At one time among the members of a certain socio-economic class learning to play the piano was de rigueur. Today, you're more likely to find a Fender Stratocaster in Junior's bedroom than a baby grand in the living room. Despite its diminished popularity in the home, pianos still offer a tonal quality unmatched by any electronic mimicry. So today, I've run my fingers over a few virtual keyboards to find the best resources for piano shoppers on the World Wide Web.
All About Pianos now called Piano World
Hosted by piano tuner-technician Frank Baxter, All About Pianos tends to focus on maintaining your precious instrument. If you don't already own a piano, Baxter can still help with pages of advice to help you determine what kind of piano is right for you. He tells about the old rule of thumb that the larger the piano, the better the tone (hence grand pianos are much prized), and explains the variations in size. There's also a fairly erudite discussion of what to look for in a new or used piano, including judging the sturdiness of its posts and the quality of the soundboard. There are also general guidelines including warnings about buying a piano that's too old (never by a piano that's 50 years old). If you're wondering how old a piano you may have come into possession is (or perhaps the actual age of one you're considering buying), the site contains a listing of serial numbers to check against from manufacturers such as Everett, Yamaha, Heintzman, Steinway, and Baldwin. If yours isn't on the list, send the webmaster an e-mail. Once you've made a purchase, the site's piano tuner-technician offers advice on how to care for and maintain your investment. Because humidity and other environmental conditions can effect the instrument, Baxter recommends that you have it tuned four times during the first year of ownership and at least twice a year thereafter. For those who want to delve deeper into the piano, there are diagrams of grand and spinet actions and how to judge the quality of a piano's action. In all, I found the All About Pianos site a practical, helpful guide for the parent or first time buyer. And it's not too pushy about getting your piano tuned all the time.
The U.K. Piano Page
As its name suggests, the U.K. Piano Page is a collection of original and secondary resources for piano players and shoppers across the Atlantic. Sponsored by the Association of Blind Piano Tuners, the site includes a contact list of piano tuners organized by county (including webstations where applicable). Other resources gathered here include piano movers (a not unappreciated skill) who will move your instrument downstairs or across the globe, as well as music societies and colleges that teach tuning. Additional areas of the site include links to manufacturers and stores selling everything from tools to stools in the United Kingdom. My favorite area here, though, was the piano history chapter. It includes several essays, including one that describes the dominance of the harpsichord, with its plucked strings, until the end of the 1600s and the subsequent rise of the piano forte first made (as far as we know) by Bartolommeo Cristofori, a Paduan harpsichord maker. The greater expressive power of the piano favored its increasing popularity. You can also learn a little about how today's pianos are made by visiting a few pages in the piano construction section, which includes a link to pages offering a virtual tour of the Welmar Piano Factory. If you live in England and are considering making an investment in a piano, I highly recommend stopping by this site first.
The Piano Education Page
Opening with the strains of Bach's French Suite, the Piano Education Page is a great resource for parents who want their children to learn how to play. It claims to have over 250 pages of information ranging from how to get the right kind of lessons to the latest teaching software. The Piano Education Page is maintained by the West Mesa Music Teachers Association, a non-profit group in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This site is updated regularly and here you'll find some solid guidelines explaining the differences between several teaching approaches, from the Alfred to the Suzuki methods. It also gives you suggestions on how to interview a potential piano teacher. Once you've decided to take the plunge, there's a list of teachers with Net pages to check out, and some advice about maintaining a piano or keyboard. Should you or your child become proficient enough to consider making a serious go of it, the site maintains an international competition calendar. The Piano Education Page contains several additional sections that should be helpful in maintaining not only a child's interest in learning, but a parent's interest, as well.
The Piano Page
Created and maintained by Ronald Lee Berry in cooperation with the Piano Technicians Guild, the Piano Page is a compendium of sites and information for piano owners and shoppers. There is, naturally enough, basic information on reconditioning and rebuilding older pianos. The former involves cleaning, adjustments, and minor repairs, while the latter usually requires that the technician disassemble the piano and possibly replace major pieces like the soundboard, bridges, or pinblock. If you're in the market for a spinet or baby grand in the United States, you'll find several connected sites here with new and used pianos for sale. I found a nice 6-foot 3-inch 1992 Baldwin Grand Piano available for $14,500. While there are hundreds of links for professionals and amateurs alike here, I was more interested in some of the pages on the history of the piano. Visitors should not miss, for example, the site's Virtual Piano Museum. It is based on the book "Piano, A Photographic History of the World's Most Celebrated Instrument," by David Crombie. It starts with references to the first pianos built by Cristofori as early as 1698 and takes you up to the other end of the scale with a 1990 Bösendorfer and its electric lid opener. Even if you're not particularly interested in the genesis of the instrument, if you own or play a piano, bookmark this site.