Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Our Gala Christmas Issue

Holiday Greetings:

Looks like I won't be going into the office today.

Last night Pam informed me that we have to go to Costco
today to finish our Christmas shopping.

"And start it," she added.

Not looking forward to that. I love the giving part.
It's getting to that point that I don't care for all
that much. I never took too kindly to shopping.

But I'm looking forward to later in the day when I get
to give without having to go through the crowds and
lines. Pam and I will bring our instruments to the Work
Training Center to play Christmas songs for the
clients. I love being able to do that.

I often think about what is the psychology behind what
motivates a person to learn to play an instrument. The
way most people go about it it's never an easy process.
They find it to be difficult, demanding on the body as
well as the mind, tedious, lonely. And there is no way
to count all the hours that go into it. So why do they
do it?

For the money? Hah. Sometimes there's some money
involved for some people, but it's usually barely
enough to pay for gas. No, I think there is an inherant
joy in both giving and receiving, and playing music for
people lets you give and receive at the same time. I
can't think of anything else in life that works exactly
in this way.

Pam and I have actually played out about a half dozen
times in the past two weeks. Fundraisers, private
parties, a Christmas tree farm. All just for fun. And
we feel blessed to be able to do it.

The Work Training Center is a place that does a lot of
the assembly work for our product line. The
employees/clients are all mentally handicapped to
various degrees. We've played for them before. And just
the little bit we did for them brought tears to their
eyes. And of course that brought the tears to our eyes

And maybe that's the payoff. That's the compensation
for all those lonely hours practicing scales and
exercises and being frustrated that some songs just
don't learn themselves.

I'd like to wish you a very Merry Christmas or whatever
you choose to celebrate at this time of year. And if
you don't celebrate anything, bah humbug to you. Go out
and learn an instrument, and brighten up your life.

Feel like commenting on this or any other of our
issues? Please do so at our blog site.


Now it's time to play.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Portable Piano Buying Guide

Dear Fellow Friend of the Piano:

I recently received a few questions about what kind of
portable piano I use and recommend today. So I'd like
to address that. Please keep in mind that

1) I do not represent myself as any kind of an expert
when it comes to "gear." So what you get here is just
my humble opinion based on very little first hand
knowledge. And

2) I'm not getting paid to endorse anything, nor am I
an affiliate of a piano company, nor will I get
commissions, kick-backs, spiffs or anything like that.
So here you get my total unbiased ignorance. It's a
buying guide. Just in time for Christmas.

With that in mind, with regard to portable pianos,
people generally are looking for one or more of the
following features.

number of keys
portability (light weight)

Keep in mind you will not get all these features in any
piano, so we have to make some sacrifices.

Here are the things that are important to me.

number of keys - it's got to be 88 for me. I'm spoiled.
I won't play on anything less. If you feel you want to
compromise and save a little money, fine. Get a 73.
That's six octaves. Avoid the 63 jobs unless you share
a bedroom with Harry Potter or you really need the 10
bucks you're going to save by buying it over the 73.

weighted keys - it's got to feel like a piano to me,
not like an organ. The piano is a percussion
instrument, and the keys are weighted and things like
the velocity and force of striking a key are important.
There is no portable piano (save the Yamaha Grand if
they still make that, and it takes two people to carry
it so it isn't really portable anyway) that has truly
weighted keys. But some do a good job of mimicking the
weighted keys. If that's important to you too, insist
on weighted keys. Units with weighted keys start around
$600 and go up. Way up. And only 88 key pianos have a
chance of being weighted.

durability - I need a portable piano for gigs. Not that
I play a lot of them anymore, but when I do, I need
something that's going to withstand the rigors of
hauling around. Otherwise I just stay home and play my
Kawaii grand piano which is my preference anyway.
Really durable road worthy portables start costing
$1500 and up.

portability - I want to be able to put
everything--piano, amp, stands, electronics--in the
back of my sports sedan. Most full size, weighted
pianos are about the same size, so size is rarely an
issue. Some weigh more than others. Put my portable
keyboard into a road case, and it takes two people to
carry it.

price - I am basically cheap. Really cheap. But I
learned long ago not to cheap out on musical
instruments. The good news is that the piano industry
is very competitive and it's electronic technology,
which means prices tend to reflect value, and they tend
to keep coming down. Think of what a plasma TV cost 10
years ago, vs. now. If you're a pro and are always
lugging your gear around, pay more for the quality.
Otherwise, if you're looking for a keyboard to put in
your apartment for occasional use, you can economize.

features - This is the least important thing to me. I
am a piano player. So I want my portable to sound like
a piano. I don't need the sound of a trumpet, flute,
violin, the Vienna Boys Choir, outer space aliens,
submerged lemmings, arpeggios (I'll make my own,
thanks), transposers (I confess I use them sometimes,
but rarely), keyboard splitters (ditto, especially if
there is a need for a bass player), recorders, demo
players, celery choppers, capuccino makers, game
controllers, etc. on my piano. I do use electronic
piano and organ sounds occasionally, however. But I
could live without them.

OK. So what portables have what? Again, I'm limited to
what I know. And that isn't very much.

Weighted keys. Got to go with 88. You can get a Casio
Privia starting at $600. Lots of features, relatively
light weight, but not too durable. I've had problems
when pushing it to its limits. Otherwise, it's a good
little unit.

Durability is a good thing. Unfortunately it also comes
with weight and price. My Fatar keyboard has lasted 15
years already. But it's heavy, and on top of that, it
doesn't have an amp (another 50 lbs), or even
electronics. I have to have another plug in unit just
to have any sounds. That's the price you pay.

portability - there again if you want it to be light
you have to put up with flimsy.

price - you get what you pay for

features - most units have most of the gadgets. The
reason these pianos have them is that it allows sales
people in music stores who have limited piano playing
skills to impress unwary customers with a snazzy demo.
But what you are buying is a musical instrument that is
there for you to play and learn to play. After
mastering your third Hanon exercise, the snazzy demos
are long forgotten.

One other item that you might find useful if you're
really into the computer thing. I have a 60 key MIDI
keyboard that attaches to my computer via a USB cable.
If you use music software, such as Garage Band, you may
want such a unit even though it's not really a
performance oriented instrument. But its applications
are virtually limitless. The only limits are on your

Holiday Cheers,


P.S. Is Instant Piano Courseware on your Christmas shopping
list? If so, there's still time to order. All orders received
go out the same or the following business day.

Here's a convenient Product Finder to help guide you.



Ray - Fats - Jerry Lee Together

Here is that treat I promised in the last issue. Click on this.

http://www.dailymotion.com/swf/k1kzjaNNndvwYL2LUk& related=1"

I don't know the origin of this clip, but it truly is of historical importance. Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Fats Domino all playing piano and singing on stage at the same time. The band includes Ron Wood of the Stones, Carl Perkins of Blue Suede Shoes fame, and the producer is Paul Shaffer from the David Letterman show.

Just listen. They do two songs. Maybe in a future issue we'll talk about what you're about to hear. What a treat this is. Just enjoy.

Mystery Piano in Massachusetts

I couldn't help but notice a very small item on the
news last week. Seems the police in rural Massachusetts
could not figure out who put a fully functioning, tuned
piano at the end of a dirt road in the middle of the
forest. It was discovered by a hiker.


Who would do such a thing?

Today I did an Internet search today to see if the
authorities had solved the case or at least had any
leads. They did not. But when I saw a photo of the
piano, I immediately determined a prime suspect.


But I didn't do it. Honest. So why would I be a prime
suspect? Let me explain.

First, I was in rural Massachusetts last month. Second,
I own the exact same model of piano. A Baldwin
Acrosonic. Third, I frequently take my piano into the

This should be an open and shut case.

You may be wondering how and why I take my piano to the
woods. Fair question. Back in the late 1970's I
acquired my dream piano. A Baldwin Acrosonic, just like
the one they found in Massachusetts. I wanted this
piano for one reason. It was the best portable piano
money could buy.

Portable piano?

Sort of. I was working as a professional piano player
in those days, just getting started. Unlike today,
piano players had it rougher than most. They either had
to play the house piano (if there was one available),
or they had two choices for an "electric" piano: either
a Fender Rhodes (piece o'crap) or a Wurlitzer Electric
(even crappier).

My part time job then was as a piano mover. I learned
that with the right equipment, a piano could be
successfully moved by one person and a van. Thus I
solved my piano problem by taking my Baldwin Acrosonic
Spinet to all my gigs. It was quite a conversation
piece. But best of all I got to play my very own 100%
genuine real piano at all my gigs. Heaven.

Once my band, The Bop A Dips, was playing in Wyoming,
and we had a couple days off in between gigs, so we
stopped at Yellowstone Park for a little diversion. One
night around the campfire, some folks took out guitars,
harmonicas, whatever, and started playing some songs.

"Mind if I join you?" I asked.

"Not at all."

So I went to the van and whipped out my Baldwin. Right
there at Yellowstone. I wheeled it right over to the
campfire. You should have seen their expressions.

I don't gig with that piano anymore. Thankfully,
portables have gotten good enough to be heard in
public. But I still take my Baldwin to music festivals
like Strawberry and music camps like Lark in the
Morning. I love it. Beats the high falutin' digitals
any day.

As for the piano in Massachusetts. I didn't do it. I
swear. But I'd like to meet the person who did.