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#403559 - 02/08/08 02:59 PM The purpose of language -- "song" vs. "piece"
pianojerome Offline
9000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/01/05
Posts: 9868
In my opinion, of course... The purpose of language is to communicate meaning. If meaning is not well communicated, then language has failed. If it is very well communicated, then language has succeeded.

I say that, because this is a subject that has frequently (and constantly) been an issue at Piano World, though not in those terms. Innocent newbies come onto the forum and say, "I just started a new song" or "What song is this?" or "Here's a recording of the best song I've ever played." Then, the regulars reign displeasure, because, in the name of God, "it's not a song -- it's a piece."

Well, okay.

So why make a point of the "purpose" (IMO) of language? Because, despite the ruckus, "song" works. When someone posts a link to a video of solo piano music, and asks "What song is this?" everyone knows exactly what he's asking about. When someone says, "I just finished this awesome song by Chopin, the Etude Op. 25/12", everyone knows exactly what he's talking about. Nobody who says "It's not a song..." is actually confused by the use of the word "song", thinking that the poor newbie is mistaking a piano etude for a vocal lied. Of course not.

But, despite the fact that "song" works perfectly well in reference to instrumental music, people really do legitimately seem to feel very strongly about it. Why?
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#403560 - 02/08/08 03:12 PM Re: The purpose of language -- "song" vs. "piece"
Morodiene Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 12151
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
song /sɔŋ, sɒŋ/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[sawng, song] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation
–noun
1. a short metrical composition intended or adapted for singing, esp. one in rhymed stanzas; a lyric; a ballad.
2. a musical piece adapted for singing or simulating a piece to be sung: Mendelssohn's “Songs without Words.”
3. poetical composition; poetry.
4. the art or act of singing; vocal music.
5. something that is sung.
6. an elaborate vocal signal produced by an animal, as the distinctive sounds produced by certain birds, frogs, etc., in a courtship or territorial display.

The word, if applied correctly according to its many definitions, implies that a song is sung. I see nothing wrong with someone coming on here and using the word "song" in place of "piece" or "opus" or "work".

I also see nothing wrong with someone correcting that person, as long as it is done in a respectful manner so that they understand their error. If someone who is in medical school talks to a doctor and misuses a term, they would be alright in correcting them to use the right word. I see this as no different.
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#403561 - 02/08/08 03:15 PM Re: The purpose of language -- "song" vs. "piece"
Backle Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 05/25/07
Posts: 13
Loc: Florida, U.S.A.
Every field of expertise has its own terminology, and classical music is in no way excluded from this. In chemistry, one would not call electrons "those things that fly around the nucleus". It's almost guaranteed that everybody knows the person is talking about electrons, just as everybody knows what a song is mistakenly referring to. The problem is that it simply does not communicate what one is trying to say articulately and efficiently, and, after all, isn't that one of the purposes of language?

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#403562 - 02/08/08 03:27 PM Re: The purpose of language -- "song" vs. "piece"
signa Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/04
Posts: 8483
Loc: Ohio, USA
actually, 'song' is the internet term for ipod or music download or youtube or anything on net new. because every track in current download music being labeled as a 'song', which doesn't distinguish instrumental or voice or anything, people therefore start using 'song' for everything, even though musicians or whoever on this forum usually won't say it for what's meant as a piece and purity of musical terminology.

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#403563 - 02/08/08 03:28 PM Re: The purpose of language -- "song" vs. "piece"
wdot Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/28/07
Posts: 728
Loc: South Carolina, USA
I think the main thing is to be nice about correcting people if you feel compelled to do so. Don't just blast them for their misuse of terminology. If you can, say something nice as well. Like, for instance, "Good effort on the Chopin. By the way, not to be picky, but people sing 'songs' and play 'pieces.'"

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#403564 - 02/08/08 03:30 PM Re: The purpose of language -- "song" vs. "piece"
Fleeting Visions Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/21/06
Posts: 1501
Loc: Champaign, IL
 Quote:
Originally posted by Backle:
Every field of expertise has its own terminology, and classical music is in no way excluded from this. In chemistry, one would not call electrons "those things that fly around the nucleus". It's almost guaranteed that everybody knows the person is talking about electrons, just as everybody knows what a song is mistakenly referring to. The problem is that it simply does not communicate what one is trying to say articulately and efficiently, and, after all, isn't that one of the purposes of language? [/b]
Student: Is V Voltage?
Professor: No. V is potential. Like it's been all year.

Student: Oh...

And, it's electric potential, not potential energy.

So we're stuck with the naming system that has been established, even if it's weird.
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#403565 - 02/08/08 03:38 PM Re: The purpose of language -- "song" vs. "piece"
Larisa Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/03/08
Posts: 498
Loc: Philadelphia
One other function of language is to differentiate between "insiders" and "outsiders", and to signal one's social status. This is why every profession develops its own "in-words" and every disaffected minority develops its own slang. Even though they could communicate in the language of the majority, they don't want to - they use language to signal their status as members of the in-group.

In-group slang is a fascinating subject, and classical musician slang (i.e. "piece" rather than "song" - and really, a piece of what?) is by no means the most interesting. Jazz musicians have much more interesting slang terms. When a jazz trumpet player talks about his "horn", he's not referring to a growth on the head of a hoofed animal. And when a jazz musician describes his band as "cats", he's not talking about felines.

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#403566 - 02/08/08 03:39 PM Re: The purpose of language -- "song" vs. "piece"
BDB Online   content
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Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 21827
Loc: Oakland
"Piece" is not a particularly good word for a musical composition. After all, what is it a piece of? Composition is too long, and not very descriptive, either. Technically, "sonata" should be proper, but the academics took it and stuck it in a corner where it is almost useless. Percy Grainger wrestled with these concepts, but his terminology is too folksy for the academics. Any other suggestions? Should we make up another word? If we do, what would keep the academics from ruining it, too?
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#403567 - 02/08/08 03:44 PM Re: The purpose of language -- "song" vs. "piece"
Akira Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/27/07
Posts: 1645
Loc: Los Angeles, CA
I also do not see the reason why people feel the need to correct others. As you correctly point out, the purpose of language is to communicate. Nobody is going to be confused whether you said 'piece by Chopin' or 'song by Chopin'. Fact is, the meaning was successfully communicated, particularly in a piano forum where the context of the statement is known to all who read it.

I wonder if those same people feel compelled to correct posters that incorrectly use 'who' instead of 'whom' (along with other grammatical errors)...

I say, live and let live, and let's not judge each other so harshly for minor imprecisions, shall we?

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#403568 - 02/08/08 03:47 PM Re: The purpose of language -- "song" vs. "piece"
BruceD Offline
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Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 18233
Loc: Victoria, BC
I see no snobbery in correcting - in an appropriate fashion - those who don't distinguish among genres by using the ubiquitous - and Internet-generated word - "song."

Every discipline - as Backle pointed out - has its vocabulary whose primary purpose is to clearly articulate points of reference. Yes, we know upon reading a post that a particular reference to a song is really a poster's reference to a "piece" or a sonata, an etude or another specific classification. "Song" can, however, lead - if not to confusion - at least to the need for extra clarification when referring to composers to wrote not only piano pieces, symphonies, chamber music but songs as well.
- I'm learning this song by Schubert.
- Oh! You're a singer; I didn't know that! I love the Schubert songs; which one is it?
- No! I mean I'm learning this Schubert song for piano.
- Oh, right ...! What's it called?

If I were to say that the baseball team scored two goals in the first period, or that the referee removed two players from the field, I am sure that my misuse of language would be immediately corrected by any avid sports fan within hearing distance, even though my meaning would have been easily understood. Similarly, shouldn't we advocate correct and precise vocabulary when talking about music?

Regards,
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#403569 - 02/08/08 03:53 PM Re: The purpose of language -- "song" vs. "piece"
BDB Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 21827
Loc: Oakland
Well, if you want to be correct and precise, composers do not write piano pieces. Piano pieces are made by piano manufacturers and their suppliers, and they are not written at all.
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#403570 - 02/08/08 04:11 PM Re: The purpose of language -- "song" vs. "piece"
Morodiene Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 12151
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
LOL BDB! Well, what about the word "Opus" or its translation "Work"? Just as short as song, and the translated version is just as many syllables.

And since it was pointed out that sometimes language is used to set apart the "elite" from the general public, then someone playing a Chopin Etude should know the correct terminology, as this isn't something John Q Public could just pick up and play.
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#403571 - 02/08/08 04:16 PM Re: The purpose of language -- "song" vs. "piece"
-Frycek Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/06/05
Posts: 5921
Loc: SC Mountains
I object because it's a just plain sloppy ignorant misuse of the English language and if we here as musicians don't hold fast to the proper designations of of "song" vs "piece" who will?

"Piece" from Merriam-Webster

5: a literary, journalistic, artistic, dramatic, or musical composition
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#403572 - 02/08/08 04:32 PM Re: The purpose of language -- "song" vs. "piece"
pianojerome Offline
9000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/01/05
Posts: 9868
"sloppy ignorant use"

50 years ago, nobody in their right mind would use the word "impact" as a verb. It was very clearly a noun, and clearly not a verb. You could have an impact on something, but you could not "impact" something. Then a news anchor mistakingly used it as a verb one day, and since then, despite bickering from the grammarians, it is now well-accepted and widely used as a verb, to the extent that people are sometimes shocked to learn that it was once only a noun.

Words change meaning and acquire new meanings all the time.

Where do all these words come from anyway in the first place? They were made up. They were given new meanings. Which came first, "drunk" meaning a particular past tense form of 'drink', or "drunk" meaning having drunk lots of alcohol and thus being disabled by it (or, the more modern meaning, having drunk lots of alcohol even if you are *not* disabled by it)? My guess is that "drunk" came to be used in reference to alcohol because somebody was drunk and mispronounced the word; probably some people balked at his stupidity; and since then, everyone's not thought twice about it. (That's just my guess, but it's something I've often wondered about.)

So why should "song" be any different? I do understand Bruce's concern, but then of course "piece" is just as ambiguous. "I'm playing a new piece by Schubert" would still require the same qualification, "Do you mean a sonata, or a waltz, or a fantasy, or maybe a transcription of an orchestral work?"

Language changes over time -- there's no denying that. And yes, absolutely, sometimes it changes because someone was a bit sloppy. But in being sloppy, they --- alas, what is this, "they" in reference to a single person? How sloppy, how ignorant, and yet, of course, it is very acceptable now to use the *strictly plural* "they" in a singular context. Of course, now it is no longer strictly plural -- it is plural in some circumstances but singular in others. Ambiguous? Sure, but not if you know the context.
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#403573 - 02/08/08 04:36 PM Re: The purpose of language -- "song" vs. "piece"
Tenuto Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/09/07
Posts: 550
Loc: U.S.A.
Congratulations to you pianojerome, you really know how to start a thread.

Great idea, Frycek - Whenever I talk about a piece of music I will qualify the term and refer to definition number 5 in the Merriam-Webster. That should make everything perfectly clear.

Case closed. *sly smile*

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#403574 - 02/08/08 04:38 PM Re: The purpose of language -- "song" vs. "piece"
pianojerome Offline
9000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/01/05
Posts: 9868
 Quote:
Originally posted by Morodiene:
song /sɔŋ, sɒŋ/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[sawng, song] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation
–noun
1. a short metrical composition intended or adapted for singing, esp. one in rhymed stanzas; a lyric; a ballad.
2. a musical piece adapted for singing or simulating a piece to be sung: Mendelssohn's “Songs without Words.”
3. poetical composition; poetry.
4. the art or act of singing; vocal music.
5. something that is sung.
6. an elaborate vocal signal produced by an animal, as the distinctive sounds produced by certain birds, frogs, etc., in a courtship or territorial display.
[/b]
Why consult the dictionary? We know what this word means. We use it -- and hear it used -- all the time. It is used to refer to vocal music, *and* it is also just as frequently (perhaps more frequently) used to refer to instrumental music.

That's how it is commonly used -- in two different ways, not just one -- to communicate meaning.

Sure, one of the very common uses of this word -- one of the meanings that is very commonly applied to it -- is contradicted by the dictionary. So why is that? Isn't the dictionary an implication of how people use words in society? Or is it a prescription of how people *should* use words, regardless of how people actually *do* use words?
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#403575 - 02/08/08 04:57 PM Re: The purpose of language -- "song" vs. "piece"
packa Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/05/05
Posts: 1399
Loc: Dallas, TX
 Quote:
Originally posted by pianojerome:
Isn't the dictionary an implication of how people use words in society? Or is it a prescription of how people *should* use words, regardless of how people actually *do* use words? [/b]
For an interesting discussion of the dictionary's relationship to language, you might read the essay in any of the later editions of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary.

The dictionary today has very little to do with preserving language standards; it is much more concerned with descriptions of current and historical usage (that is why citation files are so import at serious dictionary publishers).

That being said, I have little doubt that at some point in the future, serious dictionaries will begin to include broader definitions of the word "song" based on it's increasing use in other contexts than just sung music.

I think one of the earlier posters really summed it up with the comment about "insiders versus outsiders" and "social status". I don't think the passion for correcting this particular minor usage has as much to do with language as with a certain kind of snobbery we all first learned on the kindergarten playground.
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Estonia L168 #1718

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#403576 - 02/08/08 04:59 PM Re: The purpose of language -- "song" vs. "piece"
Akira Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/27/07
Posts: 1645
Loc: Los Angeles, CA
To grammatically correct someone invites the potential for insulting someone.

Here\'s a recent example , where its clear the poster is a little peeved.

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#403577 - 02/08/08 05:00 PM Re: The purpose of language -- "song" vs. "piece"
Gabe Racz Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/03/07
Posts: 119
Loc: Denver, Colorado, USA
When people talk about learning or playing songs by Schubert (and sometimes Schumann, Brahms, Debussy, Faure, and others) I actually get confused. Heck, if someone mentions a Chopin song (without more) sometimes I wonder if they're into obscure Polish songs or something!

So I think there's plenty of reason to say what you mean and mean what you say. Not that it's a huge sin or anything to use the word "song" if you mean "piece."
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#403578 - 02/08/08 05:02 PM Re: The purpose of language -- "song" vs. "piece"
RachFan Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/02/03
Posts: 1341
Loc: Maine, U.S.
Most musicians playing musical instruments have one objective in mind when playing lyrical music--to try to emulate the human voice in song as closely as possible. The violin and flute with their sustained tones, for example, come close... but never close enough. Pianists, of course, have a much taller challenge. We play a percussive instrument and do our very best in employing legato phrasing and skillful use of the pedal to create the illusion of making the piano "sing"; but still, it's never actually the timbre or quality of the human voice in song.

Thus, the term "song" is truly and rightfully reserved for the realm of the singer, while music for a mere instrument(s) is a "piece", which provides good differentiation.

Yes, I suppose one could choose to call a coup a
sedan, a fly a bird, or rope a vine. But to what end? It would result in making communication more ambiguous, thus more easily misunderstood.

I have no problem leaving songs to the singers and pieces to instrumental musicians. It doesn't really seem like a huge imposition to me.

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#403579 - 02/08/08 05:07 PM Re: The purpose of language -- "song" vs. "piece"
Nikolas Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 5369
Loc: Europe
Well

It simply appears that anyone NOT singing, finds it slightly insulting to have their works, pieces, performed tracks, etc to be called "songs".

I certainly don't like singers, and singers don't like me back ;\) (maybe it's the way I write music, which makes them try harder \:D ).

In any case song, is related to sing, for me, and thus, for me, it should have words, or lyrics, or some singing part. For me that is! For me! (yup! 4 times the phrase "for me"! How more selfish can one get???!?!)

When people ask me if I know any other songs, I always ask what do they mean. If they mean Radiohead, or chopin. Asking is not a bad habbit really. ;\)
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#403580 - 02/08/08 05:37 PM Re: The purpose of language -- "song" vs. "piece"
pianoloverus Online   content
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Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19595
Loc: New York City
I think the most important thing is not to risk alienating those who use "song" since ,in general, they are quite young and/or new to classical music. The music teacher at my old school(who is a professional percussionist trained at Mannes)always uses "song" because he wants to communicate to his students who rarely, if ever, listen to classical music.

"Song" sounds highly inappropriate to me but I think not risking turning people off to classical music is more important than correcting them in this case. For teenagers and some other people song is a synonym for any kind of music.

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#403581 - 02/08/08 05:47 PM Re: The purpose of language -- "song" vs. "piece"
Tenuto Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/09/07
Posts: 550
Loc: U.S.A.
Good point, pianoloverus. I find myself using the word "song" when I am teaching my little 5 or 6 year old students. It is better to communicate with them at that age. Their eyes light up when you tell them that we're learning a new "song" today. Later on I introduce the word "piece" when they are ready to understand.

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#403582 - 02/08/08 05:55 PM Re: The purpose of language -- "song" vs. "piece"
J. Mark Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/13/06
Posts: 1323
Once somebody called my Jeep a car. I beat them up, then I ran over them.

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#403583 - 02/08/08 05:57 PM Re: The purpose of language -- "song" vs. "piece"
Morodiene Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 12151
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
Well, Nikolas, if it makes you feel any better, I'm a singer and a pianist, and I don't dislike you. Knowing that you don't like singers, however, I may never want you to accompany me :p .
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#403584 - 02/08/08 06:12 PM Re: The purpose of language -- "song" vs. "piece"
Bernard Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/06/01
Posts: 3857
Loc: North Groton, NH
 Quote:
Originally posted by pianoloverus:
I think the most important thing is not to risk alienating those who use "song" since ,in general, they are quite young and/or new to classical music. The music teacher at my old school(who is a professional percussionist trained at Mannes)always uses "song" because he wants to communicate to his students who rarely, if ever, listen to classical music.

"Song" sounds highly inappropriate to me but I think not risking turning people off to classical music is more important than correcting them in this case. For teenagers and some other people song is a synonym for any kind of music. [/b]
All well and good that he not alienate his students. On the other hand I feel it's a disservice not to teach them the proper terminology, and a tad insulting--as if they were too 'common' to grasp it.
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"Hunger for growth will come to you in the form of a problem." -- unknown

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#403585 - 02/08/08 06:13 PM Re: The purpose of language -- "song" vs. "piece"
-Frycek Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/06/05
Posts: 5921
Loc: SC Mountains
 Quote:
Originally posted by J. Mark:
Once somebody called my Jeep a car. I beat them up, then I ran over them. [/b]
I feel the same way about my truck.

Seriously though, I don't advocate any but the very gentlest of corrections, and the gentlest correction of all is setting a good usage example.
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Slow down and do it right.

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#403586 - 02/08/08 06:19 PM Re: The purpose of language -- "song" vs. "piece"
PoStTeNeBrAsLuX Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/31/05
Posts: 2618
Loc: Geneva, Switzerland
Akira:
To grammatically correct someone[/b]

Splitting infinitives is even worse than calling any and every musical composition a 'song'.

And so is starting sentences with a conjunction.

My English teacher also told me that a preposition is something one shouldn't end a sentence with.

\:D

Michael B.
_________________________
There are two rules to success in life: Rule #1. Don't tell people everything you know.

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#403587 - 02/08/08 06:38 PM Re: The purpose of language -- "song" vs. "piece"
BDB Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 21827
Loc: Oakland
 Quote:
Once somebody called my Jeep a car. I beat them up, then I ran over them.
That gives me the Willys!
_________________________
Semipro Tech

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#403588 - 02/08/08 06:39 PM Re: The purpose of language -- "song" vs. "piece"
Akira Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/27/07
Posts: 1645
Loc: Los Angeles, CA
"My intuition nearly makes up for my lack of good judgement."

Really? (kidding) \:\)

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