Ten Reasons to Choose a Piano Over an Electronic Keyboard


IMG_0015A few years ago, after several inquiries about my recommendations, I came up with this  list about the advantages of a genuine piano over one of the newer electronic versions.

It’s a bit inaccurate to call electronic keyboards pianos. By definition, pianos have felt-covered hammers and steel strings. (Pi-a-no: a stringed percussion instrument having steel wires that sound when struck by felt-covered hammers operated from a keyboard.–Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary) Electronic keyboards (aka digital pianos) lack these definitive items. They are keyboard instruments similar in some ways to pianos, like organs, harpsichords, clavichords, and virginals, but they are different in nature from pianos.


Why Choose a Genuine Piano?

  1. Musically: digital keyboards are limited musically to what the “programmer” put into its computer programs. Pianos can deliver a full range of musical expression depending on the pianist’s abilities. Keyboards have difficulty producing expression, color, and tone.
  2. Aesthetically: A properly maintained piano in a home adds sophistication. It is a work of art. Electronic keyboards have a less-sophisticated plastic look.
  3. Financially: With proper maintenance, pianos can last a few generations. Few products in today’s world can make such a claim. Digital keyboards are designed to need replacement every few years. Which is the better investment?
  4. Practically: Pianos will work even in a power outage. Their mechanisms are physical rather than electronic. They also need no amplification. Their sound waves are magnified by the built-in soundboard.
  5. Authentically: A piano’s action mechanism allows the pianist to control dynamics and tone color. Though some higher-priced keyboards may have touch sensitivity that attempts to imitate a piano, most do not. Lack of touch control on a keyboard is a big issue for skilled fingers and feet. Pedal usage on a digital keyboard, if available, differs greatly from genuine pianos.
  6. Skill Mastery: Pianos have capabilities and range necessary to play music of all kinds. Some skills can only be learned on a genuine piano. For example: Students who have practiced on a piano, who transfer fortissimo power to a keyboard can watch the digital version scoot across the floor under their practiced blows.
  7. Physically: The development of skills such as eye-hand coordination, fine motor skills, and full body involvement in musical expression is limited in a digital version to what was programmed into the computer by programmers who may or may not have been musicians.
  8. Personally: It is rare for a student who starts on a digital keyboard “to see if they like it” to progress very far in piano study. Serious students need the best piano they can afford in order to minimize frustration. Some piano teachers will not teach students beyond beginner levels who don’t use genuine pianos for home practice.
  9. Emotionally: Piano owners fall in love with their instruments in a way that is unseen with digital keyboard owners. Love your piano; it will love you back.
  10. Spiritually: Under the practiced hands of a skilled pianist, a piano can “come alive.”

I can now add another reason. Electronic keyboards lack the intrigue of an acoustic piano. I cannot imagine making a plastic, computerized keyboard instrument an integral part of a suspense novel, like I did the genuine pianos in Sundrop Sonata. If you are like  me and love the real thing, you  might enjoy reading the story of Isabel Woods as she discovers disturbing things in some of her neighbors’ pianos.

Sundrop Sonata Cover

Sundrop Sonata–A Novel of Suspense by Ann Christine Fell. Available now as an electronic book at Amazon.com.


Sundrop Sonata

I’m excited that my long-awaited and much anticipated suspense novel Sundrop Sonata is now available on Amazon.com as a Kindle e-book. The print version will soon follow.

Sundrop Sonata Cover


What’s it about?

            With her passion for helping people, piano tuner Isabel Woods loves her job – but passion can be a dangerous thing. Reluctantly agreeing to harbor a client’s autistic daughter, Izzy’s good intentions unexpectedly expose her own family to a murderous fiend with a chilling agenda. Human trafficking and bio-terrorism are no longer just buzz words from the nightly news. For Izzy, they have become terrifying and real. As the deadly Sundrop Sonata begins to play, Izzy has one chance to save the people and the country she loves armed with nothing more than courage, intelligence, and her esoteric knowledge of pianos.

Early readers, men and women alike, rave about the plot and pace of Sundrop Sonata. From one reader: “I am hooked to your story! Read till 1 AM last night, then came in really late to work today, not putting the story down. I rather gobbled it up.”

Another: “I was caught up in this page-turner. The cliff-hanging chapter endings may well keep you reading long after the bedside lamp should have been extinguished.”

I can offer you good Entertainment, a refreshing Escape from gritty reality, and Encouragement to stick to your principles in everyday dealings, for it could matter very much. If you need a diversion, check it out. Then let me know what you think in a comment here, or a review on Amazon. Happy reading!





What is a Piano Lesson?

Recital 2012
Recital 2012

I like to think that anyone who works in a leadership or teaching role with young people is in the business of making memories. In addition to helping our students develop skills, we provide experiences that we hope will make good memories for the rest of their lives. Exactly how does this happen in a piano lesson? Last week’s spring recital reminded me once again the real reasons to teach. Have you ever wondered exactly what parents receive for the lesson tuition paid to a piano teacher?

Certainly, we teach the elements of music.  From melody and harmony, to rhythm, tempo, dynamics and music theory, we share an international form of communication with our students.  Music notation is one of few things that is consistent worldwide. The notes our students learn will be the very same as those learned all around the world.


We teach techniques specific to mastery of our favorite instrument, the piano.   With keyboard choreography (otherwise known as fingering) and articulation styles, we teach young fingers to dance on the keys. We help them coordinate foot pedaling techniques to achieve desired musical effects.   But we teach so much more than this.  A piano lesson is really a small lesson in life.  We cover personality traits like dedication, commitment, perseverance and concentration.  We help students learn the value of repetition in the mastery of a difficult task.  (Play it again.  And again.  And yet again.)  We help students learn the value of being flexible, and the satisfaction of a job well done.  Nothing else can top that feeling.

We share other tidbits about life too.   In just a minute or two at the beginning or end of a lesson, I have explained my collection of instruments from around the world, or my collection of rocks and how they were formed.  I have discussed the direction of earth’s rotation with students and tiptoed with them to a nest of baby bunnies in my garden. I have even, on occasion, shared my favorite remedy for hiccups.

In return, the students share things with me as well.  Through our weekly meetings, we come to know each other well. We develop a relationship that has the potential to become a lifelong friendship.  After all, how many other teachers stick by their students season after season, year after year?

I hear about family celebrations.  I know where families head for summer vacations, or for the holidays.  I know who’s coming to visit and how long they will stay.  I know what is planned for birthdays.  I hear about good days at school, and bad days as well.  I hear about contests won.  And contests lost.  I receive invitations to participate in the lives of my students.  I am invited to school performances, church functions, and community performances.  I am invited to participate in school fundraisers, youth club fundraisers, and symphony fundraisers.

I have helped prepare students to perform at weddings; I hold their hands as they deal with the loss of a grandparent—sometimes even the tragic loss of a close friend.

So, sure, we piano teachers serve as teachers.  We teach music and the skills needed to play a piano.  But relationships with our students, over the years, hold so much more—teacher, coach, cheerleader, confidante, and friend.  For me there is no greater reward.

Recital 2013: The calm before the storm.
Recital 2013: The calm before the storm.


Recital 2013. Photo by Carl Shultz.
Recital 2013.  Creating memories. Photo by Carl Shultz.


A Letter From My Mother

I’m convinced that one of the hardest things to do is to switch piano teachers during the formative years. It’s hard on a student. And it’s hard for the new teacher to assess prior skills and develop a rapport with a transfer student. I know this from both a student’s and a teacher’s viewpoint. Recently I stumbled across a letter from my own mother. She wrote in response to a long epistle I had penned as a teenager. I waxed eloquent in my plea to stop my own private study in piano after we moved to a new community. Her letter smacked with impact. I could have written it to my own daughter a few years ago. Since tomorrow is Mother’s Day, I remember Mother with love. Here are her timeless words, from another time and another place.


Dear Daughter,

Last evening while thinking about the situation, I felt your father and I should no longer ask you to take lessons on the piano and resolved to discuss this with him. Upon reading your letter to us this morning, I wondered if your thought waves had influenced my thoughts. If you change your mind at any future date, please let us know; I had hoped that your experience with lessons under an inexperienced person would not preclude all future lessons. But in any case, do return to playing the piano for your own pleasure (and mine) and don’t hold a grudge against Chopin.

There’s little that I can say but to caution you that while you feel you are an adult, you still have much growing and learning to do. You have many “do-it-yourself” interests but I’m sure that after an initial learning stage you may find it wise to turn to someone more skilled or knowledgeable in that interest in order to keep improving. Try to keep an open mind. There are many things or ideas to which you have not been exposed.  In the meantime, we should all keep learning and improving in the fields of religion, music, writing, drawing, painting, speaking and personal development. No matter what one’s vocation, life will be richer and more complete because of these experiences.

Yes, darling, we are biased parents—biased in favor of our daughters. But we’re conscious that we have failed you in many ways. We love all of you very much and are proud of you.

Love always, Mother

A Poem and a Piano

en : A player piano in action performing a pia...

The familiar voice on my answering machine began with an apology. The reason, his voice continued, was that his wife had taken ill a year ago.  He lost her in March.  Now there was no one around to play the piano, but he wanted to keep it tuned in her honor.

I thought of Julia with sadness.  She had not been in good health for years, but the last time I was at their home, she shared a bit of happiness with me.  She and Ralph had just celebrated sixty years of marriage.  Cards from their friends and family decorated a table near the piano.  I wished then that I had known about their anniversary, for I would have liked to send a card.  Now, once more, I wished that I had known about her last illness.  Again, I would have liked to send a card. I called Mr. Dagenais immediately and we scheduled a tuning appointment.

He met me at the door as he had every time I arrived.  We exchanged a few pleasantries.  I expressed my condolences at his loss and mentioned their 60th anniversary.  Soon I sat down at the piano and began to work.  Except for knowing that Julia was not sitting quietly in another part of the house, the service call was just like my previous calls to their home.

When I finished, I asked briefly about his plans for the harpsichord which sat across the room.  He thought one of his daughters might be interested in the harpsichord.  The children already had pianos.  This one was played only when his grown children were home for a visit.  He regretted that he had never learned to play a keyboard instrument, but was proud that all three children had received piano lessons.

“It’s never too late to learn,” I suggested with a smile.

“For me, it probably is.”

At that point he handed me a paper he had been holding.  “I want to give this to you,” he said.  “It’s a poem Julia wrote.  You know, she was only six years old when her mother died.”

MY MOTHERS PIANO (used with permission)

By Julia Dagenais

  • Huddled beneath that keyboard
  • I peered out through Corinthian columns
  • A priestess surveying with pity
  • The silent world outside my singing sanctuary.
  • Above my head sounds ripples and crashed
  • From her fingers.
  • Beside me the firm feet pressed a pattern
  • From the worn-bright brass.
  • Long after the music stopped
  • I, a weeping votary,
  • Washed the cracked and yellowed keys
  • And polished the rosewood varnish.
  • Still smooth and shiny in protected places,
  • It was mostly rough and crazed by time.
  • Before I could quite name the notes
  • She summoned with such mastery,
  • The song was over and a stillness struck
  • That muffled all melody.
  • What did I learn then from the flashing hands
  • And the doomed figure swaying on the claw-foot stool?
  • That a woman should sing;
  • That joy should flow in beauty
  • From her fingers and her feet;
  • That the rising chord re-echoes
  • When the hands and lips are stilled.

Six and sixty. The heartbreak of a six-year old girl became sixty years of devotion to her family.  Julia’s determination to pass on a love of music through her verse is a tribute to all families, their pianos, and their music.  Her words speak of life and death, of joy and sorrow, and of a song that we endeavor to pass on to the next generation.   For those of us who dedicate our lives to the service of instruments beloved by others, Julia’s words remind us what it’s all about.

The pig and the piano

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMost piano service calls are pretty routine.  Occasionally, though, I do encounter a bit of a bizarre situation.

Not long ago, I was tuning for a new client in a nice new home.  The piano was in the basement on a wall next to the laundry room door.  Corralled in the laundry room by a child security gate was the family’s pet, Gretel, a miniature pot-belly pig.  I tuned away, working through the piano’s mid-section, when all of a sudden, the laundry door swung shut.  Bang!

There I was, trying to work around grunts, grumbles and the occasional little squeal, thinking to myself, “Okay.  A bit unusual, but I can do this.”

Gretel, oh the other hand, must have been thinking, “Okay.  A bit unusual.  SHE’S DRIVING ME CRAZY!”

The pig slammed the door shut.