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#2050877 - 03/19/13 02:26 PM New Student Wants to Learn ONLY by Ear
pianoSD Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/20/13
Posts: 57
Loc: San Diego, CA
I started with a new student yesterday, and he wants to learn piano ONLY by ear.

He is a 23 year old who also plays the guitar. He obviously knows chords and has a clear sense of tempo. He can already play some songs by ear on the piano, and he is mostly looking to play non-classical pieces. He is looking for me to help him with proper fingering technique and expand upon his current knowledge of chord structures to enhance his ability to play by ear.

Any suggestions?
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#2050933 - 03/19/13 03:33 PM Re: New Student Wants to Learn ONLY by Ear [Re: pianoSD]
Bobpickle Offline

Gold Supporter until July 10  2014


Registered: 05/24/12
Posts: 1383
Loc: Cameron Park, California
I'd first confirm that he has no current desire (this could change, of course) to learn any Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin (have him listen to some popular works - i.e. "Pathetique" Sonata, K.332, "Fantasie" Impromptu, etc. respectively). If nothing else, this may at least inspire him enough to learn to read basic notation in treble and bass clefs - it worked for me!

If this doesn't work, I'd convey that while there are certainly non-classical musicians that never learned that skill that became wildly successful, there were far more greats that could at least read and comprehend basic notation in the treble clef for lead sheets (assuming they weren't very grounded in classical training even going so far as to obtain advanced degrees like the great Bill Evans, for example). While someone could certainly try and find recordings to learn a whole fake book song by song by ear, it would be far easier (and quicker, which is probably largely the reason he thinks he wants to go this route, as many mistakenly think learning to read notation is an insurmountable task) to learn to read what's written on the page in all fake books and then have every song immediately at his disposal. The way I see it is that if you can at least convince him to want to learn to read treble clef, you could most certainly convince him to learn one more.

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#2050971 - 03/19/13 04:27 PM Re: New Student Wants to Learn ONLY by Ear [Re: pianoSD]
pianopaws Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/18/13
Posts: 66
Loc: North Carolina, USA
I second the suggestion of at least having the student learn the treble clef so he can do lead sheet playing. It would definitely provide more options for future playing.

For strictly playing by ear, there are lots of familiar tunes that can harmonized with I, IV, and V chords while the melody is played by ear. You can transpose these into different keys, thus teaching the scales and primary chords. You can also try out different chord patterns (blocked, broken, waltz pattern) to dress up the left hand.

From there, it is easy to branch out into pop songs. They rarely use more than 4 different chords. Depending on what style of music your student is into, maybe some Beatles or Coldplay tunes?
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#2050991 - 03/19/13 05:09 PM Re: New Student Wants to Learn ONLY by Ear [Re: pianoSD]
ten left thumbs Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/22/09
Posts: 3336
Loc: Scotland
Tell him note-reading on piano is far far easier than on guitar, because they keyboard is simpler than the fretboard.
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I am a competent teacher.


www.justfingers.co.uk
www.babysinging.co.uk

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#2051005 - 03/19/13 05:33 PM Re: New Student Wants to Learn ONLY by Ear [Re: pianoSD]
tend to rush Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/05/13
Posts: 51
You may not like this. I admit I'm not a teacher, just taking a look at your forum. But, as one who's played by ear all my life, as well as majoring in music, and who had various teachers with various levels of experience with the non-classical world, I'd suggest that if you're not completely comfortable with his request, you might help him find a more suitable teacher for his needs. No offense.

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#2051030 - 03/19/13 07:03 PM Re: New Student Wants to Learn ONLY by Ear [Re: tend to rush]
Bobpickle Offline

Gold Supporter until July 10  2014


Registered: 05/24/12
Posts: 1383
Loc: Cameron Park, California
Originally Posted By: tend to rush
You may not like this. I admit I'm not a teacher, just taking a look at your forum. But, as one who's played by ear all my life, as well as majoring in music, and who had various teachers with various levels of experience with the non-classical world, I'd suggest that if you're not completely comfortable with his request, you might help him find a more suitable teacher for his needs. No offense.


I do agree on the basis that few classical teachers would also be equipped to teach non-classical improvisation and playing by ear, but the importance of learning to read can still be conveyed and - if correspondingly understood and appreciated - taught, at the very least. Even though you've played by ear all your life, if you did in fact major in music, then I can hardly conjecture that you yourself can't read music notation at least decently fluently (I think it's safe to assume you're not Dave Brubeck in disguise grin ; R.I.P.). A little classical exposure, too, wouldn't hurt.

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#2051136 - 03/20/13 01:19 AM New Student Wants to Learn ONLY by Ear [Re: pianoSD]
LoPresti Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/07/10
Posts: 1304
Loc: New York
Originally Posted By: pianoSD
I started with a new student yesterday, and he wants to learn piano ONLY by ear. . . He is looking for me to help him with proper fingering technique and expand upon his current knowledge of chord structures to enhance his ability to play by ear.

San Diego,

There seem to be several "whys" here:
Why did you not know this about your new student BEFORE starting to teach him?

Did you ask your new student exactly why he wishes to learn only by ear?

Why are you seeking suggestions? Is it because you do not want to teach him to play by ear, or because you are unable to do so?
Ed
_________________________
In music, everything one does correctly helps everything else.

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#2051268 - 03/20/13 10:04 AM Re: New Student Wants to Learn ONLY by Ear [Re: LoPresti]
pianoSD Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/20/13
Posts: 57
Loc: San Diego, CA
Originally Posted By: LoPresti

San Diego,

There seem to be several "whys" here:
Why did you not know this about your new student BEFORE starting to teach him?

Did you ask your new student exactly why he wishes to learn only by ear?

Why are you seeking suggestions? Is it because you do not want to teach him to play by ear, or because you are unable to do so?
Ed


Ed,

All great questions, thanks for asking.

1. Yes, I knew about this before I started teaching him. It was an unusual request, and definitely outside of my normal teaching method, but considering that he 1) was 23 years old (I would never do this with a child), 2) already had familiarity with a musical instrument, and 3) understood chords, I thought it would be a fun challenge. As a music teacher, we often get in the same pattern with each student. To be honest, it can get monotonous (maybe it's just me). I thought this would be an opportunity to teach "outside the box."

2. He wants to learn by ear because he plays in a band, wants to incorporate songs on the piano as quickly as possible, and just wants to play. I'm hearing everyone cringe as they are reading this, but he's got natural talent, and after meeting with him for the first time, I see where he is coming from.

3. I'm seeking suggestions of anyone who has encountered this type of situation before. Sure, its out of the box, but if he thinks I can help him and provide him value (which I know I can), then why not?

I have sold him on the idea of some treble clef reading. I sold it as learning the melody. I said, "Would you sing lyrics in your band that were anything but the original?" He got the point.

Thanks again for the questions and suggestions!
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#2051288 - 03/20/13 10:54 AM Re: New Student Wants to Learn ONLY by Ear [Re: tend to rush]
bmbutler Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/15/10
Posts: 226
Loc: North Carolina
Originally Posted By: tend to rush
You may not like this. I admit I'm not a teacher, just taking a look at your forum. But, as one who's played by ear all my life, as well as majoring in music, and who had various teachers with various levels of experience with the non-classical world, I'd suggest that if you're not completely comfortable with his request, you might help him find a more suitable teacher for his needs. No offense.


That is exactly what I told someone yesterday. Just politely wrote that I would not be a good fit for him. (Why are you worried the poster would be offended by your comments?)
_________________________
Bachelor of Music (church music)
Master of Church Music (organ, music education)
Piano Teacher since 1992
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#2051290 - 03/20/13 10:57 AM Re: New Student Wants to Learn ONLY by Ear [Re: pianoSD]
LoPresti Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/07/10
Posts: 1304
Loc: New York
Originally Posted By: pianoSD
. . . I'm hearing everyone cringe as they are reading this, but he's got natural talent . . .

SD,

For whatever it might be worth, I think you have extremely sound reasoning, representing a very well-thought-out plan of action. I am not cringing at all - quite the contrary.

In addition to those you have already received, I would offer one further suggestion. Focus lessons on having the student replicate at the piano whatever he hears, as in aural "dictation", but with him playing instead of writing.

Ed
_________________________
In music, everything one does correctly helps everything else.

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#2051296 - 03/20/13 11:07 AM Re: New Student Wants to Learn ONLY by Ear [Re: pianoSD]
ten left thumbs Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/22/09
Posts: 3336
Loc: Scotland
OK, from what you describe, he needs to learn scales (regular and pentatonic) and chords, chord progression commonly used in different keys. Get him to learn the shapes of different keys, and scale degrees as he plays.

I do not have teaching experience of this, but some experience on a guitar.
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I am a competent teacher.


www.justfingers.co.uk
www.babysinging.co.uk

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#2051297 - 03/20/13 11:08 AM Re: New Student Wants to Learn ONLY by Ear [Re: pianoSD]
rocket88 Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/06
Posts: 3158
Originally Posted By: pianoSD

I have sold him on the idea of some treble clef reading. I sold it as learning the melody. I said, "Would you sing lyrics in your band that were anything but the original?" He got the point.


I have had a few students over the years who either flat out said that they wanted to only play by ear and thus did not want to learn to read, or it became clear that was their intention.

What you did SD is what I have done. IE, show them a small aspect of reading that is clearly helpful to their goal.

Then, over time, show another bit, and so on, and over time they will see at least some value in learning to read, and have gained some ability to read.
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Music teacher and piano player.

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#2051303 - 03/20/13 11:19 AM Re: New Student Wants to Learn ONLY by Ear [Re: pianoSD]
chasingrainbows Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/19/06
Posts: 1021
Loc: NJ
For those teachers (myself included) who do not teach playing the piano by ear, I'm curious as to what a teacher who teaches playing by ear, actually does in a lesson? I've had a few students (10, 15 and 25 --all male) who improvise songs they know on the piano, and do not want read notes. Other than teaching them chords, inversions, scales, I'm at a loss -- I feel like part of audience just observing. I can play by ear, but it isn't a strength of mine. If I am unfamiliar with the song, it would be even more difficult to help a student who doesn't want to read notes, especially if I don't have the music in front of me.

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#2051334 - 03/20/13 12:28 PM Re: New Student Wants to Learn ONLY by Ear [Re: chasingrainbows]
tend to rush Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/05/13
Posts: 51
Originally Posted By: chasingrainbows
For those teachers (myself included) who do not teach playing the piano by ear, I'm curious as to what a teacher who teaches playing by ear, actually does in a lesson? I've had a few students (10, 15 and 25 --all male) who improvise songs they know on the piano, and do not want read notes. Other than teaching them chords, inversions, scales, I'm at a loss -- I feel like part of audience just observing. I can play by ear, but it isn't a strength of mine. If I am unfamiliar with the song, it would be even more difficult to help a student who doesn't want to read notes, especially if I don't have the music in front of me.


Based on my own experience, this happens more often in a jazz context. In any case, the student will need to understand chord voicing - the standard of which is much higher on piano than on guitar - we have a lot of options. They should know the basics of stride piano. In jazz, they'd learn various voicings for "ii/V" progressions as well as harmonic analysis and uses of various scales/modes.

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#2051391 - 03/20/13 01:56 PM Re: New Student Wants to Learn ONLY by Ear [Re: chasingrainbows]
LoPresti Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/07/10
Posts: 1304
Loc: New York
Originally Posted By: chasingrainbows
For those teachers (myself included) who do not teach playing the piano by ear, I'm curious as to what a teacher who teaches playing by ear, actually does in a lesson? . . . I can play by ear, but it isn't a strength of mine. If I am unfamiliar with the song, it would be even more difficult to help a student who doesn't want to read notes . . .

To state the obvious, it is very difficult to even COACH someone in a skill or an art that you can not do very (VERY) well yourself, never mind TEACH! That is precisely why other teachers here are recommending NOT attempting to teach in this manner.

Ed
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In music, everything one does correctly helps everything else.

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#2051400 - 03/20/13 02:15 PM Re: New Student Wants to Learn ONLY by Ear [Re: pianoSD]
chasingrainbows Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/19/06
Posts: 1021
Loc: NJ
Well, Ed, that is precisely what I do not teach. My question was directed at those teachers who do teach by ear -- if you read my post through you'd see that those students I taught who didn't want to read notes (3 of them) were students I "had." I had to let them go because of course they didn't come to the initial interview saying they didn't want to learn to read music, quite the contrary, they claimed they wanted to learn to read music. Despite my many attempts to determine their motives, they would not admit they just didn't care to learn note reading.

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#2051693 - 03/21/13 01:13 AM Re: New Student Wants to Learn ONLY by Ear [Re: pianoSD]
Bobpickle Offline

Gold Supporter until July 10  2014


Registered: 05/24/12
Posts: 1383
Loc: Cameron Park, California

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#2051706 - 03/21/13 01:58 AM Re: New Student Wants to Learn ONLY by Ear [Re: pianoSD]
btb Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 4261
Loc: Pretoria South Africa
The story goes that The Beatles only needed to finger
some 6 basic guitar chords to be able to back their
amazing motley of songs.

It sounds as if this 23 year old bandleader imagines
that the same is true of the piano ... and by scraping
together a few crunchy chords, he can frame a passable
background sound.

But the piano has 88 notes and a vast range of 6+ octaves ... comparisons (are odious) and can therefore only be fragmentary.

Playing by ear is an excuse for not being prepared to
learn to sight-read.

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#2051727 - 03/21/13 03:31 AM Re: New Student Wants to Learn ONLY by Ear [Re: btb]
ten left thumbs Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/22/09
Posts: 3336
Loc: Scotland
Originally Posted By: btb
The story goes that The Beatles only needed to finger
some 6 basic guitar chords to be able to back their
amazing motley of songs.

It sounds as if this 23 year old bandleader imagines
that the same is true of the piano ... and by scraping
together a few crunchy chords, he can frame a passable
background sound.

But the piano has 88 notes and a vast range of 6+ octaves ... comparisons (are odious) and can therefore only be fragmentary.

Playing by ear is an excuse for not being prepared to
learn to sight-read.


Nevertheless Sir Paul bangs out a good tune on his 88 keys, for someone who can't read music.
_________________________
I am a competent teacher.


www.justfingers.co.uk
www.babysinging.co.uk

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#2051786 - 03/21/13 07:53 AM Re: New Student Wants to Learn ONLY by Ear [Re: btb]
TimR Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/17/04
Posts: 3162
Loc: Virginia, USA
Originally Posted By: btb
Playing by ear is an excuse for not being prepared to
learn to sight-read.


Or, being limited to reading music places an extra intellectual processing step between you and the music, a step that disappears when you can let the music out by ear.

I wish I could do it better. I work it every day.
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gotta go practice

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#2051789 - 03/21/13 08:03 AM Re: New Student Wants to Learn ONLY by Ear [Re: pianoSD]
Exalted Wombat Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/28/09
Posts: 1194
Loc: London UK
When the time comes to write down some rhythms or chord shapes for practice or analysis he'll soon realise that staff notation is the easiest method. He may also come round to an understanding that when learning to discipline his fingers, keeping accurately to a written score is an excellent tool.

I hope you've shown him this thread! What were his comments?

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#2051797 - 03/21/13 08:16 AM Re: New Student Wants to Learn ONLY by Ear [Re: Exalted Wombat]
tend to rush Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/05/13
Posts: 51
Originally Posted By: Exalted Wombat
When the time comes to write down some rhythms or chord shapes for practice or analysis he'll soon realise that staff notation is the easiest method.


This is an excellent point. He may need to know how to write as much or more than he needs to read - or sight-read, anyway. I virtually never read sheet music, but not infrequently pull out a sheet of manuscript to work out a bass line for a given melody. The original poster said this guy plays in a band. Manuscript can be invaluable in writing harmony parts. Otherwise it's like designing a building without paper and pencil - trying to keep everything in your head at once. A class in part-writing wouldn't hurt, but that may be getting a little ahead of things.

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#2051842 - 03/21/13 10:04 AM Re: New Student Wants to Learn ONLY by Ear [Re: pianoSD]
Jeff Clef Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/05/08
Posts: 4414
Loc: San Jose, CA
"...When the time comes to write down some rhythms or chord shapes for practice or analysis he'll soon realise that staff notation is the easiest method..."

Yes; there is a reason it was invented.

Your student is locking himself into limitations which his genuine musical talent may lead him to greatly rue, not so far down the road. Maybe you can convince him that the wheel is already invented, while his mind is still young and plastic enough to learn easily.

I suspect that actual pencil-and-paper literacy is on the way downhill, dragging musical literacy with it.
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Clef


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#2051854 - 03/21/13 10:29 AM New Student Wants to Learn ONLY by Ear [Re: btb]
LoPresti Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/07/10
Posts: 1304
Loc: New York
Originally Posted By: btb
The story goes that The Beatles only needed to finger some 6 basic guitar chords to be able to back their
amazing motley of songs.

Perhaps only six different chords in a SINGLE SONG? For instance, a very simply harmonized YESTERDAY uses I, III, vi, IV, II, and finally V(7) in the bridge.

That aside, I believe you are correct that beginners often use the lame excuse to avoid the hours (months, years) of study required to read well. I also agree with Tim, that relying completely upon reading stifles other aspects of playing.

In the jazz world, most of the really, REALLY good players who I know can do both - play what they hear, AND play what they see - exceedingly well.

Ed
_________________________
In music, everything one does correctly helps everything else.

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#2051884 - 03/21/13 11:39 AM Re: New Student Wants to Learn ONLY by Ear [Re: TimR]
chasingrainbows Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/19/06
Posts: 1021
Loc: NJ
Originally Posted By: TimR
Originally Posted By: btb
Playing by ear is an excuse for not being prepared to
learn to sight-read.


Or, being limited to reading music places an extra intellectual processing step between you and the music, a step that disappears when you can let the music out by ear.

I wish I could do it better. I work it every day.


I agree!

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#2051906 - 03/21/13 12:12 PM Re: New Student Wants to Learn ONLY by Ear [Re: pianoSD]
pianoSD Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/20/13
Posts: 57
Loc: San Diego, CA
This has been a great thread with lots of insight, opinions, and suggestions. Love Piano World!

Interestingly, at the suggestion of one poster, I just emailed this thread to my student this morning. He responded (within 10 minutes of my original email). I then asked him if I could post it here and he agreed.

"Thanks for the thread. That site looks like it has a lot of good information for piano enthusiasts. As I mentioned in our lesson, I am not looking to become the next Beethoven or even Billy Joel. I am primarily a guitar player, but just want to do a few piano songs with my band. As you saw during the lesson, I can already play - I am just looking to improve on some technique and recognition of piano voicings. As a pop-rock band, the songs we play (both original and covers) aren't difficult or complex, so learning a concerto doesn't really fit my desire or needs. Thanks for convincing me to do a little work with the treble clef. It seems that most people on that thread agree that it would be good for me too. I really enjoyed the first lesson; I learned so much. But just to confirm, you are willing to keep teaching me, right?"

I assured him that I was! smile
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#2052169 - 03/21/13 10:42 PM Re: New Student Wants to Learn ONLY by Ear [Re: pianoSD]
TimR Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/17/04
Posts: 3162
Loc: Virginia, USA
By coincidence I went online today to a trombone master class on klezmer playing and it was all done by ear.

Most players were in the room, of course, but we who couldn't travel could at least listen to the internet streaming. (what a resource we now have)

The clinician didn't use sheet music (not that I could have seen it anyway). He taught bass line, melody, and harmony by rote, call and response style. He had a room full of trombone players. I was playing along at home of course. He didn't tell us what notes, just played and had us play it back.

After about half an hour when he was adding harmony in thirds on top of the melody, he first talked the scale. It was a harmonic minor starting on the fifth degree - which is obviously close to Phrygian mode, but you raise the third in the lower octave only. Or in the melody we were playing, C harmonic minor, scale starts on G, play Eb in the upper octave and E nat in the lower.

The point was he wanted this in our ear first, then talked the theory later.
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gotta go practice

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#2052190 - 03/21/13 11:37 PM Re: New Student Wants to Learn ONLY by Ear [Re: pianoSD]
Jeff Clef Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/05/08
Posts: 4414
Loc: San Jose, CA
"... He had a room full of trombone players..."

It seemed so unlikely, but I'm glad you and your student are able to work together. Piano and guitar are excellent to study together. It will take a special kind of teacher, but this could be a good gig, with lots of fun music that people like to hear.
_________________________
Clef


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