How to Recommend a Piano (for Piano Teachers)

Posted: January 3, 2012 in Piano

Sure, you are a piano teacher, which means the parents of your young students expect you to know EVERYTHING about pianos. Let me help you. Here is a list of answers to common questions. I won’t go into detail, but I could, and it would be boring. Let’s cut to the chase.

Q. What is the best piano to buy?

A. Yamaha if you like a bright sound, Kawai if you like a mellow sound.

Q. What brand of used piano is good?

A. There are many brands that are good, but you should hire a piano technician to appraise any used piano before you buy it.

Q. Which dealer do you recommend?

A. The largest dealers have earned their reputations through years of service and growth, but you should also look at {insert name of your favorite smaller dealer].

Q. How much should we budget for a [new/used] piano?

A1. Many people simply go to a few stores before they set a budget. It is good to see the many new products that are offered by piano stores. Later you can set a budget based on what you saw in the stores.

A2. About $7,000 for a good quality upright piano, and $15,000 for a good quality grand piano.

Q. Is a grand piano better than an upright piano?

A. The touch and feel of the keys is different in each type of piano. Some upright pianos are better than grand pianos of similar price. It depends on the brand.

Q. Are you willing to help us shop for a piano?

A. Sure. Just write a note about when you want to go shopping on a $100 bill and I will meet you at the store.

Q. We saw a piano on Craigslist that cost {$ridiculous low amount]. Do you think that would be a good piano?

A. A piano technician is the better person to ask. I can recommend {insert piano technician’s name]. He is qualified to appraise pianos.

Q. Is an electronic keyboard a good substitute for a piano?

A. Some digital keyboards have weighted actions that closely resemble the action of a piano. The Yamaha Clavinova is a good electronic piano to consider.

Most piano teachers will readily admit they cannot tune a piano, but few will admit they know very little about the differences in quality between the many brands of pianos on the market today. There is no shame in acknowledging the limits of your knowledge, “Pianos change so much it is hard to keep up,” but there is certainly a risk the customer will think less of you as a teacher if you do not have a basic understanding of the instrument you teach.

Without exception, every piano store dealer in your town would welcome your inquiries about their brands. If you are recommending pianos for your customers, and you have NOT been to every store in town to see what they offer, you really need to consider the ethical implications of recommending products you have not made a diligent effort to study.

As a piano tuner/technician, I talk to dealers and fellow technicians, read trade journals, and attend tradeshows. No one pays me more money for doing this: it is EXPECTED. I am a center of influence for many people, and that makes me a steward, a messenger of information that is beyond the access of my customers.

As a teacher who recommends certain brands or purchases, you take on a responsibility that is also based on a trust – a trust that you have done the work necessary to make such recommendations. You will be greatly enlightened if you pick up the telephone and call your favorite piano dealer and ask to be shown each and every piano brand that he sells, so you can be an informed consultant for your customers.

Now if you do that, it is most probable the dealer will offer you a “referral fee” for any of your referrals that result in a sale. Seems simple enough, but there is a catch. If you intend to receive a commission for a sale, you need to disclose that to each customer you recommend to that store.  (The dealer will not tell you this. What does he care about your integrity?)

Steinway of Dallas has offered me $1,500 for every customer I send to them if a sale of a grand piano is realized.  I turned them down. I am insulted by that offer. No doubt they have made a similar offer to any music teacher or piano tuner that asked. I do not work for Steinway. I work for my client, and I do not confuse the customer about my interests. But if you do intend on taking the referral fee, then you need to disclose that dual-interest relationship to the customer. “If you buy a [name of piano], I will receive a small referral fee from the dealer – but I really like that piano.”

There is absolutely nothing wrong with accepting a referral fee. In my mind, there is something wrong with not disclosing your arrangement with the dealer when a customer seeks your advice.

Do the right thing.

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