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Piano players spend huge amounts of time alone in rooms with their instruments.
Like any dedicated professional trying to master their craft, it’s helpful to step away from the instrument from time to time to get some perspective.
If you’re looking to buy your pianist friend, partner, offspring or student a gift here are ten choices that will be both useful and fun.
On the macro scale there are two choices.
Use an app on your phone or buy a standalone hardware metronome. Both choices offer bewildering arrays of choices.
On the hardware standalone front there are wristwatch metronomes, drum machine metronomes, quartz precision click and strobe light metronomes.
There’s a lot more variety than you might originally think of in this area.
From drum-style thrones with backrests to well-padded fully adjustable benches, there is something to choose from that will keep you comfortable at any piano or keyboard.
Prices range from about 45 to 500 bucks.
There was a time not too long ago, when getting a reasonable acoustic piano sound out of an electronic instrument was the holy grail.
Today the quality, features and playability is simply outstanding.
Even entry level 88 note electric pianos come with fully weighted keys to emulate an acoustic touch as well as stereo speakers.
You can also play through headphones when you don’t want to disturb anyone. They never go out of tune and can be transported in the back of a small car.
Offerings from Yamaha, Casio, and Kawai all start in the $500 -1000 USD range will satisfy beginners and pros alike.
Piano teacher recommended.
I recommend the Yamaha P 125.
This is the perfect solution for those upright piano late-night composition sessions.
It’s a simple and brilliant device that comes standard on most Yamaha Upright pianos.
The pedal-engaged felt strip goes between the hammers and the strings, thereby softening the sound considerably. Good for late-night composition sessions.
No one is going to convince a symphonic musician that a synthesizer sounds like an orchestra but that’s not the point of learning synthesis.
Understanding sound waves, modulators, envelopes and other parameters underneath the hoods of any synthesizer will open up new understandings about the nature of sound itself.
Several synths have a variety of methods of synthesis (additive, subtractive, FM, sample based etc).
Every pianist should learn to play bass. Period. Simple.
It will help with your concept of time and change your perception of ensemble playing. Highly recommended.
Entry level 4 string electric basses from Fender, Ibanez and Yamaha with small 5 watt practice amps make a perfect package.
Used to be that a good tonewheel organ would require a moving company to get to and from gigs, let alone the Leslie that made the original Hammond sound so good.
I’m not sure springing for a modern tonewheel clone from Nord or Viscount or Roland is a good idea on your own.
You’d be better off letting the receiver of your largesse decide.
For similar reasons to learning to play bass, a good quality hand drum develops time, sound, and rhythmic awareness.
For everyone, but particularly pianists, learning the proper way to strike a drum is important so as not to damage your hands.
I’d suggest a private lesson from a pro in your area to get you started.
Some hand drum instruments include Djembes, Congas, and Cajóns. There are dozens more.
Playing a hand drum, particularly along with recordings, will improve your musicianship considerably.
Computer notation software produces publishable, professional results, from jazz combo lead sheets and fonts to full-blown symphonic scores.
Entry-level versions from Dorico (Steinberg), Sibelius (Avid) Finale (MakeMusic) and MuseScore.
These music tools are all in the free or under a hundred-dollar range. There is a learning curve but tutorials abound and you’ll be up and running in no time.
Basically, a reed-type wind instrument somewhere between a pump organ and a harmonica, melodicas are easy and so much fun to play.
The Hohner company invented the melodica and still produces them today as do Suzuki and Stagg.
The familiar keyboard-style layout and simple mouthpiece make for an easy transition from the piano.
The melodica allows pianists to get an idea of how reed and brass players control dynamics and volume with their breath, and to be able to play true legato phrases.
The important thing is to take the focus off the hunk of wood, steel, and ivory that is an acoustic piano.
You don’t have to spend a small fortune to show your appreciation to your 88-note playing friends.
The world of musical accessories and study aids ranges from apps for your smartphone to full-blown synthesizer workstations. Happy shopping.
The pianist in your life will thank you.
Joshua Lebofsky is a musician, writer, composer and observer of popular and not so popular music.
He’s played cello, saxophones, piano and keyboards, and toured internationally . His World Music CD Play A little Prayer garnered international attention. He’s busy with several new music productions slated for release in 2022.