The answer might surprise you!
The ability to silently play a piano and hear it through a pair of headphones is a relatively new concept in the instrument’s more than 300-year history. It began with the growing popularity of electric pianos in the 1950’s and 60’s, and then as the 1980’s ushered in the computer age, digital pianos became commonplace, most of which could be used with headphones. For many of us, this technology is familiar and even “old hat.” The true advantage of this technology, however, is often understated or even misunderstood.
The art of playing the piano begins with the act of learning the piano: regular practice. Scales. Finger exercises. Sight-reading. And lots of wrong notes. Though practicing piano is vital for any student, practicing is really not meant for an audience or for “listening pleasure.” Practice is not a performance, after all, it’s practice — not necessarily something you want to share with others, let alone the whole family. To a student, practicing can be uncomfortable and often embarrassing when he/she knows his/her whole family and sometimes the neighbors are going to hear every mistake.
Embarrassment is a top reason piano students quit lessons and here is why such discomfort is particularly unique to piano students. Consider any artistic endeavor — writing, painting, photography, videography, sculpture, dance… the student gets to wait until they’re ready to share what they’ve been working on. For instance, a writer doesn’t force every family member to read each sentence as a chapter is being written; an aspiring film maker doesn’t request that family members gather around the computer monitor to watch the editing process. In fact, I’ll go so far to say that if every painter in this world had to learn to paint with every person within earshot standing over the easel watching every single brush stroke, hardly anyone in this world would paint. Yet learning to play piano out loud is the equivalent of all of those things.
Until modern times, this unfortunate and unavoidable situation was a certainty for all aspiring pianists. While most artists have the luxury of presenting finished products, piano students had to make mistakes without that luxury. Its well-known that music students of ALL ages are particularly apprehensive about performing in front of people, especially in the beginning of their studies. Naturally,stage fright can create a real roadblock. It becomes a reason not to practice, and ultimately it can contribute to a loss of interest. And aspiring pianists have had to deal with this almost every time they sit on the bench.
On a related note, stage fright is not the only cause for a student to lose interest in piano. Another top reason is having an inferior instrument. Put yourself in their shoes: as a beginner, you’re working on finger coordination. You don’t want to have to overcome the shortcomings of your piano while you’re already busy trying to master your finger dexterity on the keys. That sad fact is that most used pianos are not in tune-able or playable condition and are usually not worth the cost of servicing. Similarly, most digital keyboards don’t sufficiently represent the sound, touch, or musical abilities of an excellent acoustic piano, either. So having a digital keyboard with headphonecapability is only one requirement of having an adequate learning instrument.
The use of headphones also has an obvious advantage for anyone else in the home at the time of a practice session: piano practice doesn’t have to take over the entire house. The rest of the household can watch a movie, concentrate on homework, make a phone call or practice their own instruments all without interruption or annoyance. Conversely the person playing piano isn’t going to be distracted by that movie or phone call. His/her headphones provides a level of peace and quiet ideal for learning and one that is conducive to creativity and expression.
Thanks to technology and just as importantly, understanding the benefits of that technology, not only can we practice in total freedom and privacy via headphones, we can do so on a piano that’s a joy to play — whether its an acoustic piano with a digital silent feature, a realistic digital piano, or a hybridized mixture of both! In fact, the latest technology from a couple brands creates a musical experience virtually indistinguishable from that of sitting in front of a traditional grand piano.
Stop by Cordogan’s Pianoland to see examples of these cutting-edge instruments or give us a call at 630-584-5000 for more information.