Becky Buckler Studio - Private Voice & Piano Instruction
Were You Wondering?


Dear Piano Parents:
You're probably getting mailings right now about fall activities for your kids. The soccer coach wants to know if you're doing traveling team, the Little League coach is scheduling practices, the dance teacher is putting her classes together. And you're wondering about piano lessons for little Johnny or Suzie.  (continue here)

Ms. Becky's thoughts and answers:

Do I have to have a piano?  Ideally, YES!  There is no substitute for a "real" or acoustic piano.  However, if conditions prohibit having an acoustic piano in your home, a good digital keyboard can be a useful learning instrument.

This article from another teacher might be of some help.

And please consider these thoughts as you consider an instrument:

And today's topic: How things can be Better. Oh, this isn't about World Peace or Ending Poverty in Our Time. This is a First World conversation. Or monologue, if you will. It is about violin bows, computer speakers and pianos.

For Christmas, my lovely husband purchased me a gift certificate to a local violin shop. Many years ago, I had a violin bow that was quite nice. I let my daughter take it to school, because she played in the school orchestra. She broke it. She said she just sort of bumped it on the floor, but there are rumors of mock swordfights. While I suppose I should give her the benefit of the doubt … seriously … the swordfight scenario sounds far more likely.

At any rate. I haven't had a nice violin bow for 13 years now. They're a little pricey. And while neither my practice schedule, skills, nor talent warrant The Best ($25,000 plus) it would be nice to have something better than the $35.00 plastic bow I've been getting by with. So today I took my Christmas Gift Certificate for a far more modest amount to the violin store. And we tried out bows of varying prices. And I realized -- the differences were oh-so-subtle --- but oh so profound. When I was younger, I wouldn't have been able to tell. I wouldn't have had the confidence -- I would have doubted myself so much that I wouldn't have trusted my own perception. But now I could tell the differences immediately, and I realized how much I really, really, really needed to not be playing with the $35 plastic bow. My new bow is a joy, and now I WANT to play!

Exhibit B. Another lovely Christmas gift was a very nice bluetooth speaker that I can hook up to my computer, iPhone and iPad. I've been just getting by ..once again… with either the internal speaker or a $19.95 Amazon thingy. And you know, I don't listen to music that much. (I know, I know …. I'm a music teacher for heavens sakes! I should be listening to LOTS of music!) Well sheesh, now I get it. With a NICE SPEAKER who wouldn't????? This speaker makes listening to music a joy and a pleasure.

So. This is all coming around to one last thing. You want your child to have piano lessons. You think you can get by with an old, out-of-tune piano, or a digital keyboard. Oh gosh, please don't. The difference is oh-so-subtle (well not really) but oh-so-profound. It's the difference between just getting by and learning to love the sounds you make. Want them to keep up with their piano lessons? Gift them the motivation of really fine sound and really responsive touch. They may very well not be able, for some years, to tell the difference. They'll just know that playing is really, really fun.

What do you mean by "a good digital keyboard?"  Some things to look for when buying a keyboard:
  • A full-sized keyboard (88 keys) with standard size keys
  • Touch sensitive keys 
  • A good "piano" sound
  • A good stand and seat that will allow for proper posture and good technique when playing
  • A pedal
  • Beware of too many "bells and whistles."  If you're looking for a toy, all those things are fun to play with.  If you're looking for an instrument to substitute for a piano, too many extra features can be distracting and are unnecessary.

What do I look for if I'm going to buy a used acoustic piano?  A former student recently asked for some advice on this subject.  This was my reply to her: 

"First of all, but not necessarily MOST important, remember that you're going to have to look at this thing every day, so be sure that you check it over for cosmetic stuff. That includes both the cabinet and the keys.

If you find one that looks and sounds good to you, try to find a tuner/technician who will check it out for you, especially if it hasn't been maintained regularly. Usually, tuners will do that kind of thing for you, especially if they are confident that you will use them to tune the instrument after you buy one. They may or may not charge a fee to check it out, but it's probably worth it to be sure you're not bringing home a cracked soundboard or 100 loose pins that will have to be replaced!

Other things that you can check out for yourself are:
1. Run a glissando (just use the tips of your 3 middle fingers) all the way from the bottom to the top of the keyboard and watch to see if all the keys come back up level with each other after you've played them.  If they don't some work needs to be done on the action. You don't even have to depress the keys all the way to check this.
2. Open it up so you can see the inside, and check for rust on the strings. In general, does it look clean inside?
3. While you're in there, check the hammers. Is there evidence of moth damage? Are there deep "ruts" from where they hit the strings?
4. Also check the "bridle straps." They're those little leather thingies that pull the hammers away from the strings. It's really no big deal to replace them, but you probably don't want a whole bunch of them right off the bat! If there are keys that stick, sometimes that's the reason.
5. Check for broken or warped shafts on the hammers (the little dowel rod looking things.) Again, not a HUGE thing to fix, but who wants to start out with a bunch of stuff that needs to be fixed?
6. The big deal breaker would definitely be the sound board, and that's where having a technician look at it pays off.

Find out when it was tuned last and who tuned it, and call them. Tell them you may be interested in it and ask them about it. Chances are, if it has been tuned regularly and taken care of, it will be okay.

As far as whether the brand makes a difference, for me, personally, yes it does. I'll tell you why. A piano, whether it's new or not, is a pretty big investment and is going to move in and live with you for awhile! Sort of like cars, there are companies who do really good work, and their instruments get better and better with age and use. Others may not have been that well built in the first place and just don't hold up. (For some reason, I'm thinking of the Edsel right now, and you may not even know what that is!)"

Is my child too young to start piano lessons?  The answer here varies from child to child.  We all know that children's minds are like sponges, and that learning happens quickly for little ones.  In considering readiness for piano study, I look primarily for interest and curiosity about the piano.  It is not necessary for a child to be able to read before learning piano.  Things like attention span and hand size are definitely considerations, but often by the time a child is four or five years old, they can be ready to begin instruction.  A great deal of the success of any child at the piano depends on the amount of encouragement and support that they get from their parents. (See "What is my role in my child's piano study?")

Am I too old to learn to play the piano?  How great is your desire to learn?  Sure, you may not learn as quickly as you would have when you were seven or eight years old, but chances are (let's face facts!) you weren't as motivated to learn then!  Learning new skills takes time and consistent effort for anybody, regardless of age. Generally speaking, younger people have less time and are less willing to make consistent effort. Your maturity can work in your favor.  Go for it!

What is my role in my child's piano study?  If you expect for your child to take his/her piano lessons seriously, you have to show them that you take them seriously as well.  That goes beyond writing the check every month and dropping them off at my door every week.  Make lesson time a priority.  In some cases, it may mean that you sit in on some lessons (especially at the beginning) so you have an idea of what I expect from them when they play and so that you can help remind them of things while they are practicing at home.*  In ALL cases, it means that  you help them develop a habit of practice that will lead to development of their skills and success at the keyboard.  Help them schedule their daily practice time and work with them to stick to that schedule.  Encourage them to play for you and give them lots of praise!

*After a period of time, please be sensitive to the learning environment and do not be offended if I suggest that parents not be present during the lesson time on a regular basis.  Often students are distracted by the presence of their parents and are, although unconsciously sometimes, so focused on pleasing their parents that they are not able to build a trust relationship with me,  and our level of communication is not able to develop as it should.  Please understand that it is not because I don't want you to know what is going on, but that our lesson time is critical and the students and I need to be able to work.

Do I have to sit with my child while they practice?  With young students, it's probably a good idea, especially if they aren't reading yet, and don't really know what to do.  Older students shouldn't need for you to hover, as long as you are aware of what they are supposed to be doing and check every now and then to encourage them to keep up the good work! If you see that your child is struggling with something, make a note to me in their practice log, or remind them to ask me about it at their next lesson. Please avoid the temptation to play your child's assignment for them or to "show" them how to play things.  I know that this is a tough one for a lot of parents who play the piano.  You don't want to see your child struggle, and it would be so easy just to show them what to do!  But think about it this way:  How well is your child going to learn math if you do his or her math homework for them and they copy what you write down?  Please allow your child to go through the process of learning.

How long should my child (or I) practice?  I don't believe in practicing by the clock!  I do believe in consistent, daily practice.  Just as one huge meal a week won't keep you healthy or running a marathon now and then won't keep you in shape, extended practice sessions won't necessarily make you a better pianist!  I ask all of my students to "Practice Every Day That You Eat."  (If you're too sick to eat, you're probably too sick to practice!)  For young students who are developing the habit of daily practice, I ask for three repetitions of each assigned  exercise or piece each day.  For students who have established a habit of daily practice and are developing their musicianship, I recommend a goal oriented practice format.  Still use at least three repetitions for a guide, but with a specific goal in mind for each day.  The time it takes to accomplish those criteria may vary from day to day.

My child loves to sing.  What about voice lessons?  Most children do love to sing, and as children, they sing naturally and correctly.  For that reason, I don't recommend official voice "lessons" until a child has gone through puberty, and the vocal cords have matured. Vocal coaching for a specific event (a talent show, to sing at church, etc.) is a different matter, and involves such things as posture, stage presence, gestures, etc.  The best thing you can do for your child who loves to sing and thinks they want to study voice is to start them on piano, so they can develop music reading skills, ear training, and will be able to play for themselves the vocal exercises and songs that they will work on when they are older and are ready to pursue vocal training.

What do lessons cost?
Although the value of learning to make is music is priceless, tuition fess will necessarily apply.  Please refer to the Tuition and Lesson Schedule for details.

What is your policy for missed lessons?
Please refer to the Tuition and Lesson Schedule.

What about books and supplies?
  •  Students will be given a folder which will serve as their practice log and a communication tool between the teacher and home.  Please check the folder for any communication from me.  Help your child make a habit of logging their practice (3 repetitions per assigned piece per day) and initial the log at the end of the week.  Keeping the log will help students develop the habit of daily practice and communicates a great deal to me about the kind and length of assignments to be given.
  • Music for study will be provided by the teacher, with reimbursement expected from the student. 
  • Students will need ready access to a pencil, for written assignments and to mark their music when needed.

Can I supplement the lesson material with music I find on my own?  Of course!  As long as attention is paid to the learning materials assigned in the lesson, the more a student plays and applies that information, the better!  Visit a local music store or check online for music.  Please always be aware of copyright laws!  One of my favorite online sources is www.sheetmusicplus.com/?aff_id=148465

What about summer lessons?  Summer is a valuable learning time for piano study.  Although summer can be very busy for some families, the pressure of homework and school is gone, and students are able to be more relaxed (and more productive!) in their pursuit of skills at the keyboard.  Many years of experience have shown me that students who "take the summer off" either do not return, or they lose so much momentum over the summer that it is frustrating and hard to make progress when they do start again.  Even if summer lessons are sporadic, it is important to keep going if at all possible, during the summer months.  In fact, summer is an excellent time to begin lessons!  Fewer academic demands are being placed on a student, and they are able to develop a strong basic knowledge set and develop practice habits, while keeping mentally alert and engaged during the  summer months.


Why don’t I prorate missed lessons? As stated in the Tuition Policy, the “a la carte” or per lesson fee for lessons is $20 for a half-hour lesson and $30 for a 45-minute lesson. This fee is assessed to students who, for various reasons, are unable to commit to a regular schedule.
 
Also, per the Scheduling Policy, I teach a minimum of 50 weeks per year.  (It often turns into 51 weeks because I forget to take vacation time!) At the per lesson rate, that would make the total tuition $1000 per year for half-hour lessons or $1500 per year for 45-minute lessons.
 
Since the number of lessons per month varies, I have chosen to assess a fixed monthly tuition amount for students who enroll for regularly scheduled lessons. That works out to a total yearly tuition of $840 ($70x12) for half-hour lessons and $1200 ($100x12) for 45-minute lessons. So, there are 8-10 “free” lessons already built into the tuition plan. Because policies apply equally to both the students and myself, this allows for the occasional “sick day”, snow day, or last minute cancellation without affecting the monthly tuition amount.
 
[$1000-840=160/20=8  “free” half-hour lessons
 $1500-1200=300/30=10 “free” 45-minute lessons]
 
The last increase in tuition was in 2014.