plenty of time down the road to invest in a new piano.  If she doesn’t take to lessons very well right now, you can put a digital piano aside for awhile; stick in a closet, or under a bed.  There’s no way to do that with an acoustic piano.  Also, if you decide that piano is not for little Susie at all, you can more often than not sell a digital piano, whereas you will have to give away your acoustic piano.

Are you interested in a digital piano?  Let me know, and I can help you find one.  Good luck in your musical journey, and thanks for reading.



My Philosophy of Education

As I look forward, toward future opportunities as an educator, I look back fondly on my current career as a private music teacher. As a former professional musician, I was introduced to private music teaching as a means of diversifying my income, and later, at the suggestion of friends and family, started this journey toward becoming a professional educator.

In my early years, I learned by doing, and learned that there were strategies that could be employed to curb misbehavior, and other strategies that could be used to help teach difficult concepts. I also learned that “what works” this time, with this student, may not always “work” with another student. Over time, and with years of experience, I also noted that my students responded better to consistency, and the students who had the most structure were the students who were the most successful in terms of completion of work and progress as a musician. In hindsight, I have seen where some of the negative experiences I gained through the “school of hard knocks” might have been easily avoided had I enrolled in a teacher education program at a younger age!

Something that might be hard to learn from a teacher education course, however, is how to define one’s philosophy of education. I am strongly engaged with the general philosophy that all students can learn. The paradigm of private music instruction is rooted strongly in differentiated instruction, working with each student’s abilities, and taking that student as far as they are capable, and then some. In a strikingly similar vein, special education, in which I am currently pursuing advanced coursework, is also centered on student-specific instruction, which is a bit comforting, in the sense that I have been working in that same mode for many years now.

My personal philosophy, based on my previous teaching experience, is that if I, the teacher, am able to effectively ENGAGE and INSPIRE the student, then the student will CONNECT and PERFORM. The process of engaging can vary somewhat from student to student, but, to me, it seems to center strongly on enthusiasm for the material, organization of materials, proper planning and preparation, and teacher competence. Inspiration has to do with gaining trust and building a relationship with the student and the student’s family. My past experience is that most of a student’s success is predicated on the relationship that the student has with the teacher. Proper application of the “engage” and the “inspire” segments will yield the “connect” segment on the part of the student, in the sense that the student will take a genuine interest in the material, and want to learn. Based on the relationship they have with the teacher, the student will also be more driven to “perform” at a higher rate of yield, because they value the relationship, and want to make the teacher happy.

Going forward in my professional teaching career, I look forward to many challenging opportunities to engage and inspire, as well as to be inspired by the students that I will be entrusted with. Thank you for your thoughtful consideration.

Free pianos!

I have an interest in keeping the piano community alive and thriving, which is why I teach piano, and I help people by tuning and repairing their pianos.

Sometimes, for one reason or another, the time comes for a family to dispose of their piano. Maybe it was grandma’s piano, and she passed away some time ago, and no one else in the family plays it. It’s big and heavy, and everybody in the family has taken a turn with it, going from house to house.

Finally someone comes to their senses, and says, “hey, let’s just sell it!” That seems like a great idea. Small problem: NO ONE wants a big upright piano anymore, for the same reasons that the family doesn’t (big and heavy).

Someone else in the family says “hey, let’s just give the piano away to a church or a school or something.” The family feels great about that, as they think they’re passing on Grandma’s legacy to someone else (and getting rid of their problem, too.)

The problem is, no church or school wants the liability of taking on someone else’s old piano, not knowing what might be wrong with it, not wanting to move it, not wanting to have to take care of it, as if they can take care of what they have now.

So, family member #3 says, “hey, let’s just put it on Facebook or Craigslist, and see if we can give it to some kid taking lessons.” This seems like a great idea too, so the family agrees.

So, you, the piano seeker, stumble onto their ad for a 1925 Howard upright piano.  Price: Free, you move!  What a great blessing, as your wife has been begging little Susie, your daughter, to please try out piano lessons, so she can see if there’s any interest there.

There’s more to this story……To be continued!