Piano FAQ's

Frequently Asked Questions

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Piano FAQ

Choosing An Instrument

Should I buy a Digital Piano or Acoustic Piano?

This is the most popular Piano FAQ we have.  Use a digital piano if you have limited space, or if you’ll need to practice without disturbing others.  You can plug in a pair of headphones, and no one will hear your beautiful music except you. 

If however, you’re planning to become a classical player, then nothing beats a real acoustic piano.

For more info on this, read our ‘How to choose a piano or keyboard‘ page.

Should I buy an Upright Piano or Grand Piano?

Use a digital piano if you have limited space, or if you’ll need to practice without disturbing others.  You can plug in a pair of headphones, and no one will hear your beautiful music except you. 

If however, you’re planning to become a classical player, then nothing beats a real acoustic piano.

For more info on this, read our ‘How to choose a piano or keyboard’ page.

Should I buy a used acoustic piano?

Buying a piano is very similar to buying a car.  You can take it for a test drive, and all seems well.  Six months later, you find the chassis is riddled with rust and the vehicle is useless.  Just because a piano plays nicely doesn’t mean it’s fit for purchase.

We would either recommend you purchase a new instrument, or if you insist on a second-hand, get one from a reputable dealer with a guarantee attached.

What features do I need on my digital piano?

88 keys

Minimum quality of weighted keys – although ideally you would get a model that has a hammer action

On-board speakers

Integrated stand

Piano stool

High quality samples (sounds)

What is a stage piano?

A stage piano is a digital piano which is aimed at the professional, gigging market.  They are usually built a little more robust (players are constantly throwing them around in vans etc) and usually don’t come with an integrated stand.

They also have additional outputs for connecting to a speaker system, and mostly they do no have any in-built speakers.

Do I need MIDI? And what exactly is MIDI?

Most keyboards within the last 30 years are going to be MIDI-capable. MIDI allows for musical data to be sent back and forth between your keyboard and your computer.

You’ll only use midi if you want to either control an application on your computer, or if you want to record directly into your computer.

If you don’t need either of those two features, just simply ignore the word ‘MIDI’!

Maintenance

How often should I tune my piano?

Twice a year as a minimum.  Usually a few weeks after you put the heating on for the winter (if you live in that climate!) and then a few weeks after you turn the heating off for the summer.

How do I clean the case of the piano?

Lightly brush off surface dust using a piano feather duster or soft cloth.

Before using piano wax or polish, check with the piano dealer you bought it from what they recommend. Depending on the piano model, some types or brands of wax and polish may not be acceptable.

Avoid using chemical wipes or cleaning agents which are not designed for the piano. Always use cleaning products designed specifically for pianos.

How do I clean the keyboard of the piano?

Wipe gently using a soft cloth (use separate clothes to wipe down keyboard and piano finishes).

When dirt is noticeable, dampen a cloth in a dilute solution of a neutral detergent, wring out well, and use this cloth to wipe away the dirt.

Never use any kind of alcohol such as rubbing alcohol; it can cause cracking.  Generally speaking, the best thing to do is to not play with dirty hands!

Where should I place my piano?

Generally, you want to locate the piano in a place which minimises variations in temperature and humidity. This means not placing your piano against an outside wall or radiator.

If however, that is the only space available, make sure there is at least 1 to 2 feet from the wall to the piano. Also, never let direct sunlight fall on the piano; keep all sunlight filtered or totally away from the piano. Exposure to direct sunlight can destroy the finish of the piano over time, and the heat from the sun can cause drastic changes in the soundboard, and pinblock, causing cracks and major problems. 

Can I move the piano myself?

Pianos are expensive things, and unless you know what you’re doing, and trust yourself to be safe, it’s best to leave it to the professionals.

You really don’t want a piano falling over – it’s quite an expensive mistake to make…

Technique

My hands are small... can I still play the piano?

Many people with small hands play piano – so that should never stop you!  Perhaps you’ll not end up being a concert pianist(!) but I suspect that doesn’t matter…

I'm having trouble playing hands together. Is there something wrong with me?

No! There’s nothing wrong with you at all. It’s a normal challenge all pianists struggle with, especially when it involves more complicated rhythms.

Think of playing hands together as trying to learn a third hand. You can learn each hand separately and play them well, but don’t assume you can magically put them together right away at full speed.

The trick is to practice them together, really slowly.  And I mean REALLY slowly. Over time your brain will put the two hands together.

As you get better and better, playing hands together takes less effort.

Our dedicated piano technique guide has further advice

Do I really have to learn to read music?

That entirely depends.  Do you HAVE to learn to drive a car?  No of course is the answer.  Is it really useful to be able to drive, and does it give you more possibilities in the future?  Of course…

Piano is exactly the same.  If you can read music, you can pick up ANY sheet of music, and give it a good go.  If you can’t read music, you are relying on playing ‘by ear’, and although that is a great skill to have, it’s only great if it’s an additional skill…

Check out our in-depth guide to reading music.

Should I learn what intervals are?

Learning to read intervals is absolutely worth it! It will improve your ability to read sheet music at least ten times over.

If you don’t know what an interval is, it’s the distance between two notes. Like from C to a G is an interval of a 5th. You get this number by counting up from C to G…C is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 is G thus it’s a 5th.

How can I stop getting pain or stiffness whilst playing the piano?

Keep relaxed whenever you’re not playing. Then remember to remain relaxed whilst playing.

Don’t contort your hands in weird ways to play a chord. If the chord or position is painful, modify it so you can reach it without doing damage to your hands. 

Learn to recognise between long term pain and short term pain. Sometimes playing makes our hands and arms hurt just out of fatigue. Other times, it’s because of long term damage being done.

Playing with a softer touch will greatly decrease the amount of strain on your body. 

Take breaks.  Don’t play for extended periods of time if you can help it. Only practice for 15-20 minutes at a time.

There’s more great advice on posture and hand position in our piano practice guide.

How can I improve the flexibility/dexterity of my fingers?

Scales and technical exercises.  I’m sure that’s not what you wanted to hear, but it’s the truth!

Your hands, fingers and wrists are like any collection of muscles, bones and tendons. By far the easiest and fastest way to improve on agility and flexibility is through exercise. Scales have been the primary technique for hundreds of years; simply because they work.

A great alternative for improving flexibility, speed, agility, and strength for the fingers and wrists are the Hanon exercises.

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General Piano FAQs

When was the piano invented?

Bartolomeo Cristofori invented the piano around 1700. The name piano is actually a shortened version of the Italian term pianoforte, meaning soft-loud, and referring to the fact that the pianoforte could produce sound volume covering a much larger range than its predecessors, the harpsichord and clavichord.

Why does the piano have 88 keys?

The piano started out with only about 60 keys, same as the harpsichord – in fact it WAS originally a harpsichord.  The harpsichord maker Cristofori got the idea of putting hammers on one (to HIT the strings) instead of plectra (to PLUCK the strings).  Hence the piano was born!

As composers began to use the new instrument, they started writing more and more complicated and brilliant music for it. Pretty soon, the keyboard had to expand in both directions. By the middle of the 19th century, it had 85 notes – then finally they added the last three notes at the top

Is the piano a string instrument or a percussion instrument?

The piano is really a “hybrid”–a combination of two types. It’s a string instrument because the musical tones originate in the strings; and it’s also a percussion instrument, because the strings are set into vibration by being struck with hammers. 

The official placing of the piano is set as a percussion instrument.

How many strings does a piano have?

It depends on the piano.

Each note has three strings in the treble, two strings in the tenor and part of the bass, and only one in the very low b

What do the pedals do and how do they work?

The left (soft) pedal works differently on grands and uprights. On an upright piano, the soft pedal operates a bar inside that pushes all the hammers closer to the strings, which makes it easier to play softer as the hammers have less distance to travel.

You can watch this by opening the top of the piano and looking down inside while you work the pedal.

A grand is more complicated: the soft pedal slides the whole action over to the right a little bit so that the hammers only hit two of the three strings that are assigned to each note. This not only makes the sound softer, but changes the tone as well. 

The middle pedal is called a sostenuto pedal on grands, which captures only those notes being held at the time with the fingers. On the upright pianos that have a felt muting strip, it’s called the practice pedal. 

The pedal on the right is the same on all pianos – it’s called the damper or sustain pedal, because it raises the dampers and sustains the notes.

Dampers are the wedges of felt that press on the strings to stop the sound – each key raises its own damper when you press it down, so the tone can keep sounding, but the pedal raises them all at once so that ALL the strings are free at the same time.

What age can my child start piano lessons?

We think that a three year old can enjoy piano lessons, if you can find a great teacher.
The main requirement for very young children is that you help your child get to the piano on a daily basis.  Even for just five minutes at a time, you’ll be their teacher six days a week, so your participation is arguably as important as the professional teacher.

Am I too old to play?

No. Never!  It’s human nature for our fear of failure to get in the way of starting something, but fear is all it is.  There is no age limit to learning an instrument. Even if you are over 70 and worried about your physical ability, there are a wealth of scientifically proven benefits of piano for improving mental and physical health and wellbeing. 

piano faq's
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