Monday, March 7, 2011


Why should I tune my piano?

One of the skills that a piano student should learn is called 'Ear Training'.  A good piano student can hear when the note is on pitch.  A piano student can also hear when the correct note or the wrong note is played.  A good ear helps a piano student to play better and sing better.

A student who plays on a piano that is out of tune gets used to hearing notes that are off pitch.  The student can't hear the small differences in pitch and misses the advantages that a good ear could provide in helping them play. Students who play on a poorly tuned piano are more likely to sing off pitch.

How did my piano get out of tune? 

Pianos maintain a better pitch than most stringed instruments but that does not mean that a piano always stays in tune. There are many things that can cause a piano to go out of tune.  Temperature changes, humidity changes, moving a piano and the pounding of hammers on strings can cause a change in the pitch of a piano.  It is said that technically most pianos loose their perfect pitch 24 hours after they are tuned. . 

How often should I tune my piano? 

A piano should usually be tuned twice a year. A good rule of thumb is to tune your piano two weeks after you turn on your furnace in the fall and tune it again two weeks after you turn your furnace off in the spring.  The piano needs two weeks to adjust to the change in temperature before it is tuned.

New pianos should be tuned more often during the first year. Plan to tune your new piano four times during the first year.  Performance pianos are tuned before each performance.  Pianos in recording studios are often tuned several times a week.

Who should tune my piano?

It is important to find a piano tuner who will tune your piano correctly.  A piano tuner who does not know what he is doing can ruin your piano.  Look for a piano tuner who is Registered Piano Technician and a member of the Piano Techncians Guild.  See their web site at:   Registered Piano Technicians are required to pass a series of tests.   

What does it mean to have my piano 'regulated'? 

Having a piano regulated means to have the piano technician check the working, moving parts of the piano to make sure that the piano works correctly.  Regulation helps to prevent or fix strange noises, broken pedals, sticking keys and many other problems.  A piano should be regulated at least once a year. 

What does it mean to have my piano 'voiced'?

The more a piano is played, the more the felt on the hammers becomes worn and hardened.  This affects the 'voice' or sound of the piano.  A technician can work on the hammers to keep them from compacting.  This will help to maintain the original sound of the piano. Voicing should not be done until a piano has been tuned and regulated.  A piano should be voiced about once a year. 


"Hope you don't think this is Billy Joel unplugged.  I'm a piano player.  I am already unplugged." - Billy Joel

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


As a piano teacher, I am often asked, “Should I MAKE my child take piano lessons?”

I like to answer the rest of the question with a story about my daughter, Elizabeth.


Elizabeth did not like sports. Elizabeth did not seem to have a natural inclination for sports. I could not convince her to sign up for any sport. I asked myself, “Should I MAKE Elizabeth sign up for something?”

I finally decided that I wanted Elizabeth to know how to play a sport with a team. I recognized that Elizabeth might not be a good candidate for an upper level, competition team. So I signed her up for a neighborhood soccer program. I decided that I would MAKE her do it because this was a life skill that would help her.

Elizabeth was angry and upset. She cried and screamed to convince me that I should not MAKE her take soccer if she did not want to. I explained that she could quit when she had mastered the basics. I had to literally drag her to soccer practices and I bribed her with pizza to get her to kick the ball through the goal.

Eventually Elizabeth found that she liked playing defense and she was pretty good at it. Elizabeth played soccer for quite a few years. She learned the basics, continued to play on the neighborhood team and eventually quit. She never loved sports with a passion but she did find that her experience with soccer was basically a positive life experience.


I MAKE all my children take piano lessons. Some of them did not like it. Some of them did not have a natural inclination for music. I had difficulty convincing each of them to sign up.

I finally decided that I wanted each of them to have a basic knowledge of music and the piano. I recognized that most, if not all, of my children would not be concert pianists. So I signed them up with neighborhood piano teachers. I decided that I would MAKE them do it because piano playing is a life skill that would help each child.

Many of my children were angry and upset. They cried and screamed to convince me that I should not MAKE them take piano lessons if they did not want to. I explained that they could quit when they mastered the basics. I literally had to drag my children to piano lessons and I bribed them with their driver’s licenses.

Eventually each child found that they liked piano. Each child found that they could be pretty good at it. Each child has now played for years. Some are better than others but each learned the basics before they quit. Some of them do not love the piano with a passion but each found that learning to play the piano was basically a positive life experience.


In reality, anyone could survive and be successful in life even if they never learned to play soccer or piano. But I want something more for my piano students and my children.

William Jennings Bryan once said: “The way to develop self-confidence is to do the thing you fear and get a record of successful experiences behind you.” This is the reason to MAKE your children take piano lessons. So that they can add to their collection of successful experiences and be greater than they would have been otherwise.

So should you MAKE your child take piano lessons? YES!

Friday, July 30, 2010


I read a great article from Forbes Magazine about piano lessons and being smart. Please follow this link and review this valuable information.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


      There is a long standing debate among piano students and teachers about whether or not a piano player should play with curved fingers or flat fingers.  There are many famous piano performers who play with flat fingers and many who claim that curved fingers are a must. I have done a little research and come up with the following conclusions:

     I think that there is a reason that our fingers are shaped the way they are. If I play with flat fingers, I am not using the natural shape of my fingers.  It makes sense to me to choose a finger shape that is natural. Flat is not a natural shape for fingers.

     I like to tell piano students about engineering students who build bridges made out of balsa wood. They build many bridges of different shapes- flat, round, arched, and square. Then they put force on the bridges. The bridge that holds the most bricks without breaking wins a prize. Go to and note the shape of the bridge that holds the current record. It is exactly the same shape as a finger. I think that shape of a curved finger allows you to put more weight into your playing.  It creates a more powerful sound. 

     I have noticed that those who play with curved fingers are able to play faster. When you curve your fingers, your hand and wrist are naturally higher. If you are playing a scale that requires you to cross your fingers under, there is more room for you to move under your hand if your wrist is a bit higher.

     I like to send my students to take lessons from my friend, Marilyn.  Marilyn has a degree in music pedagogy.  She teaches with the curved finger method.  On line research notes that most piano students and teachers are using this method.

     When a student is playing at a high level, they may learn that changing the curve of your fingers, can also change the sound.  Using more of the pad of your finger and lengthening your finger when you play, softens the sound.  A curved finger gives a stronger, firmer sound.

     If a student learns to play with flat fingers and they get to the point in their study that they need a curved position, it is very difficult for a student to change from flat to curved.  It is easy for a student to change from a curved hand position to a flat position.  I think this is because if you play flat-fingered, you have not exercised and strengthened the finger muscles you need to play the piano in a curved position.  Curved fingers have strong muscles that can stretch and straighten- flat or curved- without any problem.  

   Here is a description and picture of a natural curved hand: 

    1.Slightly indented wrist in neutral position.

    2.Top knuckles highest part of hand allowing full finger movement.

    3.Curved fingers position allows for greater piano proficiency and 50% reduction in force over extended finger position.

    4.Wrist position indicates that the elbow is away from the body, creating natural position for the wrist.

    5-Play without wrists bouncing up and down.

     One of the most difficult things a piano teacher needs to do is to get students to curve their fingers.  I remember my piano teacher used a ruler.  She taped the back of my hand with the ruler whenever I forgot to curve.  I learned to curve very quickly. 
     I did not like the ruler so I have another, nicer way to teach students how to curve.  I call it 'piano physical therapy'.   If I have a student who can't hold their finger in a curved position, I hold their knuckles for them while they play.  This invasion of personal space also encourages students to curve on their own and it is less painful than a ruler. 
     I also find that positive reinforcement and bribery helps students to curve their fingers. My friend, Marilyn, told me that constant reminders about curving also help.  As a parent practices with achild, they should encourage them to curve their fingers as much as possible.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


Playing in a piano recital can be a wonderful experience for a student or it can be a frightful experience that will give nightsmares for years.  What can a teacher, parent or student do to prepare to make a piano recital a positive experience?  Here are a few hints:

1-PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE-  The best way to remove fear about performing is to be prepared.  Spend as much time as possible praciticing the recital song.  Never just practice a song once.  When you sit down to play a recital song, commit to practicing the song at least 3 times.  Do this as many times a week as possible. You must do something 3 times before it sticks in your brain.  Playing a song once and quitting is like never practicing at all.  Your brain will not retain anything.

2-THIS IS THE PLACE-  Take a student to the recital hall several days ahead and let them practice on the piano that they will be using.  Each piano has its own feel and touch.  Becoming familiar with how the piano feels will also help the student to be calm.

3-ALWAYS ON STAGE-  A student should be encouraged to play his song in front of others before he gets to the recital.  He can play in front of friends and family members.  Have a family recital before the teacher's piano recital so that the student can get used to the feeling of always being on stage.

4-GOING BANANAS-  The minerals in bananas are known to have a calming effect.  Bananas are known to even lower blood pressure.  Make sure that your student eats a banana about 1/2 an hour before the performance.
5-BRIBERY- I never had a problem bribing children to help them have the courage to hang in there for the rough road that leads to a piano recital.  The reward could be a family trip to Baskin Robbins after the recital. It could also be cash, presents or a shopping spree at the local music store.

6--FOLLOW UP- Continue to encourage your student to play their recital song even after them that recital.  Give strong positive feed back even if you have heard this particular song too many times before.  Encourage the student to continue to play the song even after the recital. 

A positive recital experience is a great way to build self confidence and self esteem.  Playing in a recital is the best natural 'high'.

-Cari Horton

Friday, February 26, 2010


I found two more great web sites for piano students and their parents. 

Jan Taylor is a piano teacher in Washington state.  I love her advice on helping your child to practice.  Be sure to read her great article:

If you haven't seen the series, "From the Top at Carnegie Hall" on PBS, be sure to watch it with your children.  The show has been on public radio for several years.  The television series and the radio show feature some of America's most talented musicians ages 8 to 18 years of age.  It is a great way to teach appreciation of classical music.  The show's second season starts the first of May.  You can watch episodes online at:

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