Grand pianos, however, have keys, actions, and tonal qualities that are more appropriate for practicing and performing advanced literature, and are therefore preferred in situations where they are largely used by piano majors or performing pianists. Grands are preferred by piano majors even for small practice rooms, because the students use these instruments primarily to develop advanced technical facility, something that's almost impossible to do on vertical pianos. Commonly sought features of grands are:
- Mounting on a piano truck (a specialized platform on wheels) for moving the piano easily and safely
- Protective covers to avoid damage to the finish
- Climate-control systems
- Lid and fallboard locks
Carefully consider the size of your space. You can easily spend too much on a piano if it's larger than the space requires, and you can easily waste your money if you purchase an undersized instrument. For more information about how room acoustics might affect the size of instrument you should purchase, see "How to Make Your Piano Room Sound Grand," elsewhere in this issue.
Of course, the tonal quality and touch of the instrument are related, in large part, to its size. If you're purchasing pianos for teaching studios in which artist faculty are instructing graduate piano majors, or for practice rooms used primarily by piano majors, there may be musical reasons for choosing larger grands despite the fact that the spaces are small. You'll be able to capture most of the advantages of a larger grand's longer keys with an instrument six to six-and-a-half feet long. Any longer will be overkill for a small teaching studio or practice room. A larger teaching studio may be able to accommodate and make good use of a seven-foot grand. The size of the piano is much less important in the training of beginning pianists or non-pianist musicians. There, other factors, such as the size of the room, will be the dominant considerations.
Vertical pianos made for institutions are almost always at least 45 inches tall. Smaller verticals may have inferior actions and tone, and cabinetry that is more prone to breakage. Verticals taller than about 48 inches are probably unnecessary for most small studio and practice rooms, but may be appropriate in larger spaces where a larger sound is needed but a grand is out of the question.
A special problem often occurs when a house of worship or small recital venue with limited funds tries to make do with a grand piano that's too small for the space. The pianist will tend to play much harder than normal, and overuse the sustain pedal, in an effort to make the piano heard at the back of the sanctuary or hall, causing strings and hammers to break and pedal systems to wear out prematurely. Generally, a small- to medium-size sanctuary will require a grand six to seven feet long to adequately fill the hall with sound, but this can vary greatly depending on the size of the hall, its acoustics, how large an audience is typically present, whether the piano is being used as a solo instrument or to accompany others, and whether the sound is amplified. A piano dealer can help sort out these issues and recommend an appropriate instrument.
Both digital and acoustic pianos are available with a variety of modern technologies. Do you need:
- A piano that can be connected to another piano over the Internet for the purpose of long-distance lessons, concerts, and master classes?
- An instrument that, for study purposes, can record and play back a student's performance, or play selections from a library of pre-recorded performances?
- An instrument that can accompany a vocalist, or string player or wind player, when they practice—even if a pianist isn't available?
- A piano that connects to a computer and can function as an interactive composition tool?
- A piano that can be used with score-following software so that the player can enjoy automatic page-turning, or rehearse a concerto with an electronic orchestra that follows the soloist?
The piano has a history of more than 300 years of technological change and innovation. New technologies are ever more rapidly becoming integral parts of our musical landscape. You want the piano that you purchase today to last for a long time. In making your selection, therefore, be sure to consider your current and future technological needs.