Playing the piano can take you through nostalgic moments in your life.
My father was a Jazz pianist and it was a great treat to hear him play all manner of classical and jazz music on the upright piano. Learning to read sheet music was as important as learning to read a book.
Then, in high school, the teacher would play the upright studio piano as I played a violin piece or worked through a vocal piece. The upright piano always produced a comfortable sound.
The upright style is good for practice and for smaller spaces and a high quality upright can provide outstanding acoustics and features. However, the soundboard of an upright piano is isolated from the listening zone because of the cover plate, resulting in a tone that can be relatively soft and dull.
I remember performance nights and concert hall rehearsals where the power of a concert grand piano transported us into a new world of richness and depth of sound that would resonate throughout the larger spaces.
The grand piano produces greater resonance for homes and larger spaces. The soundboard of a grand piano is exposed to the listening zone on both sides, giving a richer and fuller sound. When I played an uncle’s grand piano, it was with recognition of a vastly better quality of sound.
The sound difference between upright and grand pianos can be quite subtle or it can be obvious to sensitive ears. The real difference in piano sound quality is in the construction, materials, engineering and maintenance.
For early piano practice, a player can work with a spinet, and upright or a grand piano. More advanced players will become quite sensitive to the action of the key strikes and returns. As the player’s virtuosity develops, the pianist can become vastly more sensitive to scores of differences between pianos.
The strings lie flat in a grand piano. The strings on an upright piano are vertical. In grands, spinets and uprights, the pad strikes the string with different mechanisms and the pads returns to their original positions in different ways. Some players might find strike and return action more sluggish on one type of piano than on another.
As I learned more advanced techniques and styles, I began to notice the speed at which the grand piano resets the hammer so the next note can be played. This is important for trills, very fast accelerations and other advanced techniques. I learned to use the pedals, particularly the sustaining pedal which allows the strings to continue their vibration after the key is released.
This is when I learned the difference between playing a well-maintained, high quality piano and a poorly maintained or cheap piano.
Today, I work with a digital piano and have occasional workouts on a neighbor’s baby grand piano. Digital pianos work with earphones that hide experimental sounds from the neighbors. It is a joy to use different instruments for multiple interpretations of a single song, but digital pianos have yet to come with decent pedals.
In the households where I have lived in and visited, I have seen short attention spans and grand expectations that there would be generations of players. When a single beginning player was not sure, then rental pianos were good solutions. When players continued to develop their skills and were ready to own an instrument, then high quality used pianos served them well.
All top quality new pianos should be purchased as long-term investments that will serve many generations, compel visitors to play and take players from their very first tunes to their finest moments as musicians.