There are a few noticeable differences between a grand piano and an upright piano. The main difference is size. A grand piano’s strings are stretched out horizontally, not vertically, and as such takes up a lot more surface area of a room than an upright piano. An upright piano has the strings stretched out vertically, so it grows higher and higher while still keeping about the same floor space requirements. Another major difference is the action. In grand pianos, since the strings are laid out horizontally, the keys, action, and hammers all go up to hit the strings, and fall back down. Because gravity assists in the movement of the action, it is easier to play repeated notes a lot more quickly than in an upright piano. In an upright piano, the action moves forward and backward, so the response is slightly slower. Also, the keys of a grand piano are longer, allowing for more dynamic control.
Should I Buy a Grand Piano or an Upright Piano?
The third difference is the use of the pedals. Almost all pianos have three pedals. The one on the right universally sustains the notes that are being played. On the grand piano, the pedal on the left moves the entire action over so that instead of hitting three strings, the hammers are only hitting only one or two. This creates a softer sound and a different tonal color. On the upright piano, this pedal only moves the action forward slightly, so that it does not have as much room to move as usual, creating the softer sound but not necessarily the different tonal color. The middle pedals also differ. On the grand piano, this is called the sustenuto pedal and is used very rarely and typically only in more advanced music. It allows the keys that are being played at the time the pedal is pressed to be sustained, while the rest of the notes are unaffected.
On most upright pianos, this pedal brings down a strip of felt in between the strings and the hammers, making the resulting sound very soft. The last major difference is in the resonance. The grand piano’s soundboard is horizontal, giving the feeling that the sound is rising up and around you, whereas the soundboard of an upright piano is standing up and, because of how they are designed, are usually right up against the wall. This means that the sound comes out the back of the piano, bounces off the wall, and comes back directly at the player. Also, because grand pianos are typically bigger, the volume is generally louder.
So what are the benefits of purchasing an upright piano when the grand piano seems to be the better instrument? First and foremost, space. The grand piano was built to be placed in a concert hall, with the sound filling the entire room. Putting that same piano in a family’s living room would be a trial. However, the upright piano was designed for the residential home. It can be placed next to any wall, and still have room for other furniture, such as the standard living room set. Upright pianos also tend to be less expensive. Many families that are looking to purchase a new piano are those who wish their child to start taking lessons. An upright piano is less of an investment to make up front while the child is still learning, and most dealers, like Kim’s Piano, offer a trade in value for the instrument you have at home, when you decide that the child is ready to upgrade to a higher quality instrument later on.
It’s probably reasonable to conclude that the majority of people who end up learning to play the piano in life never regret it. hey can end up experiencing a myriad of personal benefits from doing so, many of which extend beyond the scope of the pleasure of music itself. Among the many benefits, learning to play the piano can improve hand-eye coordination, provide the self-discipline and personal satisfaction of acquiring a skill, and (eventually) spread the joy of music to those around. Of significant interest is the growing scientific evidence showing the high correlation between practicing a classical musical instrument like the piano (particularly in children during the years prior to age 7) and enhanced brain development and cognitive function. The body of research seems to further deduce that this effect tends to translate over to an increase in the general capacity to develop skills in all areas of life, including greater scholastic aptitude shown by children and students.
The Brain on Piano
With respect to brain physiology, the effects (based on the capacity for change called brain plasticity) are remarkable. There seems to be an overall reinforcement of the brain’s structure and wiring; the neural networks reveal an increase in robustness and complexity. Specific changes include a higher density of interconnectivity between neurons (an increasingly accepted indicator of intelligence; see Einstein below), greater left/right asymmetry in the planum temporal lobe (associated with a higher capacity for auditory processing), and an increase in the size of the corpus callosum. The corpus callosum is an area of neural fibers that connect the left and right hemispheres of the brain, and its growth suggests of a greater capacity for synchronized processing between them. As brain development and its reactive/adaptive sensitivity to stimuli are most prominent in the early childhood years, these changes tend to be more profound in individuals that took up musical instruments prior to age seven.
The empirical evidence is just as compelling. Higher mathematical understanding and performance, indicative of an increase in spatial-temporal ability, is associated with a musical background in early childhood, as is intelligence (including I.Q.) that is several standard deviations above average. Early musical training and musical training in general have also been associated with a greater ability for mental imagery, an indication of a larger capacity for abstract thinking, creativity, and problem solving. Of interesting note is that scientist Albert Einstein, considered one of the greatest geniuses in history, was a lifelong lover and practitioner of music. Music was a constant in his life from the time of his birth; Einstein’s mother was an avid pianist and he learned to play and compose music on the piano as a young child, and continued on with the violin well into adulthood. Einstein even played music as a way to help him solve some of his physics problems.
This is all significant because an autopsy of Einstein’s brain showed a higher than average density of connections between neurons even though the number of neurons was average. This discovery coincides with findings on early childhood exposure to music and enhanced brain physiology. Likewise, many experts conclude that his lifelong relationship to music seems to have played a significant role in his intellectual development and capacity for great insight.
None of this may be all that surprising to parents who take an active role in their child’s development, as well as teachers and those involved in music and music instruction who see the impact of music education on children first hand. It does, however, provide the adult ample supportive reasoning to assuage the resistant child who finds the effort and mundaneness of lessons and practice sessions to be drudgery and torture. It can also do the same for the adult who feels the same way.
To you and your child’s success!
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