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Buying a Keyboard or Digital Piano

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We get asked all the time what keyboard parents should buy for their child.  It’s not a wonder parents can feel overwhelmed when looking for a keyboard—there are so many out there!  There are many brands, models, features, sizes, and terms that probably feel foreign to many parents.

First of all, let’s get this out of the way first—buying a piano is better that buying a keyboard.  But, and that’s a big but, it needs to be a quality piano that has all working keys, can stay in tune, and has good tone quality. That doesn’t mean it has to be expensive, but you will need to know what to look for.

With that out of the way, there are still many parents who will choose a keyboard, usually for one or more of the following reasons:

  • They don’t want to make the investment in a piano until they know their child will stick with it
  • They don’t have room in their house for a piano
  • They want the extra capabilities that come with a keyboard—ability to plug in headphones, recording or midi options, etc.

When buying a keyboard, you will want to consider how much money you will want to spend. In Let’s Play Music class at The MAC Meridian, we use mainly the lower end keyboards.  Always use a keyboard that has full-sized keys, meaning the keys are the same size as piano keys.  When your child does transfer to a piano, this will allow for an easier transition because he/she will not have to relearn hand-spacing, which could be very frustrating.  Most keyboards do have full-sized keys, but those that are considered more to be toys than instruments may not. You will also want to have at least 61 keys on your keyboard. If a keyboard has less keys than 61, there is not enough room on the keyboard to play many pieces/songs, and your child will outgrow it very quickly.

We like the Casio brand for the lower end keyboards.  You can often find bundles that come with a stand, power cord, and headphones on Amazon.   We like this Casio CTK2400

Of course, you don’t have to buy a bundle. You may be thinking, “I have a table to put the keyboard on.” And maybe you do!  Keep this in mind—the correct position for a child to sit at the keyboard is at a height that will allow the forearms to be parallel to the floor and the elbow to be at a 90 degree angle.  For a young child, this would mean you need a very low table. A keyboard stand is adjustable, and will allow for you to raise the level of the keyboard as your child grows.

The 61-key keyboard will get your child through Let’s Play Music, or about 2 years of piano lessons.

If you are wanting a keyboard that will last longer and be a more quality instrument, you will want to move into the digital piano area, meaning the instrument is designed to closely mimic the feel and sound of a traditional piano. We like the Yamaha P45.  This digital piano has 88 full-sized weighted keys. An instrument with weighted keys will require more finger strength from the child.  This is a good thing!  It will build their muscles!  Your child will also be able to learn to control the volume of his playing with the touch of his fingers. The softer a child presses on the keys, the softer the sound.  The harder a child presses, the louder the sound.  It does have a volume dial, which will also help control volume.  This digital piano does not have a lot of the fancy keyboard options, but is an excellent keyboard for a beginner student to have the feel that mimics a piano, and a parent who wants the flexibility of a keyboard. It is a heavy instrument, so make sure you have the double x stand or a furniture stand.  A single X-stand will not be sturdy enough to support this digital piano.

For those parents wanting to spend more money and have a digital piano with more options and capabilities, we like the Yamaha DGX660.  We did a lot of research on digital pianos in this price range.  We liked this one for its GHS weighted action keys, 128-note polyphony, PureCF sampled piano, and USB/recording capabilities.  It has many more options that these, but these are the ones that has us sold on this model.  This digital piano is LARGE! It is not easily portable and will definitely need a furniture stand to sit on. We have owned this digital keyboard for just over 2 years and are still extremely happy with its sound and performance capabilities.

A quality instrument will do wonders for the excitement your child feels for music lessons!  This cannot be stated more firmly or importantly.  If you want your child to enjoy lessons, make the investment!

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Let’s Play Music Third Year Graduation Recital

The third year of Let’s Play Music is very fun and very full—jam packed with learning to play scales and chords in different keys, learning to improvise and transpose, learning to count music properly in different time signatures, and the coup de gras—composing an original piece to play at the recital.

Students begin thinking of ideas for the composition in January when Orange Roots semester begins.

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We talk about inspiration and what they, the student, gets excited about.  We talk about how music can tell a story, just like a book can, and how music follows patterns, just like books do.  We explore different sounds on the piano, e.g “What would it sound like if it was raining outside?” “What does an elephant walking sound like on the piano?”

In mid-February we are ready to begin putting notes down on the manuscript paper. Students (and parents) often feel apprehensive about beginning a composition. But, after meeting one-on-one with the teacher to begin their composition, they leave their lesson feeling excited about going home and adding to what they just wrote.

beginning composition

Students spend the next few weeks making changes and adding new ideas to their composition. Once again, there is a lesson, one-on-one with the teacher, at the end of March where students will put the finishing touches on their masterpiece.

final composition

Then they begin practicing for the recital.  Parents are often surprised that a student will need to practice something they wrote themselves.  Let’s Play Music students are often able to write and play music that is beyond their ability to read music, so practice is necessary.

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The recital is truly a time of celebration! Each student has progressed at their own pace, but we celebrate where they are right now!

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Parents are an integral part of the Let’s Play Music program.  This program is successful because of dedicated parents who come to class with their child and follow up with practice time at home.  Sometimes practicing is not fun and life gets in the way, but LPM parents are truly the best! Why? Because they have committed to helping their child through this wonderful program and have given them the gift of music. At the recital we always take time to honor the parents and their contribution to the child.

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Let’s Play Music graduates are ready to enter private lessons and be successful. They have been given the tools for a strong musical foundation and been taught successful practice techniques.  They have learned to intelligently listen to classical music and recognize classical form. Their ears, eyes, fingers, and voices have been trained to help them decipher and play difficult music passages.  But, most of all, they have learned that they can do hard things, and for this, we celebrate!

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Let’s Play Music Recital for First and Second Year Students

Every year at recital time, parents ask, “What do the kids do for the recital?” It’s a valid question—after all, Let’s Play Music is not like traditional piano lessons, so what would that recital look like?

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Recitals for first and second year students have two goals:

  1. Demonstrate how much we have learned over the past year, and show how we have learned it.
  2. Celebrate each student and their progress.

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With those two goals in mind, this is what a Let’s Play Music recital looks like for first and second year students—

As a teacher, I pick 8-10 songs for each first year and second year that demonstrate a wide range of the skills the students have been working on. Some of the songs will have bell accompaniment, some will have autoharp accompaniment, and some will have piano accompaniment. The first-year students have been practicing playing 2 out of those 3 instruments, so they will help accompany the group on bells and autoharp. The second-year students have been learning to accompany while playing piano, so they will help with the piano accompaniment.

Bell assignments and keyboard assignments are done as a group, which is always a relief to these young children.

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We will also demonstrate one of our puppet shows—how could we not?! They are “Sol-fun”!

This year the first-year students demonstrated “Magic Lamp,” which is actually “Aragonaise” from Georges Bizet Carmen.

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The second-year students were excited to show how much they love Johannes Brahms “Hungarian Dance No. 5”

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At the end, we celebrate each child and their progress.  Let’s Play Music is all about teaching a strong musical foundation and skills that a child can apply to any instrument. We are not a performing group, and we don’t spend a lot of time in class perfecting the recital pieces.  Still, the students have so much fun showing off their stuff and it is a great night for all of us!

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When you know the notes to sing, you can sing most anything!

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