Category Archives: Ask James

“Ask James” – Group Piano Lab

This time of year, I get a number of bid requests from local schools for digital piano labs. Teaching class piano has been a part of college curriculum for many years, but these days more and more of these bid requests are coming from secondary and even elementary schools. The actual bid proposal takes awhile to customize and explain (since we custom-fit digital piano labs for any size room or budget), but I thought you might enjoy a look at the possibilities…

Enjoy this brief video showing what one school in Texas did with their Roland digital piano lab and how it’s changed class piano forever…



The Steinway Piano Factory: A Five Minute Tour

It takes over a year to build a single Steinway & Sons grand piano… but James can show you how it’s done in about five minutes! Check out this amazing new video from the Gist YouTube Channel.


“Ask James” – Where are Pianos Made Today?

The question of where a piano is made is oddly significant to many during the piano selection process. While its true that early piano designs from China, Indonesia, Korea, and Japan were noticeably inferior to those from Europe and the United States, many of the problems associated with building instruments overseas (including the differences in wood curing, cultural tonality, and warranty service) have now been resolved.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s great to own one of the premium piano brands in the American tradition, but these pianos are hand-crafted and quite a bit more expensive than what most people would consider for their first piano. Thus, unless you plan to spend $9000 or more on your new upright piano ($28,000 or more on your new grand), you’ll have to consider an instrument built overseas.

Yamaha, for example, builds their vertical pianos and entry-level grands in Japan and Indonesia. Kawai builds most of their vertical pianos and their entry-level grands in Indonesia (The better grands are still built in Japan). Steinway’s Essex pianos are built in China (depending on model). Boston pianos by Steinway are built in Japan and Indonesia. Knabe pianos are built in Korea or Indonesia (depending on model). Most new Baldwin pianos sold in the US today were built in China. Everybody’s building pianos overseas!

The question then becomes how a piano is made (and not where).

Quality wood and quality craftsmanship is obvious in the piano industry. Trust me. You’ll be able to tell the difference between top-grade spruce wood in soundboards and low-grade composite materials. You’ll be able to hear a difference between pianos that use “presswood” or “particleboard” cabinets and pianos that still use wood. …and most players can certainly tell a difference between a piano made with genuine wood parts and those built with plastic actions.

Don’t be fooled by outdated information. We all have that “smart friend” whose piano info – though extensive – may not be up-to-date. (Even Larry Fine of “The Piano Book” admits that his book will be obsolete shortly after its printing.) For accurate, up-to-the-minute data on pianos and the Music Industry, there is only one place you should go: Gist Piano Center. We’ll help you sort it all out and make logical sense of this ever-changing industry. Why not stop in and ask for an orientation in our new Piano Learning Center?


James Tours Roland’s American Piano Factory

The question of “How it’s Made” comes up often when discussing digital pianos.  Thus, in this issue of “Ask James,” I’ve decided to take you on a tour through Roland’s American Piano Factory to show you how they build their incredible digital pianos.  Watch this short, three and a half minute video and notice how much hand labor goes into each Roland digital piano.  You will clearly see why Roland is the only digital piano I recommend for lessons students!




What is MIDI?

Just like people, computers are capable of speaking to each other in different languages.  MIDI (short for Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is one of those languages.  …and, like all languages, MIDI has a number of different variations.

MIDI Isn’t Audio
In short, MIDI is “word processing” for music.  Consider the following analogy:  You live across town, but you want to say “Hello” to me.  So, using our common language, you type “Hello” in an email and send it to me.  I open my email and hold my ear up to it.  It doesn’t make any sound.  …but if I read it, interpret our common language and say “Hello,” I can hear what you wrote!  MIDI works the same way.  The first MIDI device is you.  The second is me.  The MIDI file is the email.  It doesn’t contain sound (just like the email didn’t), but it does contain the necessary instructions for me to make a sound.  My voice and yours won’t sound exactly the same, but it will be very close – and I can choose to speed up, slow down or raise/lower the pitch of my voice.

What MIDI Does
In short, MIDI allows certain electronic devices to communicate with each other.  Here are a few of the benefits:

  • It helps your computer play music
  • It allows performers to use one instrument to control a whole bunch of other instruments
  • It lets musicians create fantastic layered musical textures
  • It gives players the freedom to edit music and print out the results
  • It gives players the freedom to mute some parts and play along with others

Commonly used in video games, computer programs and digital music instruments, MIDI is a powerful and flexible language that helps musicians create, edit and enjoy music.  You’ve probably been using MIDI for years without knowing it.  Now, you can harness the power of MIDI to make your piano lessons even more fun.

For more information on MIDI files, Ask Heather!