12 Best Piano Brands for Every Kind of Pianist (w/Sound Clips!)

Best Piano Brands

When you’re in the market for a piano, the possibilities of piano brands can seem endless. Yamaha or Kawai? Digital or acoustic?

If you want to end up with the perfect piano for your budget, skill level, and musical goals, this guide is a great place to start. Any one of these 12 popular piano brands will offer you an excellent choice.

The 12 Best Piano Brands for All Pianists


This Japanese brand is recognized worldwide for its excellence and versatility. They build sturdy, high quality pianos and offer good digital options, as well. Their pianos are known for having a signature bright sound, yet there is still a roundness to the sound.

Yamaha is an innovative brand that is constantly improving and creating new models to meet a variety of needs. One of the coolest features you can find on a Yamaha piano is its silent piano option. The feature allows you to play an acoustic piano but hear the sound through headphones, so you can practice at any hour without disturbing others.

Many well-known musicians endorse Yamaha including Alicia Keys, Elton John, and Chick Corea. Its U1, and slightly larger U3, upright models are well-loved acoustic pianos that stand the test of time. Its CLP series is a popular digital option.

Yamaha also sells concert grand pianos. Their prices are fair for the quality, and they are a reasonable option for anyone looking for an upright piano.

Steinway & Sons

Quality and history come together to form Steinway & Sons, a favorite piano maker of many musicians. A German immigrant in New York City started Steinway, and it remains there today.

Steinway is a classical pianist’s dream. Many famous pianists endorse the brand including Lang Lang, Mitsuko Uchida, and Martha Argerich. Steinway offers different sizes of grand pianos, which are often selected based on the size of the concert hall they are used in.

Due to its long history, you can find many vintage Steinways for sale. Steinway’s grand pianos are their most well-known models, but their price range makes them a better choice for the most dedicated and serious pianists.

Luckily, they’ve also created two lines of pianos for those with a more limited budget: the Essex (entry level) and the Boston (mid-level).


Kawai is another one of the Japanese piano brands that offers pianos at a reasonable price range. They are durable, well-made pianos with several unique features, including longer keys for increased technical ease and the use of different materials in their construction, like plastic and composite.

Their digital pianos were the first to be built with wood keys, offering the experience of an acoustic piano’s keys. Kawai upright pianos and digital pianos are good options for intermediate pianists who want a fairly priced, durable option. Artists playing Kawai pianos include Joe Yamada and Steven Curtis Chapman.


If you care about tradition and history when shopping for piano brands, you will value Bösendorfer. Established in 1828, the pianos have a rich and luscious sound. One innovation is the addition of keys beyond the typical 88.

This piano maker is best for connoisseurs and serious pianists who are ready to invest in a well-crafted piano, as their pianos are among the most expensive in the world. Their grand pianos are the bulk of their production, with a few upright pianos offered as well.

Artists who love Bösendorfer pianos include Kimiko Ishizaka, Beatrice Berrut, and Saskia Giorgini.


This northern Italian piano maker creates only the finest grand pianos. Its various models include creations made from unique materials like red elm, ebony, and even gold leaf.

Fazioli pianos are truly works of art, and their price range is very high for this reason. While it’s a relatively young piano brand (started in the late 1970s), Paolo Fazioli’s dedication to his craft quickly established his reputation in the piano world.

Herbie Hancock, Matteo Fossi, and Lucas Wong all treasure Fazioli pianos. This piano brand is perfect for a serious pianist who is ready to invest in a piano for life. 

C. Bechstein

Bechstein pianos have a long history, with endorsements from composers like Franz Liszt and Claude Debussy creating a worldwide demand. Vassily Primakov, Kit Armstrong, and Michael Dalberto are all well-known pianists who enjoy playing these gorgeous and elegant pianos.

The German pianos are ideal for concert hall performances as well as recording studio work. There is also a line of high quality upright pianos. The price range of the Concert pianos is high, but Bechstein has created three other piano brands to suit a variety of needs.

Beginners can explore the Zimmerman and W. Hoffman brands, while advanced players should look at the C. Bechstein Academy brand.


Blüthner is a Leipzig-based, German brand that achieved acclaim in the time of composers like Brahms, Mahler, and Wagner. It also grew in popularity with The Beatles’ music.

These pianos have stood the test of time. Blüthner currently makes a wide variety of models including uprights and grands. Many artists are fans of Blüthner pianos, including Rima Chacaturian, Billy Childs, and Ying Feng.

Blüthner pianos are best for those who value tradition and creativity. The pianos create a memorable sound and are long-lasting. Known as the piano with the “golden tone,” the price tag reflects the quality of the brand.

Mason & Hamlin

This Massachusetts-based brand is a stalwart in the industry, making several models of grand pianos and a professional upright model. Their pianos are especially well-built and made to last.

Mason & Hamlin made several innovations in the design of their pianos, including the crown retention system, used in the soundboard. These pianos are a good choice for anyone interested in purchasing a quality vintage piano.

The pianos are on par with Steinway in performance, and their price tag reflects this. Artists playing the timeless pianos include Brian Culbertson, Jarrod Radnich, and Rod Tanski.

Stuart & Sons

Want to have your own custom-built piano? Australian brand Stuart & Sons builds pianos with high-quality materials and excellent craftsmanship. Custom orders can be placed directly with the piano makers.

The pianos come in concert grand and studio grand sizes, with either 97 keys or 102 keys. Choices of materials include Tasmanian Huon Pine and Tasmanian Sassafras. These pianos are unique works of art and as such, are best for those with a high budget who want a piano full of personality.

Artists playing Stuart & Sons pianos include Gregory Kinda and Fiona Joy Hawkins.


Casio is an electronic keyboard maker known for producing lightweight and compact keyboards that can go anywhere. Their price can’t be beat. The portable models are popular, but Casio also offers more advanced arranger keyboards and space-saving, discreet console pianos.

Their pianos offer many fun sounds that can transform your music making. This brand comes from Japan, and is popular with many singers, pop musicians, and stage performers. Rachel Sage, Larry Dunn, and Kyle Morrison all use Casio keyboards.

Casio keyboards are best for young beginner pianists, those with interests in rock, pop, or metal, and pianists who enjoy experimenting with unique sounds at the piano.


Korg is another one of the many Japanese piano brands that dominate this list. This modern, digital brand offers a wide range of models, from beginner to more complex. Korg is known for its technological advancements and their ability to produce a wide variety of piano sounds.

Korg offers many versatile digital pianos in a very reasonable price range. The C1 Air model is a good option with technological advancements like Bluetooth. Artists who use Korg digital pianos include Richard Clayderman, Herbie Hancock, and Tom Coster.


Roland, also from Japan, offers both digital and acoustic pianos in a moderate price range. They are aesthetically-pleasing pianos that are recommended for a variety of needs.

Whether you’re a beginner looking for a digital piano or a more serious pianist looking for a well-made acoustic, Roland has something for you. The F-120 is a popular model for a beginner looking for a digital piano. Jim Brickman, David Benoit, and Marcus Johnson all play Rolands.

How to Find the Best Piano Brands For You

Whether you’re a beginner or advanced pianist, there are some guidelines you can follow to make the process of choosing a piano easier. Before you decide, spend some time considering the following factors.

    • How much room do you have for a piano?
      • Answering this question will help you choose between a digital and acoustic piano, since digital pianos can take up much less room. It can also help you decide between an acoustic upright piano or an acoustic grand piano.
    • Do you prefer digital or acoustic pianos?
      • While many prefer the feeling of striking an acoustic piano’s keys, these pianos do come with some additional upkeep. And don’t forget to factor in the cost of annual tuning, which is essential for acoustic pianos. 
    • What is your budget for a piano?
      • Setting a budget will help you narrow down your options. Your budget will affect whether you buy new versus used, digital versus acoustic, or one piano brand over another.
    • What are your goals with playing piano?
      • Just because you’re a beginner who doesn’t need 88 keys right now, doesn’t mean you won’t in the future. Likewise, after a few years you might feel unsatisfied with a cheaper keyboard that doesn’t have weighted keys. Think about investing more so you can keep enjoying your piano over the years. Or if you’re just trying out piano, start small and upgrade once you’re more committed to playing.

Lastly, always try a piano in person before you buy it. Choosing a piano is a very personal decision with many factors unique to each individual, such as the feel of the piano. Trying different piano brands in person is the best way to gain insight into the right piano for you.

If you still need help deciding between the many piano brands that are available, try seeking advice from an experienced piano teacher.

Now that you’ve explored all of the best piano brands, start improving your playing skills in the free piano classes at TakeLessons Live. There are daily classes available for every kind of pianist. Here’s to your new piano!

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Wolfie piano app

Piano App Review: Tonara’s Wolfie

Wolfie piano app

Are you looking for a new piano app to help sharpen your skills? Below, piano teacher Ryan C. dishes all of the details on the teaching app Wolfie…

As a piano teacher, I’m always looking for new ways to inspire my students and help them learn faster.

I’ve spent an enormous amount of time making my own supplemental materials, writing pedagogical articles, and thinking of fun piano games to keep them engaged.

While all of this work has been very helpful for my own sake as a teacher, I’ve found that my younger students often need a more light-hearted and fun way to learn.

That’s where Wolfie comes along.

Wolfie, developed by Tonara, is a piano app for the iPad that features some incredibly powerful tools for students as well as teachers.

As a brief aside – I have worked with this piano app in the past and was impressed by its features, but it’s been significantly updated from when I first worked with it.

Below are some of my favorite features and benefits the app has offer.

Benefits for Piano Students

1. Great user-interface

The app features a fun, colorful user-interface with sorting of repertoire by grade-levels, which makes it easy for students to navigate and find pieces in their appropriate playing range.

It also has a surprisingly large amount of repertoire for most grade-levels, though much more for beginners than for advanced players.

2. Play along feature

This feature is probably the most useful. Wolfie will listen through your microphone (if you give it permission) and follow your playing.

It will also show you on the screen where you are, play accompaniment parts, and so on, in real time.

3. Multiple modes of practicing / listening

There are five different modes that students can access for each piece: Annotate, Practice, Listen, Evaluate, and Play Along.

The Annotate tool is probably more likely to be used by teachers, but all of the other modes are exceptionally useful to students.

For instance, the Evaluate mode will listen to your playing and give you a grade based on how well you did.

The Listen mode allows you to listen to YouTube recordings of professional pianists playing the pieces, and the Play Along tool plays alongside you with a midi recording that adapts to you in real time.

4. Cost-effective

Although the app itself is free, in order to access the music, Wolfie does require a paid monthly subscription. Just $5.00 a month unlocks a premium one-year subscription plan.

Paying a subscription for music may not sound incredibly appealing to many students/parents, but piano books are expensive. $5.00 a month is certainly less than spending $10.00 or so per book every few months.

Benefits for Piano Teachers

1. Easy collaboration

Teachers can ‘invite’ their students to a ‘studio’ in the app. This links students’ accounts to the teacher’s, who can then monitor their progress, see what pieces they’ve been playing (and how long they’ve been practicing them), and assess how well they’ve been playing them.

2. Hands-on teaching

Teachers can use the Annotate mode to write changes to the score directly onto the digital copy. This includes using a pen tool, making text boxes, highlighting, and so on.

3. Monitor student progress

If students are using the piano app correctly, teachers won’t have to worry about students not practicing or practicing incorrectly before lessons.

Thanks to the Evaluate mode mentioned earlier, teachers can see how well their students are doing prior to having their next piano lesson.

Check out this picture to see what the results of the Evaluate mode look like:

4. Fresh ideas

Thanks to the built-in features of the app, teachers no longer have to struggle to come up with new ways to motivate younger students to practice.

That means less time coming up with new lesson plans and more time interacting directly with the student.

5. Low-cost

Teachers get a year-long free subscription if two of their students sign up for the one-year subscription plan, making it a very low-cost solution!

Try it Yourself!

Wolfie provides some awesome benefits for both students and teachers to enjoy. I personally think that it’s a really powerful and useful app to add to any teacher’s tool-kit.

Photo via Wolfie

Post Author: Ryan C.
Ryan C. teaches piano, ear training, and music theory. He is a graduate of San Diego State University with a B.M. in piano performance. Learn more about Ryan here!

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how to practice piano at home

Does Your Piano Practice Space Have These 11 Things?

how to practice piano at home

Here on the TakeLessons Blog, we’ve discussed general piano practice tips, and well as how to structure and plan out your practice time. But if you don’t have your practice space set up just right, you still could be costing yourself valuable time and energy.

Fortunately, we received a sneak peak of an eBook designed to help you set up your space for success, so you can practice piano at home efficiently and comfortably. We’re excited to check out the eBook, written by Allysia over at, and we wanted to share the excerpt below with you in the meantime! 

Continue reading to check it out…


If I had a dollar for every time a student told me, “I didn’t practice because my piano is stuffed away in a dark, cold basement,” I wouldn’t be rich, but I’d be able to buy something really nice.

If your piano is hard to get to (like in a basement), or at the center of the action (in a living room where your five other family members are always hanging out and watching TV), it’s going to be really hard to set up a regular practice schedule. If your basement creeps you out, why would you want to go there every day to practice piano? If your family is yelling at you to be quiet, are you really going to have an enjoyable session?

Do everything you can to put your piano in a nice, quiet area that you feel comfortable in. My piano is in a sunny side room (where I teach), but if you live in a dwelling with a lot of other people, having a keyboard in your bedroom is a great idea too.

The following image outlines what I consider to be the ideal piano practice space, with all the necessary tools to succeed.

piano practice space

1. Piano

This is fairly obvious – you’ll have a hard time practicing without a piano or keyboard. Nothing fancy is required here, but do try to get something with weighted keys, as it helps develop your finger strength. A full-length (88 keys) keyboard isn’t necessary in the beginning, but will be after about a year, so keep that in mind.

2. Piano bench

Please, for the love of everything that is good, use a bench and not a chair. Chairs are usually too low and promote poor posture. If the chair has arms, they’ll be in the way of your own arms. Benches aren’t that expensive and you can even get adjustable ones if you’re feeling fancy.

3. Music stand

All pianos and most keyboards come with a built-in music stand, but not all do. If your keyboard doesn’t have a stand, you’ll have to get creative. You can buy a music stand (the kind you used in band) and put it behind your keyboard – I used that set-up for years.

4. Notebook + pen and pencil

I keep a notebook with all my practice goals on my piano in an organizer tray. If your piano doesn’t have the space for something like that, just make sure you keep it close at hand – you’ll be using it regularly. I like having a pen to write in my notebook, and a pencil to make marks directly on the music.

5. Metronome

If you have an electric keyboard, read through the manual – most have a metronome function. If it can emphasize certain beats (like the first beat of a measure), then great! Otherwise, being able to tap a specific tempo is all it needs to do. You can buy manual metronomes, the kind that go back and forth like a clock (I grew up with one of those), or electric ones. There are even metronome websites if you want to use your phone or tablet (be careful though, it shouldn’t be a huge pain to load up to use, or else you won’t want to use it).

6. Good lighting

If your practice room isn’t very bright, get a lamp, because the last thing you want to do is get a headache squinting at music, or worse, hurt your back hunching forward. I’m a big fan of lamps – they’re pretty and add ambiance.

7. Good temperature

Cold is bad. Cold tenses up your body and your fingers, so not only will it be harder to play, it’ll be more strenuous too. This is reason #731 not to have your piano stuffed in a basement, unless you’re one of the rare few with a warm basement. Plus, in creating an inviting space to play, most of us don’t feel ‘invited’ if we have to bundle on the layers just to practice.

8. Accessibility

Reason #732 not to put your piano in a basement. A flight of stairs might not seem like a big deal, but when you’re lounging on the couch in front of the TV, it really will. If your piano is near or a part of your living space, you’ll be a lot more likely to sit down and play. Trust me. Make it as easy as possible to get to your piano.

9. Cozy and inviting

If your space has good lighting, it’s at a good temperature, and it’s easy to get to, you’re 80% of the way there. I have a music organizer on my piano that keeps things from getting cluttered, a lamp that looks nice, a flowering plant, and an ornamental bongo just because. My piano space looks like somewhere I want to hang out and spend time.

10. Clock

Make sure there’s a clock nearby so you can keep track of your practice time. I usually set time estimates for how long I practice (10 minutes of warm-up, 15 minutes of technique, etc), so a clock is invaluable for staying organized and focused.

11. Bulletin board (and other wall accessories)

Optional but awesome. Most pianos are staring into a big blank wall – not very exciting. A bulletin board at your practice space can go a long way to make it awesome – you can put up pictures, inspirational posts, your goals, anything you want. Or you could put up a white board and write your weekly practice plans on that. Or you could put some art on the wall.

The Bottom Line

To sum up, your practice space should be inviting. If you play piano to relax, make it a space that relaxes you. If you’re planning on spending three or four hours of your week there (or more), do what you can to make it nice.

Readers, what tips have you found effective as you practice piano at home? What other items do you keep nearby? Let us know in the comments!

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Free & Low-Cost Piano Apps for the iPad – Reviewed!

What's the Best App for Learning Piano

Why limit your piano practice? Using apps to help you practice, as well as within your piano lessons, can be a ton of fun! Here are teacher Sabrina P.‘s recommendations for the best piano apps for iPad and iPhone…


There are SO many piano apps for iPad, iPhone, and all other models of tablets and smartphones — some claim they will help motivate your kids to practice, others say that they help your little ones learn how to read sheet music. Some you pay for, while many are free. They all claim to be the app for you!

So how do you know which ones to download?

Below I’ve pulled together my list of the best piano apps, all of which I use personally or use in my private lessons. They are reviewed based on my personal opinion and experience with them. I’ve also rated them against each other, meaning the apps marked as 10/10 are better than every other app out there.



PianoMaestro (Apple) (FREE)

This is the BEST piano teaching/motivating app on the planet. The minute you turn it on, you’ll notice it’s not just one of those many scrolling piano note apps.

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Here are a few of the wonderful features:

  • Unique to the app is its MusicSense Engine. Basically, sit in front of your piano and it recognizes the notes you play. I was blown away by how well it works!
  • Kids can use this app to learn how to read rhythms – one of the hardest skills to teach – quickly and simply. Most of the songs have music in the background that you play along with, and all you have to do is play the note when it reaches the laser line.
  • If a song is too hard you can hit the “learn” option, which is a great way to show kids exactly how to practice piano. It breaks the song up into small parts, and each part must be played two or three times before moving on.
  • There are more than 5,000 songs and exercises, and they’re always adding more!
  • There are several different genres to choose from, including pop & rock, musicals, classical, and TV and game themes!




Piano Dust Buster (Apple) (FREE)

If you want to expose your little ones to piano, this is the app for you. It’s designed exclusively to teach piano to toddlers and kids not quite ready for lessons. Unlike Piano Maestro (which focuses on learning to read sheet music), Piano Dust Buster introduces piano letters to kids.

The premise: help Granny dust off her piano! To play, you need to whack dust shapes to the beat and plays with many genres of music. It’s really great for exposing kids to classical music!

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Tenuto (Apple) ($3.99)

Tenuto is a type of flashcard app. Yes, you do have to pay for it, but honestly if you bought music flashcards, you would spend at least this much. Plus, it’s much cooler on an iPad!

Tenuto teaches users how to find the different letters on the keyboard, as well as recognizing notes on the staff. It also has an ear training section, but I don’t recommend it because it’s a little difficult to use.

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goodEar (Apple) ($0.99/$3.99)

goodEar is a really fun piano app for iPad, particularly for helping with ear training. There are four versions of the app – chords, melody, scales, and intervals. You can buy them separately (each costs $0.99), or you can buy goodEar Pro, which includes all four for $3.99. However, unless you already have a pretty good ear and just want to test how good your ear really is, I really don’t think the Pro version is practical. Instead, just choose the lesson that you’d like to focus on.

goodEar Melody is the version my students like the best because it’s the easiest to understand and play. Once you turn on the app, it’s pretty straightforward – it’s basically like “Simon Says” for piano. You can change how many tones you want to play in a run and what kind of intervals to choose from. I usually start my students with the settings in the screenshot below.

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Piano Notes Pro (Apple)($2.99)

This is exclusively a sight reading app. The look of the app is very clean and you can even personalize the background screen to the color of your choice!

To begin, choose how high and low on the staff you want to play, which staff you want to read, and if you want the notes to be random, ascending, or descending. Then, all you have to do is play the key that is shown on the staff.

This app has many great features that take students a while to get through, but if you want to keeping going you can also purchase an upgrade pack for an additional $0.99, which adds major scales, broken chords, and multi-pattern notes.

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Rhythm Lab (Apple) ($2.99)

I really like this app for teaching rhythm. It starts very easy but can get really difficult! There are 20 levels, which all have at least 10 lessons. One cool feature of this piano app is that you can practice playing rhythm patterns from famous composers like Bach, Joplin, and Mozart.

As you play the game, you’ll see valued notes (quarter, half, whole, etc.) and you have to play them along with a metronome. You can listen to the rhythm first if you need a reference. After you have completed a rhythm, swipe to the left and the next task will appear.

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Here’s a tip when using this app: after you press play, you will hear a specific number of clicks first; this corresponds with the top number of the time signature. For example, if the time signature is 2/4, you will hear two clicks, then you have to start playing the written rhythm on the third click. That is the only confusing part of the app.

I do have two complaints about this app, which is why I’ve given it a lower rating: I don’t like the way it looks – it’s just a bit messy for my taste. You also cannot have multiple accounts.




Piano 3D (Apple) (FREE + any in-app purchases)

The way this app works is pretty cool — it’s a concert grand piano that you can scroll around and look at from all different angles to see how an acoustic grand really works — plus, you can play on the keys!

Users can also access a pretty good-sized list of modern and classical music. When you select a song, it will switch back to the piano and you can watch the song play on the keys.

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Piano 3D is a cool way to learn a song by ear (instead of reading sheet music). You can pause the song, play the song note-by-note, and pick the hand you want to see and hear. You can also connect your keyboard to the app and record songs right into the app.

I like to use this app to expose kids to classical music. They can see how hard some pieces are, and this can motivate kids to practice. They also see that music can be far more vast and interesting than the pieces they’re playing in method books!

The downside of the app is that songs are pretty expensive. I waited until there was a sale on the app to buy a lifetime subscription, which was $20. They do, however, offer a few songs for free, or you can buy short-term access to all the songs in weekly and monthly subscriptions.




Scribd (Apple, Android, Microsoft, Internet) (FREE)

Many of you might know Scribd as a reading app, not unlike Kindle or iBooks, but with Scribd you can also find a lot of free sheet music for piano! However, it can be a bit challenging to find the right piece from the app if you don’t know a few tips.

For instance, if I wanted to find “Beauty and the Beast” sheet music, I recommend including search words like “piano,” “easy,” and “sheet music” after the title. The first results to show up will always be books, so you have to scroll down to the “Documents” section. There you will find relevant sheet music that people have posted.

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Overall, this app is a great way to get your kids playing pieces they want to play, which will make practice more enjoyable for you and them!




GarageBand (Apple) (FREE – $4.99)

You’ve probably heard of GarageBand for your computer, but the portable version is really useful as well, especially if you have a budding songwriter on your hands! You can record piano with tons of different synthesizer sounds and play other instruments like guitar, drums, and other stringed instruments. Little ones especially like being able play on other instruments, as this helps them become well-rounded musicians.

Just so you know, if you buy a brand new iPad, Apple throws in a few apps for free, and GarageBand is one of them. If you have a previous model, you’ll have to buy it, but I believe it’s worth it!

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With this list of apps, we’ve covered everything you’ll need to start learning piano — music reading, rhythms, intervals, note recognition, sight reading, and so on. A lot of these apps are just for learning the basics, but there are many more apps that may be more helpful for different situations and goals. In my experience, the apps above are the most useful in almost all situations. Hopefully you’ll find some of these useful for yourself or your piano students. Happy learning!

Post Author: Sabrina P.
Sabrina P. teaches piano and is classically trained with over 14 years of playing experience. She especially enjoys Modern Japanese classical music (anime and video game music). Some of her influences include Bach, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, Strauss, and Tchaikovsky.  Learn more about Sabrina here!

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How to Read Piano Music Faster: Intro to the Keys

Visual Intro to the Keyboard

When you’re new to playing piano, you might feel overwhelmed by all the keys! But here’s a secret: those 88 keys can be reduced to just seven piano notes, and a few essential patterns. Easy, right? Here, teacher Nadia B. shares a super-easy visual introduction…


Did you know the keyboard of a piano is full of tricks and secrets? Music is full of different patterns, and as you become more familiar with them, you’ll learn how to read piano music faster, while playing confidently and correctly. If you want to learn how to read piano notes quickly (and improve your sight-reading skills), knowledge of these basics is essential. Following along with a YouTube piano tutorial might be fun, but it’s not going to help you progress as a pianist.

So where do you start? Some of the main building blocks of music that come in handy with piano are half steps and whole steps, the chromatic scale, enharmonics, and flats (noted as ‘b‘) and sharps (notated as ‘#’). Here’s what you need to know…

Half Steps

Just like the structures of chromosomes make up the whole of a DNA strand, half steps make up the whole of the keyboard. A half step on the keyboard is going from one key to the next one directly above or below it, without skipping any keys. A half step could go from a white key to a black key (for example, G to G#), a black key to a white key (e.g. G# to A), or a white key to a white key (e.g. E to F). See the image below for an illustration of these examples.

Half Steps

You will find half steps in both major and minor scales. For example, in the C major scale, E to F and B to C are both half steps.

C Major Scale Half Steps

Familiarizing yourself with half steps and being able to rapidly recognize them will allow you to decode music more easily, as you’ll be able to see the same patterns of half steps in written music.

Whole Steps

Whole steps are the big sibling to half steps. Two half steps make a whole step, and whole steps are what make up major and minor scales, in addition to half steps. An example of a whole step is from F to G on the keyboard; in between F and G we have two half steps — F to F# and F# to G.

Whole Steps

An example of a whole step in a major scale is from F to G in the F major scale. Similarly to half steps, recognizing whole steps and understanding their function allows you to read piano music faster and also learn how to create major and minor scales using a set pattern of whole and half steps.

Chromatic Scale

Now that we’ve covered the building blocks of any piano scale, we can cover a scale that relates directly to half steps: the chromatic scale. Composed entirely of consecutive half steps (that is, not skipping any keys from the beginning to the end of the scale), the chromatic scale is most often practiced by starting on any note, reaching the same note one octave higher, and then descending back to the original note. For example, we can start from F in one octave, play up to F in the next octave, and return back to the original F.

F Chromatic Scale

A sequence of notes may start on one note and end on a different note — it’s the pattern of consecutive half steps that distinguishes it as chromatic.


Another fundamental concept of the keyboard is that one key can have multiple names. This can cause a great deal of confusion, but once you understand how it works, you’ll find it pretty simple. ‘Enharmonic’ is the name for this concept. For example, F sharp, which we find by identifying F on the keyboard and then moving up a half step, can also be called G flat, which we find by identifying G on the keyboard and then moving down a half step. We arrive at the same note, F sharp/G flat (F#/Gb).

Enharmonic Notes

It’s good to recognize the dual names of enharmonics because you will sometimes see both names within one piece as the key modulates. Enharmonics allow us to travel to different keys seamlessly and logically.

Sharps and Flats on the Piano

Going right along with harmonics is an understanding of how sharps and flats work. Sharps always indicate a movement up in pitch and direction on the keyboard (i.e. to the right), while flats always indicate a movement down in pitch and direction on the keyboard (i.e. to the left). It’s important to understand them because you will see flats and sharps in the key signature and as accidentals throughout the music, and you’ll need to apply them correctly throughout the music.

The key to applying sharps and flats correctly is knowing that you are always moving in half steps. A flat indicates a half step down, while a sharp indicates a half step up. Knowing this, you can also apply double flats and double sharps properly. If you see a double flat, that means you should move downward two half steps from the original note, while a double sharp indicates that you should move upward two half steps from the original note. An example of this would be D double flat: by moving from D to D flat and then again from D flat to C, we arrive at D double flat (which is the same key as C).

Double Flat

Using half steps as a means of applying flats and sharps is an infallible method, and you’ll be moving around the keyboard easily once you learn this method.

To recap, here are the four building blocks on one handy infographic:

How to Read Piano Music Faster - Visual Intro the Piano

How to Read Music Faster & Improve Your Sight Reading

Understanding these basic structures at the piano will help you to read piano music faster, especially when you’re sight reading. Viewing a phrase, you will no longer see each note as a separate entity — rather, you’ll see the relationships between them (whole steps, half steps and larger intervals), as well as patterns that make up scales like the chromatic scale or the major scale. Knowing how sharps, flats, and enharmonics work means that you won’t be stymied by an unusual flat, like C flat. Instead, you’ll easily translate it to B natural in your mind. With these tips, you should be sight reading more fluently and accurately than ever before.

Now that you understand the patterns of the keyboard, don’t hesitate to try to find examples of these in your piano music! You will discover a unique language that is logical, organized, and creative all at once, and decoding it will result in many hours of delight making music at the piano.

Next up? Check out my other visual tour, and learn how to read piano sheet music!

Need some extra help? A private piano teacher can lead the way! Search for a teacher near you here.

Nadia BPost Author: Nadia B.
Nadia B. teaches flute and piano in New York, NY, as well as through online lessons. She acted as principal flutist of the orchestra and wind ensemble at California State University, Sacramento, and then went on to receive her degree in Music Performance from New York University. Learn more about Nadia here!

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how to restore a piano

How to Tell if Your Old Piano is Worth Restoring

how to restore a pianoAre you curious about how to restore a piano that’s been sitting in your basement or storage unit unused? Was an old piano passed down to you, and you’re not quite sure how to make it playable? Here, Katy, TX music teacher Zachary A. shares his advice…


A piano is not only a part of the art of music, it is also a work of art itself. The machine is extremely complex and has thousands of moving parts. The piano is also one of the few instruments out there that has stood the test of time. It has a beautiful framework and a sound board supporting tremendous string tension, all concealed by a beautiful finished cabinetry. The piano is not as fragile as other instruments, but it is still subject to deterioration over time. The felt wears, strings break, wooden structures weaken and crack, and the beautiful exterior cabinet loses its finish and elegance.

So what should you do if you have an old, used piano that needs some TLC, and you’re interested in starting to play it?

When discussing how to restore a piano, experts generally use two terms, reconditioning and rebuilding.


The easier of the two, reconditioning is done by cleaning, adjusting, repairing, and replacing parts when absolutely necessary. Reconditioning only focuses on the parts of the piano that are highly damaged and in high need of repair for the best or desired performance.


Rebuilding, for the most part, involves a completely disassembling inspection — repairing parts that are in need of repairing, including the replacement of ALL worn, damaged, or deteriorated parts! Rebuilding focuses on the entire structure, including the sound board, bridge, pinblock, and strings, as well as the action, ivory keys, and case refinishing. Rebuilding is a total overhaul of the piano, completely restoring it to its original state, or better! Rebuilding a piano is usually most practical for high-quality instruments, where maximum performance and longevity is required.

How to Know When to Recondition or Rebuild Your Piano

Most pianos can go years without needing to be reconditioned or repaired, although the quality of the tone, touch, and outer appearance of the piano will continue to decline with age. This can be really agitating to someone trying to learn the piano. But ultimately, when regular maintenance that you perform on your piano (such as cleaning, regulating voicing, and tuning) can no longer provide a satisfactory performance, then it might be time for your piano to be reconditioned or rebuilt.

Now, whether your piano is in need of a little reconditioning or a total overhaul of rebuilding depends on its original quality, its surrounding climate, and its usage and performance requirements. One piano may need rebuilding after 20 years of use, but another may last over 50 years. Maybe the most important factor to some will be whether or not the piano has sentimental and personal value. If the instrument has historical value, this can be a key factor in deciding whether a piano should be rebuilt or repaired.

How to Restore a Piano With a Professional

The best thing that you can do is seek out a professional piano restorer — one who has the judgment, experience, and expertise to advise you when making such an expensive and important decision. Remember, when seeking out a professional, always ask for referrals and get a handful of opinions. Do not accept the first opinion of one professional and make up your mind from there!

The key decision: when are major repairs appropriate? When you are seeking out a professional, keep in mind a few important factors:

  • The overall condition of the piano. Pianos that are subject to severe fire, flood, or moving damage may not be repairable, depending on the damage to the instrument.
  • The quality, size, and type of the piano. In general, low-priced, smaller pianos of a poorer quality and design have limited potential. It might be more viable to buy a new piano of better quality and design.
  • Does the cost of repairs exceed the price of replacement? This usually depends on the quality and size of the instrument. Smaller, lower-quality pianos may exceed the replacement price, but high-quality, large pianos may only cost half of the price to replace the instrument.

These guidelines should aid you in trying to decide whether or not a piano is worth rebuilding or reconditioning. Again, always seek out advice from several professionals if you are considering rebuilding; they have the experience and expertise that will help you make your decision. Ultimately, this could help you save money in the long run, not needing to repair your piano again if it’s done right the first time.

Zachary A

Zachary A. teaches guitar lessons in Katy, TX. He is currently working on his Bachelor’s degree in music theory, and has also been playing piano for four years. Learn more about Zachary here!



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Hack Your Digital Keyboard With These 5 Cool Ideas

14020649641_130ed25631_k (1)Have you recently purchased a keyboard or digital piano, and want to explore all the cool things you can do with it? Take a look at these ideas from Corona, CA teacher Milton J...


So, we all know this piano instrument is one of the coolest things created in the world (this is fact, not opinion). Because of that, we also understand it is a wonderfully flexible instrument in that we can use it for many different genres of music.

As we take piano lessons, it’s important to start with music theory and the classics to learn chords, melodies, and how to read all of this on sheet music. The reason this is important to learn from the onset of piano lessons is so when we get to the cool stuff mentioned below, once we migrate or supplement the piano with a digital keyboard, we have a musical understanding of what’s happening and we can recreate it at a later time.

So with that, here are some very cool things you can try on a digital keyboard — most of which can be done no matter what brand of keyboard you have, from a basic Casio to a more high-end Yamaha digital piano. Get ready to have some fun!

Drum Patterns

Rhythm is a huge component of playing any instrument. Understanding how poly-rhythmics works can go a long way in instrument reproduction on a digital keyboard. The endgame becomes what drummer The Tommy Drums demonstrates in his keyboard drum cover of Paramore’s “Misery Business” (below). This recreation is wonderful and showcases the versatility of a good digital keyboard. With steady lessons in rhythm during your piano lessons, you’ll soon be able to equate that to the recreation.

Strings and Synths

A good digital keyboard has the capability of replicating the sounds of many different instruments. One of those many instruments are of the string variety. Once you understand how inversions and improvisation functions musically, changing your keyboard settings to a synths or string instrument output can transform your eventual performance or recording. Musician MHanded showcases how he created an improvised “movie soundtrack” track using his Yamaha digital keyboard below.


Guitar? On a digital keyboard? If you have a really good digital keyboard, recreating the sounds of the guitar is well within reach. For example, I recently played with the Yamaha Motif XS8 (one of Yahama’s pricier options) and it is quite remarkable what Yamaha has been able to accomplish using digitized sounds. Famed YouTuber and musician Ronald Jenkees demonstrated this possibility in amazing all the way back in early 2008! Sure, recreating these sounds may prove difficult on a lesser-optioned digital keyboard, but if you’ve decided you want to outfit your instrumentation with one keyboard instrument that can replicate many different instruments with incredible sound and clarity and your budget is bigger, the Yamaha Motif series is an amazing option.

Developing Left-Hand Skills to Play Pop Songs

You may have seen the wonderful videos on YouTube of pianists — such as David Sides and Ryan Jones (PianoKeyz) — playing popular songs on the piano. What may seem like a very difficult feat to accomplish is actually not that difficult. One of the underpinnings these pianists use is arpeggiations (playing a note within the chord one note at a time), in addition to playing the melodies either by ear or by sight (but mostly by ear). Developing your left hand will prove crucial in fostering your ability to play your favorite pop songs’ chord progressions across two octaves in conjunction with chord inversions for ear-pleasing bass notes.

Go to Pop Piano Class!

Sure, a masterclass on how to play pop hits seems daunting as a beginner or intermediate piano player, but as you’ve develop your ear to recognize tones and melodies from the radio to the piano, transferring that to learn more songs – maybe even mash-ups – is not too far away. World-renowned pianist and performer Chilly Gonzales teamed up with 1LIVE (Eins Live) in Germany to create a YouTube series “Pop Music Masterclass”, in which he goes over some of the last few year’s top hits reimagined on the piano. While this will take a bit of knowledge and piano independence on your part as you watch and incorporate what you’ve learned on your piano, this is a remarkable challenge that is not only attainable but also very rewarding. Here are some tutorials to check out:

And there you have it! Some cool new tricks you can try on your digital keyboard either in or in-between your piano lessons. Now don’t just sit there staring at your computer screen reading words, let’s get to playing!

MiltonJMilton J. teaches guitar, piano, singing, music recording, music theory, opera voice, songwriting, speaking voice, and acting lessons in Corona, CA. He specializes in classical, R&B, soul, pop, rock, jazz, and opera styles. Learn more about Milton here!



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The Cost To Tune Your Piano

How Often Should You Tune a Piano?

The Cost To Tune Your Piano Just as you go to the doctor for check-ups from time to time, your piano needs maintenance and care throughout its life. You may notice, especially if you have a keen ear or a tendency to sing along with your practice, that your piano drops in pitch, particularly during the summer and winter months.

This is because your piano is mostly made of wood, and your wooden soundboard will contract when the weather is drier — or the heating is on! — and cause the pitch of the strings to drop.

While knowing the cause of your piano slipping out of tune might be interesting, sour notes will spoil your enjoyment of playing. To make sure you’re getting all you can from your lessons and practicing, your piano should be tuned on a regular basis.

How Often?

As a general rule, the more regularly your piano is maintained — including tuning — the less work it will take. The cost to tune a piano should be factored into your study expenses, just as you account for the cost of car repairs as essential driving expenses. There’s no hard-and-fast rule, but at least twice a year is a good minimum.

If you live in a climate where there are four distinct seasons, then as the seasons change will serve you and your piano even better. Concert halls and other venues where pianos are used very frequently will want to tune them even more frequently than this.

How Much?

The cost to tune a piano is typically around $100, although if you pre-book regular sessions with the same technician over a longer period, sometimes the cost may be discounted, as there will be less work to do on a well-maintained piano.

You may have to pay more for additional maintenance work, and some piano tuners will charge you travel costs if they aren’t close by. For more information see this guide about the average piano tuning cost.

With over 200 strings to deal with on an 88-key piano, a good job is quite an undertaking — so find a good piano tuner, and stick with them. Your piano will thank you for it!

6 Great Holiday Gifts for Piano Players

Need a gift for the piano player in your life? Here are six great ideas from St. Augustine, FL teacher Heather L. that are sure to make him or her happy..


Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Christmas are right around the corner. And as if finding original gift ideas isn’t tough enough as it is, thinking of gifts for piano players can be even tougher. But rest assured, there’s so much fun stuff that we could use on a daily basis. Here are six of the best holiday gifts for the piano players in your life.

Seiko DM01 Credit Card Metronome

List Price $25.99


Photo by

Metronomes are handy devices that most musicians, especially pianists, use every day. They sound a consistent beat of your own setting. This super-lightweight metronome, small enough to carry in your purse, backpack, even your pocket, has a ton of features. The LCD display features a beep sound, too, with seven different rhythms and time signatures. Perfect for any pianist from late beginner level to advanced, Seiko’s tiny device is big on versatility and user-friendliness.





Hal Leonard “The Best Songs Ever”

List Price $24.99

Best Songs Ever

Photo by—8th-Edition-Piano–Vocal–Guitar-Songbook-100485968-i1395113.gc

Seventy-two classic songs arranged for piano, guitar, and voice are packed into one great volume. John Lennon’s “Imagine”, “What a Wonderful World”, and “Candle in the Wind” are only a few of five decades’ worth of popular tunes that you’ll find. Any pianist will find himself buried in this book for hours.








Behringer HPX4000 DJ Headphones

List Price $29.99


Photo by

Oftentimes, a piano player needs headphones for times when he wants extra focus, when he plays in a house or apartment without a lot of sound insulation, and when he records. Behringer is a well-respected company that makes durable, ruggedly constructed products for the serious musician. This set simply plugs into the earphone/headphone input in his keyboard with the help of the included adapter, and your keyboardist has his own mini closed studio.






CME Xkey Portable Keyboard

List Price $129.99

Portable Keyboard

Photo by

Though it has a traditional key layout, this MIDI keyboard is anything but traditional. Under each key and button, highly sensitive sensors connect to a circuit board with “high processing power.” Thin and light, it can fit into a standard backpack. This is a perfect keyboard for the on-the-go, tech-loving, recording keyboardist.





ProLine PL1250 Keyboard Bench

List Price $111.99

Memory Foam Stand

Photo by

Sitting for long practice sessions just got a little easier with ProLine’s PL1250 memory foam bench. Tear-resistant vinyl, adjustable height, and a reinforced steel structure are great features to have on a bench that your pianist plans on keeping for a long time.






Yamaha PSR-E243 Keyboard

List Price $79.99

Yamaha Keyboard

Photo by

The PSR-E243 has 61 keys, great sound and it can even interface with your iPad, iPod, or iPhone. You can record your or your child’s progress with a feature called My Music Recorder. All this and almost 400 voice and a hundred accompaniments make this entry level portable keyboard a great buy.





Please note that the prices listed above are list prices, that is, manufacturer’s suggested retail prices. Plenty of your local brick-and-mortar and online music retailers will have these on sale. In the end, perhaps the best gift for piano players is a package of lessons with a great teacher, or an extension of their current lessons. Whether you choose to give lessons or one of the great gifts listed above, your pianist will be enjoying herself well beyond the holidays.

HeatherLHeather L. teaches singing, piano, acting, and more in St. Augustine, FL, as well as through online lessons. She is a graduate of the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, and has performed with the New York and Royal Philharmonics, the New Jersey and Virginia Symphonies, the American Boy Choir, and the internationally renowned opera star Andrea Bocelli. Learn more about Heather here!


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Main photo by Bo Insogna,


Do You Need a Better Keyboard? | Signs It’s Time to Upgrade


If you’ve been playing keyboard or piano for a while, you might be wondering when the right time is to upgrade your instrument. Learn how to proceed in this guest post by Saint Augustine, FL piano teacher Heather L


There comes a point in every pianist’s life when he has to take one very important action: get a better keyboard, or maybe, buy a piano. It’s a special step in your journey that shows how hard you’ve been working and, frankly, how hard you plan on working in the future. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be getting a new instrument. On the other hand, sometimes a family decides to buy a better instrument in the anticipation of a family member’s upcoming piano lessons.

Over the past decade, out of the dozens of times that I’ve walked into a home for a first lesson, I almost always hear, “The piano’s old,” “It needs to be tuned,” or “We’ve had this forever and we know nothing about it.”

The great news is that it’s easier now, more than ever, to find pianos and keyboards online on sites like Craigslist and eBay. If you live near a military installation, you might even find one for free. Families who plan on moving due to military assignment or deployment need someone simply to take the instrument off their hands. If you’re willing to pay to move it, then they’re often willing to hand it over free of charge.

Another option is a brick-and-mortar instrument shop, or even a big box store like Best Buy. One great bonus is that many music instrument retailers will take your old keyboard as a trade-in toward the purchase of a new or used keyboard.

But the question remains: Do you need a better keyboard?

There are two primary reasons why you’d need to upgrade your keyboard:

1. Your keyboard is old, worn out, or both.

If your keyboard’s over five years old, or gets a lot of play, it probably has some evidence of extra wear and tear. Mid-range keyboards are like most washers and dryers nowadays; they’re just not meant to last forever. Look for cracked cables and cords, and if your keyboard has a lighted display, look for a faded or striated appearance. Now, keyboards may not go out of tune, but sometimes the keys’ tones start to sound buzzy or hollow. A piano is a different story. Have a professional like a local piano tuner inspect it. He should look for a sound board without fractures or breaks, and strings and hammers that aren’t overly worn. Do some of your keys stick? Sometimes, a professional repairman will be able to fix the problem, but that depends on the age and current condition of the instrument.

2. Your keyboard doesn’t fit your musical goals.

Let’s say that you’ve been playing keyboard for a year, and now, your new songs have notes that are higher or lower than your keyboard has. You might need a full-sized keyboard. Let’s say that one of your goals is to audition for a magnet arts program for piano studies. You might need a keyboard with better action, a more “piano-like” feeling. Let’s say that your band is beginning to get calls for more and more gigs. You might just need a newer, more portable keyboard.

You can find beautiful, state-of-the-art keyboards for $2,000 to $3,000, but at that price, you could buy a decent piano instead. Go to a local brick-and-mortar piano store, if only to inspect the quality and feel of different brands. Remember, an investment in your instrument is an investment in your future achievements.

HeatherLHeather L. teaches singing, piano, acting, and more in St. Augustine, FL, as well as through online lessons. She is a graduate of the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, and has performed with the New York and Royal Philharmonics, the New Jersey and Virginia Symphonies, the American Boy Choir, and the internationally renowned opera star Andrea Bocelli. Learn more about Heather here!



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