Category Archives: Piano

Tips on choosing a digital piano (and why I love the Casio Privia)

***This article contains links to my favorite keyboards, but they are not affiliate links and I am not being compensated for writing this article.***. (Just being a helper!)

As a performing pianist and piano teacher, I am frequently asked by about getting an instrument to practice on.  First off, while a real piano is nice to have, not everyone has the budget to buy one or the space to put it.  Having a digital piano also means you can practice in any space at any time, since you can use headphones.  (Hello, practicing after the kids have gone to bed!). Nowadays, there are excellent digital pianos that not only provide a good sound, but also mimic the feel of a real piano.  And, they never need to be tuned!

Here are my top tips for choosing the right digital piano for you.

1.  Choose an instrument that has 88 keys and has at least one decent piano sound.  Stick to instruments called “digital pianos” and avoid “synthesizers”, as they are very different products.  Digital pianos usually have weighted, touch-sensitive action which will feel more like a real piano and will be better for your technique.  Synthesizers are more for programming or recording and tend to have a lot of sounds but don’t often have weighted keys.

2.  Consider also where you will put your electric piano.  If you have a dedicated space for your electric piano and won’t need to move it often, you could get one that has a permanent built-in stand.  If you will need to put away the keyboard on a regular basis, or plan to use it for gigs or rehearsals elsewhere, you should probably purchase a keyboard with a separate stand.

3.  Choose a keyboard with built in speakers.  Some keyboards have built in speakers, which saves you having to purchase an amplifier.  Even if you plan on playing with headphones on most of the time, you will want a keyboard with built in speakers so you can play for others or just practice without headphones on all the time.

4.  Consider how you will use your digital piano.  Will you be playing rehearsals or gigs?  If so, you’ll need to make sure the keyboard is portable and has a spot where you can plug it into an amplifier.  If you plan to use your keyboard for writing or recording music, you will want to invest in something that is MIDI compatible so that you can plug it into the computer.

There is a wide range of cost for digital pianos, from less than $100 dollars to over $2000.  Generally speaking, a good quality keyboard will cost between $500-$800 and will include a power cord, a foot pedal and a music stand.   All of my picks have built in speakers and are MIDI compatible, which makes them perfect for home recording.

www.sweetwater.com

When purchasing gear, I always go to Sweetwater.  Not only do they have an excellent selection and really great prices, they also have the absolute best customer service around.  My sales engineer Cody Kraus has been super helpful every time I have questions or need help and he always keeps me posted when gear I’ve been looking at goes on sale.  He was even kind enough to give me suggestions and share his picks for this article!  (You can contact him at cody_kraus at sweetwater dot com. Tell him I sent you!)

Cody Kraus knows a lot about gear (and has great hair!)

My #1 top pick for keyboards that gives great bang for your buck is the Casio Privia PX-160 Digital Piano.  For only $599, it comes with a sturdy stand.  It doesn’t take up a lot of room and has built in speakers and a headphone jack.  I have a higher-end Casio Privia that has been gigging with me for years and I love the touch and sound.  This one is a terrific entry-level keyboard that comes with its own stand.

Cody says,   “The PX-160 is the best value on the market in terms of sound quality and feel. Flexible too! With a console stand option and only weighing in at 25lbs, it makes for a perfect home piano and a portable stage piano.”

For a bit more money, the Casio Privia PX-S1000 is a bit higher end.  For $649, it offers more options for touch sensitivity and a more complex piano sound.  You can pick up a portable stand for this one for less than $100.

Cody says, “Casio took all of the great features of the PX-160 up a notch with the PX-S1000. New slimmer design and soft touch buttons provide a more elegant experience while 88-key digital scaling and simulated string resonance bring the playing experience of this keyboard closer to that of an acoustic grand piano.”

I didn’t want to just sing the praises of my beloved Privia without giving you other options.  Here are a few other choices that are solid choices for your digitalpiano needs.

Yamaha is a trusted name in pianos and electric pianos alike and the Yamaha P-45 gets the job done.  It has a good sound and a decent touch and is a steal for only $499.  Make sure to buy a portable stand like this one and you’re good to go!

For the next level up, I recommend the Yamaha P-125 Digital Piano.  It comes with a few more whistles and bells for $649.   It has a solid piano sound and a few other sound choices, plus it is a well made and reliable keyboard.

Korg is another electronic instruments company with a great reputation and excellent products.  Their entry-level digital piano the Korg LP-180 Digital Piano is $649 and features all three foot pedals, which is a bonus.

For a higher end experience, the Korg SP-280 Digital Piano is $799 and has 30 different instrument sounds.  It also comes with its own stand.

While the Casio Privia remains my favorite, any of the digital pianos listed above will serve your purpose and will be great to practice and perform with.  If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments.  If you want some great, personalized help while you prepare for this investment, reach out to Cody Kraus at Sweetwater.

Have you been searching for a digital piano?  Did this article help?  What instrument did you buy?  Leave a comment below!

 

Which Piano Skills for Singers course is right for me?

Now that there are FOUR courses live at Piano Skills for Singers, I have been getting a lot of questions about which course to choose.  This quick little list should help you get started choosing the perfect course to help you get secure at the keyboard.  If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to email me at brenda(at) pianoandvoicewithbrenda (dot) com. I’m here to help!

Level 1 is for you if:

  • You have never played piano before
  • You haven’t taken piano lessons in a long time
  • You want a simple starting point
  • You want to get back into a practice routine and regain some technical fluidity

Level 2 is for you if:

  • You have completed Level 1
  • You have piano experience, but there are a lot of gaps in your ability
  • You need to learn how to play chords
  • You need to learn how to create your own accompaniments
  • You need to learn how to play voice exercises in 12 keys easily

Jazz Piano Accompaniment is for you if:

  • You have taken Level 2
  • You are a classically trained pianist and want to learn jazz
  • You want to learn how to play from a fake book
  • You can play chords and you want to play authentic jazz accompaniment

*If you can’t play chords fluidly, you can purchase the “Learn to Play Chords Symbols” course at a deep discount.

Piano Improvisation for Everyone! is for you if:

  • You are a classically trained pianist who wants to learn how to improvise
  • You are looking for a fresh new way to explore your creativity at the keyboard
  • You are a piano teacher looking for a new bag of tricks to share with your students
  • You want to develop your technical fluidity on the piano in a more creative way
  • You are a jazz player who wants to develop a deeper connection to improvisation
  • You are a circle singer or vocal improviser who is looking for a deeper toolkit
  • You are a songwriter or a composer looking for more inspiration

Do you have to be a singer to take Piano Skills for Singers?

Absolutely not!  Although these courses are geared towards singers, anyone would benefit from these well organized and easy-to-use courses.  Sign up now – all courses are 50% off through May 1st, 2020!

Level 1:  $99 NOW $49, Level 2:  $199 NOW $99, Jazz Piano Accompaniment:  $179 NOW $89

If you need help deciding which Piano Skills for Singers Course is right for you, please email me at brendaearle30@gmail.com and I’ll help you!

How does piano training fail singers?

I am a singer who has the great advantage of being a pianist.  Piano is my first instrument and I was lucky enough to obtain quality instruction from the age of four.  When I entered the professional world, I realized what a huge asset my piano training was.  I was frequently being chosen for job opportunities as a voice teacher, choral director and general music educator over highly qualified singers, simply because I was able to play piano.

Thanks to my piano training, I have had the great pleasure to teach a great many singers to play piano.  What surprised me is that many of these singers had received extensive piano training, both privately and in college piano classes and yet they were still unable to function in a basic level in a vocation setting.  What went wrong?

Many of these singers blamed themselves, saying that they hadn’t practiced enough, or they were just “bad at piano” or how somehow there was something wrong with their musicianship.  That seemed impossible to me, especially since several of these supposedly “bad musicians” were elite singers, performing internationally.  (A couple of them were even Grammy nominated). So, what was the problem?

What I discovered was that the singers hadn’t failed at the piano training, it was the piano training that had failed the singers.  When I examine the syllabi of many piano classes for non-majors, I am struck by what so many of those courses entail.  There is a near-universal focus on playing scales hands together, playing challenging classical pieces hands together and tackling a variety of cadences – topics that are indeed helpful for building piano skills.  However, so much time is being spent on these challenging tasks, but is this actually useful for singers?

First of all, it is important to note that many of this traditional material was developed by pianists.  That makes sense – or does it?  These traditional piano training methods were developed to assist in building the skills a classical pianist would need in order to perform classical music.  Does this serve singers, choral conductors and general music teachers?  My contention is: absolutely not.

The more singers I trained at the keyboard, it became clear that a different approach was necessary to ensure that the right material was being taught and reinforced so that they were equipped to retain skills that would have vocational impact.  In short, singers need to learn how to play piano material that they will actually use in the professional world.  Not just pass a required class.

Here are two examples of how I approach piano training for singers.

Scales

Playing scales hands together requires learning the particular fingerings required of each key.  This is a very time-consuming process that requires frequent repetition to learn and many months or years of repetition in order to actually retain this as a skill.  Instead of working on scales, I focus on learning how to play voice exercises hands separately in 12 keys with universal fingerings.  This fulfills the development of technical fluency in a work-related context.

Hands together classical music

So many piano classes require singers to play challenging classical works like Bach Inventions and Bartok Microcosmos.  While I agree that these pieces are useful for developing two handed independence, this is also time consuming and not immediately useful.

The first thing I work on is learning how to “fake”.  “Faking” means that you are creating accompaniments using chords and is commonly used in jazz and pop music.  In order to create these accompaniments, we work on playing triads and four note chords in 12 keys and then learn a variety of left- and right-hand patterns to create accompaniments.  It is much easier to fake accompaniments than it is to read exactly what is written on the page, so having this skill can drastically speed up a singer’s ability to accompany themselves and their students.  Plus, faking works just as well for classical music and music theatre as it does for pop and jazz.

By focusing the training down to these simpler topics does not mean that I think singers shouldn’t learn how to play classical music or hands together scales.  I just don’t think these are the first skills they should learn.  Instead, we should equip our voice students will real world skills that will ensure they have every opportunity available.  Empowering our singers at the piano should be a central part of their training.

Brenda Earle Stokes is the owner and creator of Piano Skills for Singers – the only online piano course for singers, created by a singer.  Her passion is empowering singers to gain the skills they need at the keyboard to increase their opportunities in the music industry.