Piano Essentials FAQ: What You Need for Lessons

Piano Essentials FAQ: What You Need for Lessons

Q. Can I start lessons on a keyboard?

  • The answer to this question depends on how you define the word “keyboard.” If you are considering a $100-$300 portable keyboard, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Toy keyboards – like what you find at electronics store or “Big Box” retailers are inadequate learning tools.  They don’t have any similarity to the sound and touch of an actual piano and a vast majority of the students who begin lessons on instruments like this quit in the first year.  If, however, you define “keyboard” as “any piano-style keyboard instrument that plugs in,” you’re in luck.  There is a subset of keyboards called “digital pianos” that are specifically designed to emulate the sound and touch of a “wood and strings” piano.  Digital pianos make excellent lessons instruments.  You can even use mobile music apps and computer software to learn music symbols, musical organization, and timing on digital pianos.

Q. What kind of keyboard is best?

  • As I mentioned before, I don’t recommend anything in the $100-$300 range. Rather than wasting money on a toy, I recommend renting a proper digital piano (We have rental options that start at $30/mo). The two most respected digital piano brands are Yamaha and Roland.  We often call them the “Coke” and “Pepsi” of digital pianos.

Q. What should my keyboard have on it?

  • Portable keyboards come in three basic sizes: 61 Note, 76 Note, and 88 Note. For piano lessons you should use an 88-Note digital piano (pianos have 88 keys) with full-sized piano keys, a “gravity hammer” key action, a proper bench, and a sustain pedal.

Q. How can I tell if my instrument has “full-sized” keys?

  • The quickest way to tell if your keyboard, piano, or digital piano has “full-sized” keys is to do the “Dollar Bill Test.” Simply remove a dollar bill from your wallet and lay it down on one of the white keys (lengthwise – parallel to the key). The key should run from one end of the dollar bill (the end pressed against the felt at the hilt of the key) to the end of the ink on the other end of the dollar bill.

Q. What does “gravity hammer key action” mean?Digital Piano Action

  • A gravity hammer key action is designed to closely emulate the feel and response of a grand piano. As you press the key down, you lift a counterweight at the opposite end. Then – when you let go of the key – the counterweight falls and pushes the key back up.  There are no springs or mechanisms to wear out or get “sloppy” over time.  This type of action – if properly weighted – will provide the ideal resistance for players of all skill levels.  This is especially important for beginners – who are just beginning to build the musculature and coordination they need to play well.

Q. What is a sustain pedal?

  • Sometimes called the “damper pedal,” the sustain pedal is the first pedal on the right of a piano or digital piano (and, sometimes, the only pedal on a keyboard). When depressed, it lifts the dampers off the strings so they continue to ring (this is simulated to provide the same effect in electronic instruments). Typically, students begin using this pedal in lessons within the first year of study.

Q. What about a Clavinova?

  • Simply put, a Clavinova is a digital piano. More specifically, it is Yamaha’s most piano-focused digital piano line (far superior in tone or touch to Yamaha’s Arius “YDP” Series or the entry-level “P” Series. Clavinova competes directly with premium digital piano brands like Roland.

Q. How much do digital pianos cost?

  • Digital pianos range in price from about $600 to $30,000. Most first-time buyers will select a digital piano in the $1300 – $3500 range. Then, as the player becomes more involved with the digital features, many will take advantage of Riverton Piano Company’s 3-year FULL TRADE option on digital pianos and upgrade to an instrument with even more learning and play along features.

Q. Which is better, a digital piano or a used piano?Roland Digital Pianos

  • This question comes up a lot and it’s a difficult one to answer. Despite what their owners might tell you, most used pianos – especially those found in people’s homes – are in poor shape. Most piano owners just don’t understand how to properly care for their “wood and strings” pianos – nor do they want to spend the necessary money to do so.  In cases like this, digital pianos are almost always a better choice since they are always in tune and their action is properly regulated.
  • Digital pianos are also a better choice when compared to upright pianos because they have grand piano style key actions.  Upright pianos play about 40% slower than grand pianos because their action is operated with spring-loaded mechanisms instead of simple gravity.  Good digital pianos are modeled after grand pianos – so they can play faster and with more musicality than can their upright cousins.  If you are looking for a vertical instrument, you’ll probably prefer a digital piano.
  • Grand pianos are far more subjective, however.  Some manufacturers make a truly stunning digital grand piano (like the Roland GP-609).  Some folks, however, prefer the furniture look (especially in wood finishes) and the sound aesthetic that only a “wood and strings” grand piano can provide.  If you have room for a grand piano and you want to commit to a slightly higher budget for your piano, you might consider either a digital or a “wood and strings” grand.  You’ll know immediately which one you prefer.  As with any instrument, the most important thing here is to find the right tool to keep the player interested. The choice is often highly individual.

Q. How much do new pianos cost?

  • Pianos range in price as vastly as do cars or kitchen appliances. There are a number of poor quality new pianos today that are very inexpensive. However, on average, a good quality “starter piano” should cost around $3000. Then, based on size, color, sound, and style preferences, your new piano could range between $3000 and $300,000. (A huge majority of first-time buyers select an upright piano between the $2000 and $5000 range. Most first-time grand piano buyers select an instrument in the $10,000 – $20,000 range.) No matter what you decide to purchase, it is important to work closely with a professional piano consultant. They can help you find the instrument that will keep you interested and fulfilled for years to come.

Q. Do you rent pianos?

  • Riverton Piano Company offers the Phoenix area’s most comprehensive rental program – from a basic piano at $30/mo to a premium baby grand piano, we invite you to Rent to Learn today!

Q. How can I learn more about pianos?Upright Piano Types

If you would like more information on how to select the perfect instrument for you or your family, church, or school, you might want to check out these important resources:

  • Digital Piano Basics – What to Know Before you Buy”: This short – yet powerful – article will give you all the tools you need to begin piano shopping. Learn the basics, see diagrams and illustrations and get the facts before you start to shop!
  • “Piano Basics – What to Know Before You Buy a Piano”:  If you’ve decided to purchase a traditional “wood and strings” piano, this article is a MUST for you. Find out why some pianos are $2000, and some are $20,000.  Learn what to look for and where to go for help!
  • Finding the Perfect Piano – This 10-page PDF buyer’s guide is a FREE tool to help you navigate the choppy waters of piano retail. Learn how to shop for pianos on the internet, Craigslist, and in stores.  Learn what to avoid and how to know if a deal truly is “too good to be true.”  Discover the most important things you should want from your piano before you start shopping!

I hope this basic tutorial has been helpful to you.  If you’re in the area, please stop by one of our Phoenix piano stores for a personal tour and enjoy our warm, comfortable atmosphere.  We pride ourselves in making your piano shopping experience as easy and entertaining as possible.  See you soon!

Dennis Alexander Workshop for Piano Teachers

Dennis Alexander Piano Workshop for Piano TeachersDue to new Arizona Department of Health Services recommendations regarding the Coronavirus, Dennis and his team have decided to cancel this workshop.  We are sad to miss spending time with Dennis this year, but we’re already working to bring him back in 2021.  We’ll keep you updated!

Are you a progressive piano teacher looking for creative ways to captivate young minds with classical repertoire?  If so, then you won’t want to miss “Teaching Romantics to Young Pianists” – a FREE workshop by legendary composer, arranger, clinician and pianist, Dennis Alexander.  Join us Friday, April 3 at 10am in our Scottsdale Piano Store for an intimate encounter with Dennis.  He’ll show off some of his latest music and show you how you can use simple tools to make classical piano music come alive.  Everyone is welcome, but seating is very limited.

About the workshop:

Students tend to love romantic style repertoire, but many of them have a difficult time achieving the necessary musical elements that create a convincing performance. This session explores techniques for solving musical and technical problems inherent in romantic repertoire for late elementary through late-intermediate level students.

How to Select a Piano… Dealer

How to Select a Piano… Dealer

People often compare the piano retail business to used car sales and, frankly, I can understand why.  Over the years, far too many piano dealers have participated in misleading advertising schemes, unethical pricing practices, “bait and switch” tactics, misrepresentation and outright dishonesty.  It’s gotten bad enough that those of us who truly care about our clients have to work ten times harder to earn their trust.  Some of the piano shoppers we see come in with a real fear that someone will try to swindle them out of their hard-earned money.   It’s sad, but it’s completely understandable.

The Internet has helped in some ways.   It’s given consumers a whole new voice.  Piano shoppers can review their dealers, leave feedback and even warn others when they feel they were mistreated.  The downside to The Internet is its sheer volume of information.  Everybody with an opinion and a smart phone can create a blog or write a review.  …and while it’s great to see what people are saying, it’s hard to know whose judgments are based on accurate information and whose are based on opinions, outdated facts or third-party propaganda.

How, then, can you tell which piano dealers are trustworthy and which ones are just “out to make a buck”?

read more…

Yamaha Announces New Piano Rebate Program!

Yamaha Announces New Piano Rebate Program!

In celebration of the Lunar New Year, Yamaha Pianos US just announced an exciting new rebate program on many of their incredible pianos – saving you up to $1000!  If you have been considering a new Yamaha baby grand piano, Yamaha upright piano, Yamaha Silent Piano, Yamaha AvantGrand Hybrid Piano, Yamaha TransAcoustic Piano, Disklavier player piano or Clavinova digital piano, now is the time!  Stop by one of our Phoenix piano stores and learn how much YOU can save on a new piano, digital piano or player system for your home.  Yamaha is offering these factory-direct discounts IN ADDITION to any Riverton Piano Company specials.  This means you can get our guaranteed low price AND take advantage of a Yamaha Lunar New Year Rebate.  It’s a double discount!

…but hurry.  These Yamaha factory rebates are only available through February 29, 2020.  Don’t wait too long and miss out on this incredible opportunity!

They were born with a gift.  Help them open it and save up to $1000 with the Yamaha Lunar New Year Promotion:  Now – February 29.  See store for details.

Teaching Special Needs Students on Roland Digital Pianos

Teaching Special Needs Students on Roland Digital Pianos

As a music industry professional, clinician, and national trades columnist, one of my great passions is sharing new techniques and teaching tools with progressive educators all over the world.  Since we all share the same goal (making more music makers), we are all heavily invested in inspiring new generations to play.  More importantly, we all strive to keep our knowledge of teaching methods and music technology current – so we can solve the pedagogical problems that come our way.

Even though we are dealing with an instrument that is over 300 years old and has changed relatively little, the best music educators know not to rely on outdated traditions or inertia when making decisions about their teaching methodology.  Despite “the old saying,” there IS something new under the sun – and anyone who wishes to remain relevant with modern students needs to learn their language:  the language of technology.

read more…

Can You Learn to Play Piano on YouTube?

Can You Learn to Play Piano on YouTube?

As a salesperson who works a ton of outside sales events, I often have the opportunity to hear people of all ages play the piano and it’s never a surprise when someone tells me “I taught myself.”  I took many years of “formal” piano lessons from professional teachers and I can tell right away whether someone has had professional training by observing the way (s)he plays.  I look at things like hand position, fingering and posture and I pay special attention to the player’s rhythm and tone.  The biggest giveaway, though, is the player’s musicality (or lack thereof).  That’s what really gives it away.

Let me see if I can paint a picture to explain what I mean…

read more…

What do a Piano’s Pedals Do?

One of the most common questions we get at Riverton Piano Company is “What do the three pedals do?”  Well, put simply, the function of the pedals is to alter the tone of the piano in some way.

early piano

The first “pedal” wasn’t a pedal at all. It was a damper knob.

In fact, the first piano didn’t have pedals at all.  Part of the reason for this was the first pianos’ lack of sustaining power.  They were essentially harpsichords with unique actions that struck the keys with a felt hammer (much like hammer dulcimers of the day) instead of plucking the strings with a quill.  They had little power, a small dynamic range and very little sustain.  As the piano evolved, however, each of these qualities improved – creating a need for some kind of mute or “dampening” mechanism that would only allow the piano to sustain as desired.  This first mechanism was actually a control knob to the left of the piano keyboard and not a pedal at all.  This knob could be used to lift felt “dampers” (or “mutes”) off of the strings – allowing them to ring freely.  This mechanism would become what we now call the “damper” or “sustain” pedal.  On both uprights and grand pianos, it is the right-most pedal.

Before the pianos had pedals, they had knee levers.

As the “fortepiano” gained popularity, builders tried a variety of new ideas – replacing the “damper” knob with knee levers (which were activated by holding one’s knee up against the bottom of the piano, thus pressing up on the pad and activating the effect).  During this era, some manufacturers had as many as seven levers!  These knee levers could do a variety of things – from allowing all or some of the notes to sustain – to adding effects that mimicked other instruments.

Over time, composers and players alike agreed that some of the effect levers were undesirable or at least unfashionable.  The number of these levers diminished until the late 1770s when English piano builders began to use foot pedals instead of knee levers.  Other builders preferred the knee levers, however, and some pianos even had both foot pedals and knee levers.

Some pianos had up to six or seven pedals.

Then, in 1803, Beethoven received a piano from the French builder, Erard, which had four pedals – a damper pedal, a “una corda” pedal (which shifted the keyboard slightly so the hammers would strike a single strong instead of two or two strings instead of three – thereby removing one note from the chord), a lute stop (which mimicked the sound of a plucked lute by activating mechanisms that pluck the strings) and a moderator for softening the piano’s tone.

Modern grand pianos have three pedals.

As the piano matured and the music for it became more standardized, most of the novelty pedals and effects went away.  Eventually, grand piano builders were content to build pianos with the “standard” three pedals:  the “damper” or “sustain” pedal on the right, the sostenuto pedal (…which only dampens notes played after the pedal is depressed – allowing previous notes to ring.  This creates the illusion of more than two hands on the piano.), and the “una corda” pedal on the left.  Due to the expense of the sostenuto system, some builders have replaced sostenuto with a less expensive bass sustaining mechanism on lower priced grand pianos.

Most upright pianos were designed with two pedals initially – the “sustain” or “damper” pedal on the right and a variation of the “una corda” pedal on the left (On a grand piano the soft pedal actually shifts the entire keyboard to the right about 3/16 of an inch whereas the soft pedal on a vertical piano tilts the action forward  – reducing the hammer impact on the strings and making the tone softer).  As these pianos matured, builders often included a bass sustaining middle pedal in place of the sostenuto.  Today, most vertical pianos feature a “practice pedal” that – when engaged – lowers a piece of felt into the space between the hammers and strings – thus decreasing the piano’s volume significantly.

The “practice pedal” lowers a piece of felt into the space between the hammers and strings – cutting the piano’s volume dramatically.

While few but the very advanced classical music students ever use the “una corda” pedal (and fewer still use the sostenuto pedal), they have remained a staple of modern piano design.  The “sustain” or “damper” pedal, however, is commonly used – beginning in the first year of piano study.  Markings below the music indicate when to depress the pedal and when to release it.  For example, here is the initial part of the song “Für Elise” Lv Beethoven, with markings regarding the use of the “damper” or “sustain” pedal. You can see the place where pedal are marked as “Ped” and released at the end of the horizontal line.

So that’s the piano’s pedals demystified. Don’t forget to share this article with your friends – or use it to wow your piano teacher!

Should You Put a Humidifier System on Your Piano?

Should You Put a Humidifier System on Your Piano?

Prior to my 2018 move to Phoenix, I had spent all of my professional life in one river town or the other, and the question everyone seemed to want answered is how to better control the humidity surrounding a piano.  Is it better to install a humidity control system underneath the piano?  Is a whole-home system worth the expense?  What about room humidifiers?  Everywhere I went, I found myself answering this question.

Interestingly enough, however, my experiences in Phoenix (and the time I’ve spent with a number of local technicians, furniture store owners and performance venues) have changed my answer dramatically.  With that in mind, I thought it was time to revisit the idea of humidity control around a piano and address the specific scenario of caring for your piano in the Sonoran Desert.

read more…

The Jim Brickman Experience

The Jim Brickman Experience

Five-Time Platinum-Selling Singer, Songwriter and Grammy-Award Winning Recording Artist, Jim Brickman, is returning to the Music Instrument Museum for a series of year-end concerts this December… and Riverton Piano Company is linking arms with his team to provide you an experience of a LIFETIME!  How would you like to meet a legendary pianist, get a personal autograph and even have some of your own music played on HIS social media outlets?!  Well now you can!

Members of Riverton Piano Company’s Piano Education Partnership (PEP) Program who purchase tickets to one of Jim’s shows will receive a FREE Jim Brickman CD and FREE access to Jim’s soundcheck – where you will meet the man himself and get your CD signed!

In addition to this incredible “meet and greet” opportunity, you’re invited to come into our Peoria store between Monday, December 9 and Saturday, December 21 to record your favorite holiday song using one of our Roland Digital Pianos.  Then, keep an eye on Jim’s social media – and you’ll hear YOUR performance!

Here are the upcoming show-times:

Excited to be a part of this incredible experience?  Contact Gary Gordon at (480) 905-8888 and sign up for The Jim Brickman Experience today!  Gary will setup your recording time, verify your ticket purchase and get you on the list for a FREE, in-person sound check with Jim Brickman himself!


* – You do not have to purchase a concert ticket to have your Roland recording played on Jim’s Social Media.  Ticket purchase is required for the in-person meet and free CD and greet at Jim’s soundcheck.
Black (Piano) Friday Sale!

Black (Piano) Friday Sale!

Attention, Phoenix!  Have you been considering a new or gently-used piano, digital piano or player piano for your special someone this Holiday Season?  Well, if so, Riverton Piano Company is transforming Black Friday into Black PIANO Friday – for TWO DAYS ONLY – and you won’t want to miss these incredible deals!  Our doors open at 10am on Friday, November 29 with wall-to-wall savings on every black piano in inventory!  Several pianos will be one-of-a-kind deals… so come early for the best selection and some truly awe-inspiring discounts!

  • NEW Pianos with 10-Year Warranty from $2999!
  • NEW Digital Pianos from only $999!
  • NEW Baby Grand Pianos from $7999!
  • NEW Player Pianos starting at $14,999!

Better yet – purchase a Roland digital piano and – ON TOP of the Black Piano Friday discount – enjoy a FREE accessory package (valued at up to $700)!  Purchase a Roland HP, LX or GP Series digital piano and get a FREE membership to our celebrated “Roland Owner’s Club” – which helps you get the most out of your piano with training videos, music downloads, custom setups and so much more!

Looking to finance?  Check out these incredible options!

  • 18 Months 0% APR* on ALL Yamaha Acoustic Pianos!
  • 12 Months SAME AS CASH on ALL Acoustic Pianos!
  • 12 Months SAME AS CASH on ALL Roland Digital Pianos!
  • Special LOW-INTEREST APR for 84 Months on ALL Acoustic Pianos!

That special someone in your life was born with a gift.  Help her unlock it with a new piano, digital piano or player piano from Riverton Piano Company this Holiday Season!  …but hurry.  Black Piano Friday  weekend ends at 6pm on Saturday, November 30.  Don’t miss your chance to SAVE before the 2020 price increases go into effect!

Happy Holidays!


* APR = Annual Percentage Rate.  On purchases of new and in-stock qualifying Yamaha pianos from November 29 – November 30, 2019.  Subject to credit approval.  Minimum monthly payments required.  0% APR if paid in full within 12- or 18-month period.  Interest accrues throughout the life of the loan at 12.99% APR.