If you've stepped into the piano studio lately, you may have spotted a few noticeable upgrades. I've gotten a brand new Yamaha digital piano and have upgraded from books and step stools to some handmade bolsters for bringing the floor up to young feet. Why did I do this? It became clear that the studio's needs had outgrown the setup I'd had before, and we were all ready for a change.
This often happens over the course of years of playing and practicing an instrument, but it's so gradual, it's easy to miss the signs that you or your child have outgrown your beginner console piano, or your first $200 used acoustic guitar. Here are some signs that you may need an upgrade:
1. You're already dreaming of a better, nicer instrument. Maybe you want those fancy pickups, or a different body style. Maybe you want to switch to electric guitar from acoustic. Perhaps you've been playing on a small upright, feeling limited by the dynamic range and tone color of the piano you've been using. If you find yourself daydreaming about a beautiful baby grand, or making excuses to go to Guitar Center just to play around, it might be time to save up some cash or finance something a bit more your speed.
2. You're playing a LOT, or playing increasingly more difficult pieces. With violin and some guitars, it's easy to tell when your child has outgrown their beginner instrument, because the smaller scale starts to look out of place and almost silly, like pants that are too short. But the subjectivity of "Oh, these pieces are harder, it's time to upgrade the instrument," is a bit trickier to nail down.
As our skill sets expand, we require more of our tools. Certain higher level classical techniques require the escapement of a grand piano or the action of a higher quality classical guitar, and are simply not possible on a beginner level instrument. If you're finding that no matter what you do, you can't get your new pieces to really sparkle on your home instrument the way they seem like they should, it might be time for an upgrade.
3. You've reached your goal. For many families, jumping right into purchasing a $4000+ Martin acoustic or a $10,000+ baby grand might be scary to think about, so perhaps it's helpful to set benchmarks for young musicians to give them a goal to work toward.
Some families opt to tie a better instrument to reaching a certain daily practice goal or a certain level book. Once the student is playing 30-45 minutes every day without prompting they "graduate" from a console piano to an upright, or from a used acoustic to a brand new guitar in the $1000 range. Once they're practicing 1.5 hours daily, they "graduate" again to that baby grand or that Martin.
There is one potential danger to this approach which is that an instrument which is in disrepair, doesn't sound good, and isn't at all satisfying to play can sometimes provide a barrier to motivating good practice habits. Be sure that whatever instrument you or your child is playing daily is in good repair and is regularly tuned.
It's important to consider the goal of music study when selecting an instrument. If we wish to perform at a high level, a high quality instrument is a necessity. While using a keyboard or a "campfire special" acoustic guitar at home for practice can suffice for a while, it is unlikely that a musician with only access to a these instruments will be able to reach the same level of proficiency of someone practicing on something much more professional.
Do you have an instrument that you love or any guidance on picking out just the right one? We'd love to hear about it!