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Retire Spinet Pianos: Good starter pianos and Bad starter pianos
By Sam Bennett
12/17/2009 3:45:00 PM  
Sorry Craigslisters, but those old spinet pianos need to be retired and not re-sold.  Spinet pianos are not made anymore for several good reasons.  Do not discourage your budding young pianist by starting them out with an old spinet.  Learn what a spinet is, why you should avoid them, and what are some better solutions.

For a beginning student, the best solution is a new piano or high-quality used piano, but when budget is an issue, people commonly seek out less expensive options.  Spinet pianos are cheap, small, they look like other pianos and the thought is that with just a little work, they could be good enough for a beginner.  Don't fall into this trap.

A young beginner needs a piano with a good, in-tune sound for ear training.  A young beginner needs a piano with a good, consistent feel to develop muscle memory and hand strength.  An intermediate player needs a piano with a good sound to develop musicality and dynamic control.  Again, proper feel is needed to develop dynamic control and better playing techniques.

A spinet piano is a very small upright piano.  They have several disadvantages over console and studio upright pianos.  Spinet pianos can be identified by their height.  Pianos 40" and shorter are spinets, 41" - 44" tall are consoles, 45" and taller are studio uprights.  The tallest studio uprights (48"+) are often called professional or upright grands.

A spinet has a different kind of action than better pianos.  The spinet drop-action is a pull-type rather than a push-type and this makes them too light and imprecise for students.  The spinet action combined with the piano's small stature allow for almost zero dynamic control.  Spinets were always cheaply made, so as they age, they are even more likely to have tuning problems.  Technicians dislike working on spinets because you can't get out the effort you put into them.  For these reasons, a spinet makes a poor, inadequate and discouraging starter piano.

Another subtler point is that these hand-me-down pianos often send the wrong message to children.  If your attitude toward the piano is that it is nothing special, your children will pick up on this.  Students need encouragement, and a good instrument will help.

While nothing will replace a high-quality acoustic piano, often a better budget choice is a digital piano for the reasons stated.  Digital pianos like the models we sell have good, consistent feel, they are in tune, they provide dynamic control.  They have the benefit of needing no maintenance, and they are fun and interesting for the player.  This makes them a great medium term solution until you are ready to invest in a good acoustic piano as a long term solution. 

Currently rated 2.4 by 185 people

Tags: how to buy a piano, digital pianos, Starter pianos, music educators
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We Cultivate Customers By Cultivating Musicians: One Example
By Sam Bennett
11/18/2009 12:39:00 PM  
This last Monday, PianoWorks hosted yet another function for the local music community.  Many young pianists get their training through the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM), a popular curriculum that is growing in our area.  At the end of each grade level is an official exam for the students to pass in order to advance.  Much hard work goes into these exams and we provide both space and performance level pianos for the students.  On Monday, the students tested on Bosendorfer and Schimmel pianos.

We hear often that our pianos and the environment we provide really gives piano teachers confidence that their students will be able to perform.  Many of the students are too nervous to comment on the pianos, but they keep coming back.  One of the last exams of the day was for a nice young man ready to move from grade 5 to 6.  While waiting, he, his mother and sister engaged us about several of our pianos.  The mother asked Chad, "So which is the very best?"  Chad directed them over to a Bosendorfer model 225 semi-concert grand and after just a few minutes with the piano, they were full of questions.  I obliged to continue the tour and open the discussion to more pianos because I believe that "which is the best?" is a truly subjective question.  The best for many people is Bosendorfer, and there is rarely any argument that another builder might be better.  Mostly, I like to talk about fine pianos, celebrate their differences, and turn the question of good, better, best into one of "so which do you like?"

They really liked the Bosedorfer pianos as well as others.  We had a great time.  I also had my video camera handy.  We were not allowed to video the actual exam, but afterward, they came back into the showroom and I recorded the exam pieces for mom.  Here is one of them.

Not to be left out, his younger sister also played.  It was very sweet to see her fearless in front of such a large instrument.

At mom's request, I published these for family and friends.  I look forward to helping them select a truly fine instrument when they are ready.

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Tags: how to buy a piano, music educators, Bosendorfer, Schimmel
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Customer Makes The Uncommon Selection: Estonia
By Sam Bennett
11/14/2009 6:30:00 PM  
A nice gentleman came by last week searching for a grand piano for his oldest daughter.  He was referred to our store by several close friends and colleagues.  She has been studying piano for several years, and she is at the level where a grand piano will help her proficiency and prepare her for more challenging and competitive playing.  She also really loves piano, and Papa wants to support her passion and hard work.  Also, his younger daughter is nearly ready to begin playing.  Does this scenario sound familiar to anyone else?

His family's first piano was a Yamaha console.  He bought it gently used from his local dealer and it served the family well.  His friends, many of them musicians, safely suggested that a Yamaha grand piano would be the logical next step.  His pursuit for a good deal on a gently used Yamaha grand (as well as the personal referral of those same friends) led him to visit with us one week ago.  He spoke with my father and we had two good choices in range of his budget.  I greeted him in our showroom.

While welcoming our new customer, we walked through our showroom discussing pianos and learning his needs.  He stopped curiously to ask about a piano that caught his eye.  He thought the piano was beautiful, but it was the name that puzzled him.  He'd never seen an Estonia piano before.  I spent a minute introducing the piano, but we continued on to the Yamaha grands.  We had two Yamaha grands, a 5'3" GC-1 and a 5'8" C-2, both well-prepped and in the very best condition.  After comparing, he saw the value in investing a little more for the larger C-2.  The decision was basically made, but he was going to share with his family and let me know.  Our visit ran into his next appointment, but his curiosity about the Estonia pianos caused him to spend a few more minutes with them and take a brochure.  I think at that point he was as interested in Estonia, the company and the country, as he was in the piano that caught his eye.  The brochure, while lovely, tells only part of Estonia's story, so I put together a few extras from the world around to send to him after he left.

We continued to communicate over the next few days, still satisfied with his choice of the Yamaha, but asking questions about the Estonia.  I'm going to share some of my substantive e-mails to him:

Hello ******,

First, I will make the arrangements to have the Yamaha and Estonia on our showroom floor for side by side comparison.  I can make that happen by Wednesday afternoon.  I will convey to our staff this is will remain a surprise.

I feel the side by side comparison truly is the best way because selecting a piano is less about "the better brand" and more about subjective preferences.  My advice to customers becomes simplified, look among pianos/brands whose quality you are comfortable with and then select the one you like playing/listening to the best.  If your committee prefers the Yamaha, then wonderful, but if the conclusion is the Estonia, then I hope you will accept what so many of my other customers have come to learn about this relatively hidden gem.  Yamaha is a big, successful brand and I've sold more Yamaha pianos than Estonias over the years, but the only times I've ever had a Yamaha selected over an Estonia is because of budget.

I'm going to answer your question as best as I can.  I have nothing bad to say about the Yamaha C-series piano, but I do want to shed some perspective.  Billy Joel, in an 2007 interview in Keyboard Magazine said "I've noticed with Yamaha, you'll always get a good piano.  I don't think there's such a thing as a bad Yamaha.  But I don't think Yamahas are exceptionally brilliant pianos.  They're always consistently good."  He goes on to talk about Steinways as either "flawed or absolutely brilliant" and "most Bosendorfers aren't good - they're really good.  They're always top-notch pianos."  This is the perspective that I consistantly see.  When an artist or performer is traveling to different venues, their fear of a bad instrument outweighs their desire for a wonderful one.  This is Yamaha's strength, consistancy, predictability, utility.  Beyond that, people, artists and the rest of us, will desire more for our personal choice.

Yamaha's best known artist, Elton John, plays a custom built instrument that is nearly as much electronics as acoustics that allow him to create a unique stage show.  The size and scope of Yamaha's artist program is a wonderful thing that their success has afforded them. 

If you ever watch the TV show House, in early seasons, Dr. House plays on an older Knabe piano, but with the success of the show, Yamaha saw an opportunity to fit in a product endorsement and put a huge logo on all sides of the now new piano.

Estonia pianos are a remarkable story.  I love the Austin, Texas' Steinway dealer's comment from the AJC article. "We may only get 10 a year because they don't make that many and they really are pieces of art," showroom manager Matthew Bird said. "The technicians that tuned the ones we just got in already have been raving about their sound and quality."  That article ran in over 75 papers nationwide.

Barker Hickox, well-known music and arts philanthopist, became fascinated by Estonia pianos and helped put them on stage for Jazz festivals around the country.  His love of the pianos led to friendship with Dr. Laul who was one of his pall-bearers when Mr. Hickox recently passed.

"WRTI, Philadelphia's only classical music station, had a new studio built including a "state of the art" recording space that can also be used for live performance and masterclasses. The piano in the space is an Estonia 190.  There have been numerous recordings made with this piano, particularly chamber music, as this space has become a preferred place for many Philly Orchestra members." - Rich Gallassini, Piano Forum.  Marc-André Hamelin recently recorded an album there. is a link to Rachmoninov plays Rachmoninov (  The historical Ampico player recordings were reproduced and recorded on an Estonia Concert Grand.  Great care went into this project, and Estonia was selected for the task.

In the last few months, one of Canada's most prolific Jazz recording studios in Calgary run by Aaron Young has selected an Estonia. keyboardist from the rock band, Smashing Pumpkins, gave a great video review of Estonia pianos.

Stories like these keep piling on top of each other. 

An artist program is very expensive to develop, and even Steinway could not afford to start one today.  They can largely rely on the existing instruments in various venues.  For most companies, to support an artist, they have to truck the piano around with them.  Very few artists can support this expense (by generating extra sales).

I know of several local teachers who have selected Estonia pianos from us in the past several years.  I am reaching out to them to see if they are available for you to speak with.

Estonia is a brand that has, in the past, survived because of great value and is now thriving because of great quality.

Mostly, let's see how your daughter likes it.

She visited, she selected the Estonia as her favorite, and her godmother (a very good player and member of the "piano selection committee") was equally impressed.  In that moment, the decision to upgrade the family piano changed.  It went from "the right time to get a grand" to a genuine opportunity to add to the family.  He saw the legacy being built, this piano inspired feelings about music, his relationship with music, music and his daughters.  This was worth the cost; this is what we in the piano industry would prefer to refer to as an "investment."  He invested in the time spent and values of his family.

We delivered his new Estonia piano yesterday.  Both the family and friends were gathered at their home as we pulled up with the piano.  We had both trucks running around town, so Yes, I was back on the delivery crew.  It was an exciting afternoon, and I think everyone was taking lots of pictures.  Mom and Dad were pleased, daughter was playing and hugging the piano, it looks beautiful, and that is only the beginning of this piano's story.

We deeply appreciate our customers' trust and continued support.

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Tags: how to buy a piano, Estonia, Yamaha, music educators
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The Piano Power Play: an accessory that will keep your kids in piano lessons.
By Sam Bennett
9/8/2009 6:46:00 PM  

Playing the piano is a life-skill that many parents want their children to learn, but it takes time and hard work.  Along the way, your child's excitement and interest in the piano may go up and down, and what parent wants to fight for what is supposed to be a fun activity?  QRS Music Technologies developed an optical MIDI record strip that can be retro-fitted to almost any acoustic piano, and a smart parent can adapt this feature into a weapon against piano boredom!

Even an excited child with an interest in music will find that their piano practice time will compete with other worthwhile activities.  Parents want these activities to be fun as well as educational, but many are reluctant to push their children through the rough patches that accompany a long-term, committed activity like playing an instrument.  Consider the resource that your computer is for your children and now connect it to your piano lessons.

Story & Clark Pianos now come standard with this new technology.  School systems everywhere are quickly being introduced to its benefits and that is what this article is about.  The optical MIDI record strip allows the piano to send data from the piano keys back to your computer.  Once connected, there are tons of software options that allow you to use that MIDI information.  Would your children like to compose?  There is simple notation software that will allow your children to compose and print sheet music as they play it (Finale Notepad, $9.95).  That should get their and their piano teacher's attention.  Piano Wizard is an educational video game that can grab your kid's attention (think Guitar Hero, but for piano and using the real keys!).  Even more software like Music Ace would now work with your children right at the piano.

So if you are thinking about buying an acoustic piano, consider these advantages with Story & Clark.  If you already have a piano, contact your local QRS installer about upgrading your piano.

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Tags: how to buy a piano, Story & Clark, player pianos, music educators, QRS
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Spring Recital Bookings a Success!
By Sam Bennett
8/8/2009 10:30:00 AM  
PianoWorks opened last Saturday morning earlier than usual.  Pulling in at 8:30 am, Linda noticed 15 people camped outside, and by 9:00 am when PianoWorks opened their doors, at least 25 teachers were waiting their turn.  What could have made these piano teachers line up like they were waiting for the new Harry Potter premier?  Spring Recital Season!

Among the many devoted piano teachers in the area, the early arrivals displayed a competitive desire to book piano recitals for the peak season.  August 1 is the day PianoWorks opens its Spring '10 recital schedule for private events.  At 10 am, the phone lines were opened, and before noon, all of the available weekends in April and May were full.

This demand has been growing in recent years.  PianoWorks' Recital Hall has become an integral community facility where hundreds of events are scheduled each year.  Last August about 6 teachers were waiting for PianoWorks to open, and this year marks new growth in community awareness and demand.  Most of the events are student recitals for their friends and families, but PianoWorks also hosts concerts, senior recitals, teacher workshops, master classes and many judged competitions like Guild and Festival. 

PianoWorks is a community partner for so many music teachers that provides worldclass pianos in a beautiful hall acoustically suitable for recording.  While many visitors sit back, enjoy the show and take the experience for granted, the majority are very appreciative of the time, work and financial support that goes into creating such a facility.

To those piano teachers who haven't yet called for Spring '10 bookings, there are still dates available.  Don't get left out.  The PianoWorks staff will be happy to help you plan your next event.

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