Choosing An Instrument for a Beginning Student.
Recommendations for buying a piano, keyboard and guitar for children starting music lessons. And don’t forget a metronome!
For the youngest students interested in guitar, say 3 to 5 years of age, I recommend first using a strumstick created by Bob McNally. It’s a kind of mountain dulcimer that sounds like a banjo and has 3 strings tuned to a chord, so it always sounds good. After this, we can make the jump to six strings or just stay on this perfectly fine instrument.
Here’s a video introduction to it.
You can buy the strumstick for around $150 at Amazon here’s the link, McNally G-29 Standard Strumstick
Shop Amazon – Guitar Beginner Kits Under $200
For older beginning guitar students, I recommend a nylon string classical guitar in 1/2 size or even a travel guitar.
So this little baby is just awesome. So awesome that when I sat down to finally play it, I was in the store for an hour! I did a side-by-side comparison of this Taylor Guitars Baby Taylor, BT2, Mahogany, Natural
and the Martin LXM Little Martin Acoustic Guitar
and there was just no comparing the richness and depth of sound to the Taylor. The Martin sounded tinny and like a little box whereas the Taylor could really be my main guitar for everything. The one I tried was the flowery, girly Taylor Swift Baby Taylor
which just played great, but I couldn’t be seen with the Love, Love, Love around the soundhole.
This little travel guitar (around $150) also has a great case and though it has a full fretboard, it’s a tiny body, so maybe better for a 6 year old and up. Washburn Steel String Travel Acoustic Guitar (Natural)
Yamaha makes quality instruments in every category. This one is excellent and several of my students have this one. Highly Recommended.
Yamaha CGS102 Classical Acoustic 1/2 Guitar with Natural Finish
While a quality acoustic piano is a wonderful instrument and can never be matched by an electric/digital one, the maintenance and cost of a high quality upright or baby grand or grand is usually more than most parents of beginning students want to spend. I’ll address acoustic pianos in the future. For now, here’s some recommended electronic keyboards.
Portable Keyboards Below $200
These are not full sized keyboards and may be appropriate for the earliest beginners if you’re not sure the child will continue beyond a few lessons. Still they are playable and can be inspiring and fun thereby creating more interest. Some have their own learning systems with lighted keys or follow me type learning songs where it plays the note and waits until you play the same note before moving on.
Yamaha EZ-200 61 Full-Sized Touch Sensitive Lighted Keyboard Bundle
DIGITAL STAGE PIANOS – 88 Keys
When you know you are going to be playing real piano pieces I recommend you move to a full size 88 key digital piano or an acoustic piano. Here are a few of my recommended digital pianos and notes about them. The stage pianos are more portable but can also be paired with a matching stand which makes it attractive enough for the family room. See below for full Digital furniture type pianos.
Casio CDP-120 88 Weighted-Key Digital Piano (Standard)
about $400 without the matching stand $500 with stand - a very good value, I have the predecessor to this one (CDP-100) and chose it over the highly touted Yamaha P85 because I like the feel of the keys and think the sound is closer to what I feel an acoustic piano sounds like. Not much in the way of sounds, but very good.
Here’s a video demo from Casio in French.
Yamaha makes a Portable Digital Piano called the Yamaha NP30 76-Key Portable Grand Piano
The keys are not the full weight of most digital pianos making it lighter and transportable and it even can run on batteries – great for family trips. I think it also has slightly smaller keys which is fine for kids. Sound quality is very high. It’s also very affordable at around $260.
Casio PX-130 88-Key Digital Stage Piano – This is a great digital piano with lots of great sounds and connections to interface with a computer or MIDI equipment if you need that later on (like for Garage Band). – Around $435.
Yamaha P95 is now replacing the P85 and new bigger speakers and a few new sounds. Looks very good – haven’t tried it yet.
Yamaha P95B Digital Piano, Black – $549
Here’s a video demo though in German, you can hear and see it in action.
Digital Furniture Pianos – Ones that Look Great In Your Living Room – and Sound Great Too!
As I always tell my student parents, please put your instrument in a central part of the living area so that it becomes a magnet to your child. They will naturally want to practice and show off what they learned as you are there to hear them! The worst thing is to put it in a hidden corner and then command your child to go practice by themselves! That’s like banishment to the Practice Dungeon!
So with that in mind, why not invest in a piano that adds to the style of your living room? Something that looks iike furniture, but has the added ability to turn down the volume, never need tuning and even use headphones for early or late practicing.
These digital pianos all fit that bill and start around $800 and up.
Casio AP220 Celviano Digital Piano with Bench - around $800
Out of the 15 reviews on Amazon (as of February 4, 2012), 13 are 5 stars and the other 2 were 4 stars. Seems like a very good bargain for a living room piano!
Here’s the description:
The Celviano line of pianos has been refined for those who demand an authentic grand piano experience. The new AP-220’s traditional design houses new stereo grand piano sounds and redesigned keyboard action. Utilizing a new tri-sensor spring-less 88 note scaled hammer action, every nuance and detail of your performance is captured. A new 4 layer stereo grand piano sound delivers a natural, expressive and dynamic piano experience.
The AP-220 features a total of 16 built-in tones, with the ability to layer two sounds or split the keyboard to allow a bass sound in the left hand. It has a built-in library of 60 songs that can be practiced at any tempo utilizing the dual headphone outputs or the internal speaker system. With 128 notes of polyphony, USB MIDI, Duet Mode and more, Celviano’s advanced technology and sound will make the AP-220 the perfect addition to any home.
State-of-the-art high-end digital pianos: the newly developed sound source – Linear Morphing AiF – offers the entire spectrum of authentic grand piano tones from Pianissimo to Fortissimo without abrupt changes to the sound during the transitions. The touch and note replay behavior for the scaled hammer action keyboards has been improved. The new “Tri-Sensor” concept makes even the most complex and demanding playing techniques possible. Developing virtuosos. Virtuoso playing.
Yamaha ARIUS YDP-161 Digital Piano with Bench - around $1500
This one has 10 5 star reviews on Amazon (as of February 4, 2012)
Perfect for beginning students and experienced players alike, the ARIUS YDP-161 provides true piano tone and touch. The GH keyboard and 3-level AWM Dynamic Stereo Sampling voices deliver remarkably authentic sound and natural expressiveness, making it a true joy to play both in practice and in performance. Additionally, the damper pedal includes a half-damper effect, giving you nuanced expressive control over sustained notes. Dual voice capability lets you play two different instrument sounds at the same time, while a 2-track song recorder allows you to capture your original musical ideas and performances.Stepping up to the YDP-161 provides true piano sound and feel. The Graded Hammer keyboard and 128-note polyphony responds to the beginner and experienced player, both in practice and in performance. The 3-level AWM Dynamic Stereo Sampling Voices deliver remarkably authentic and responsive sound.
Yamaha Clavinova series – these are wonderful and much more realistic sounding as they have larger speakers built in and a heavier wood construction. They start at $1500 and go up to probably $10,000. They don’t sell these online, you need to go to a showroom dealer like Steinway’s showroom, etc. Highly recommended if you can afford it.
Besides a voice, you will also need an instrument to practice matching pitch. We usually spend about half our time on basic music concepts using a keyboard. You can refer to my recommended choices on digital pianos above or try even using a xylophone or a budget sized keyboard from Yamaha, Casio etc. See above Portable Keyboards.
In music timing is key. A metronome is a device that provides a reliable beat. Practicing with a metronome builds strong listening and rhythm skills and will enable you or your child to play with others. (If you can’t play to a beat, you’ll never play in a band!)
There’s no reason to spend a lot of money on this. Here’s one that has a quartz crystal and is less than $20. You can play with sound, or just a light or even with an earphone. I’ve even heard of athletes running with a metronome earphone so they can pace themselves!
I recently started using a free metronome on my iPhone from Steinway & Sons. Awesome. Look for it in the App store.
Here’s one I have :
Wittner Metronome. I’ve had it for over 20 years and it still works great!
Wittner MT50 Metronome
What About Toy Pianos?
Someone recently asked me about the toy pianos made by Schoenhut. While these are beautiful (and costly!) and have a distinctive bell-like tone, I do not recommend these for learning the piano. I would love one of these just to have the special effect for use in say a toy commercial soundtrack or to add quirkiness to a pop recording. For learning piano, I think it’s use is limited and may become tiresome after a few months. For the same price, you can get a digital keyboard or digital piano above.