Play on, little virtuosos

Okay, so, I mentioned in passing that after deciding to get the kids a real piano that I thought I’d had the situation taken care of, and then there was a little snafu. But I didn’t tell you the whole sordid tale.

And CLEARLY, you need the whole story. Because my life is JUST THAT FASCINATING.

To recap: The kids started taking piano lessons a year ago, and all we had here for them to practice on was a small keyboard. This keyboard not only lacks some of the keys they needed, it doesn’t have hammer-action (weighted) keys, and so according to the piano teacher, forcing my children to use this inferior instrument was tantamount to child abuse. The only thing that would’ve been worse was a piece of cardboard with the keys drawn on it, apparently. And so after some soul-searching I set out to buy the children a Decent Instrument.

The piano teacher and I had many discussions about what constitutes a Decent Instrument. He prefers a real piano for his students, whenever possible, but a high-quality electronic piano will pass muster with him as well. We talked about it and I did a quick pro/con list.

PROs of a real piano: Can often be gotten for free! Can other times be gotten for cheap! Always has the right number of keys, with hammer action! Generally comes with a bench in which you can hide the sheet music that is normally strewn all over the place!

CONs of a real piano: Weighs a million billion tons! Might give my cute husband a hernia! Needs to be tuned regularly, which costs many dollars! Takes up a lot of space! Is sensitive to the weather! Likes sappy movies!

PROs of an electronic piano: Small! Lightweight! Cute and cuddly! Easy to get upstairs! Never needs tuning! Impervious to the humidity!

CONs of an electronic piano: Costs many many dollars! Stand and bench sold separately! A billion varieties are available, from number of keys to how those keys work (hammer action, touch-sensitive, pressure active, SCHIZOAFFECTIVE)! Much harder to find used! Less serious-looking!

Otto and I discussed it, and we decided It Was Time to find an electronic piano.

(The needing-to-get-it-upstairs thing remains the real deal-breaker for me, in terms of considering an actual conventional piano over electronic. Well, that and the yearly tuning. Even if you get the piano for free, you end up paying for it OVER AND OVER with the tuning. No thanks.)

So I started the search. And I visited countless websites and compared reviews and read descriptions and then I threw myself off of the nearest overpass because I PLAYED CELLO, MAN, and I played the cello the school handed me, and there was none of this “cross-reference sixteen different models before making a decision” nonsense. SHEESH.

In the end, though, I find a very nice online music store where they sell what is called B-Stock at a reduced rate. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I did see that they had a $1200 keyboard for about $580, so I called them up to ask about it.

Big Music Store Rep: Hello, and thank you for calling Big Music Store. How may I help you?
Me: Yes, hi there, I had a few questions about one of your items.
BMSR: Okay, I can help you with that. Can you give me the item number?
Me: Sure! *I give him the item number* Okay, so, I don’t understand what B-Stock means. Could you explain that?
BMSR: Oh, yes, I see, sure. Well, B-Stock is anything that’s an open box, ma’am. It’s a return or a demo that we can no longer sell at full price, but which has been thoroughly inspected and is still under full warranty. Basically you’re getting a price reduction because the box isn’t in great shape.
Me: Oh. I see. And, um, this keyboard here… is this a good one?
BMSR: Oh yes ma’am, that’s a phenomenal price on that Korg. You won’t do better than that anywhere.
Me: And the shipping is free? And the warranty is the same as on a brand new one?
BMSR: Yep, we’ll ship it to you for free and the warranty is full and intact, so if there’s any problems—but there won’t be! it’s been inspected!—we’ll handle that for you.
Me: Just one more question.
BMSR: Sure thing.
Me: Will this keyboard make my kids’ piano teacher stop hassling me? Because that is pretty much what I’m looking for in a piano.
BMSR: *laughing* Yes ma’am, I do believe it will.
Me: Great, I’ll take it.

So he processed my order (even faking me out on the price at one point—saying something like “Oh, I’m so sorry, the price has changed… instead of $580 it’s now showing up at… $550!”—and helping me find a bench and just generally being swell) and I did the victory dance. Free shipping! No tax! Big discount! I WIN AT SHOPPING!

And because I have a great big fat mouth, I told the kids I bought them a piano. They were so excited to see it when they got home from Daddy’s.

But then we got back from our trip and the keyboard was here. The “good as new” B-Stock keyboard, shipped in a box that appeared to be made of confetti and packing tape. We found two keys that stuck, right away, and then a third one upon closer investigation. I. Was. Livid.

I even had the piano teacher come take a look. “Can it be fixed?” I asked him.

“Nah,” he said. “This is broken. Where’d you GET this, anyway? The INTERNET? Oh, come on now. Go to the local store, tell them you know me, buy the Yamaha I told you about. Stop messing around.”

I sighed loudly and thanked him for looking at it for me.

I called up my pal at Big Music Store again, asking for him by name so that I could talk to the same guy.

BMSR: Big Music Store, how may I help you?
Me: Hi, BMSR, this is Mir again, remember me? The B-Stock Korg?
BMSR: Oh yeah! The piano teacher on your case about your kids! Right! How’d it work out?
Me: Well, it really didn’t. This keyboard is damaged. I thought B-Stock was full inspected and “good as new?”
BMSR: Oh dear. I’m sorry. Yes, it is. I mean, it’s supposed to be. But things happen sometimes. Well let’s find you something else, and of course we’ll take that one back at no charge, I apologize.
Me: I would like this one. I mean, a WORKING one of these.
BMSR: Yes, heh, well, I don’t have any other B-Stock on that, and I can’t give you a new one for that price, though I could knock $100 off a new one, if you’d like….
Me: Uh, no. Out of my price range, I’m afraid.
BMSR: Okay, well, let’s find you something else!

He then proceeded to try to sell me three different keyboards in my price range that didn’t have weighted keys. And so I ended up having him process the return and hung up the phone still completely pianoless.

As a bonus, the defective keyboard was so heavy that it took both me and Otto to take it to FedEx, but it was so BIG that I got to ride there in the passenger seat pushed all the way up to the dashboard, to accommodate the box in the back. (In unrelated news, it turns out that no matter how many times you whack your chin on the dashboard, it doesn’t make a dent. Thankfully.)

That was a major disappointment and pain in the butt, though I did get (all of) my money back, at least. Ugh. But I’d forgotten something.

“Mama! Did our new piano come? Is it there? We’ll be home in a few days!”

Oh. CRAP. I’d told the kids, and they thought they were coming home to a new piano.

So I did what any big-mouthed, completely-stepped-in-it mother would do.

I went to the local music store and bought the damn Yamaha the piano teacher kept telling me to buy. With a stand and tax (hey, at least I had the cheap bench from the original order) it was a lesser instrument for quite a bit more money, but at least it WORKED. And could be repaired locally, under warranty, if anything happens to it.

As Otto and I rode home from the music store, I rested my chin on the dashboard (again!) and he patted my knee. “You did the right thing,” he said. “And it’s a one-time expense. Try not to think about what it cost.”

We brought it home and set it up. I tested it out a little, and it feels just like a regular piano. Sounds good, too. We were all ready for the children’s return.

They were delighted. Chickadee sat down to practice the very first day they were back, and although she usually gives it a full two minutes whether she feels like it or not, that day I heard the piece she’s working on float down the stairs for a solid half hour, and my distress over such a large purchase started to melt away. I really DID do the right thing, and now the kids are going to become real musicians. Hooray!

That night at dinner I complimented Chickadee on practicing with such diligence, for so long. “That’s how you get really good,” I added, “giving it some real time and playing your piece over and over. Great job.”

Monkey snorted. “Did you know that you can record on the new piano, Mama? She played it once and recorded it, and then just hit ‘play’ over and over. She wasn’t practicing.”

Chickadee protested with the outcry of the TOTALLY BUSTED, while Otto and I exchanged looks. I sighed.

“Hey kids? I forgot to tell you something about the piano.” They both waited, attentively, during what I hoped was a meaningful pause. “Because the one I bought online went back, and I got this one here in town, it’s a VERY SIMPLE MATTER to take this one back to the store if you don’t choose to practice regularly. I’m just letting you know.”

Suddenly they both became very interested in their salad. And the extra money I spent on the second-choice keyboard started to feel less like an unexpected expense and more like leverage. Delightful, useful leverage.

Hot cross buns, anyone?


  1. Megan

    Have you considered plastic recorders? Very cheap, and unbelievably light to take upstairs. Also usefully double as swords/lightsabers/sibling-prodders etc at need. Unfortunately cannot be fitted with headphones so you might just hear mournful toodling at odd hours of the night.

  2. Ani

    I think the music store gives the piano teacher kickbacks.

    And I think you should’ve whacked him over the head (with his keyboard?) for the “Internet shopping?!?!” comment.

  3. Steve

    At least they didn’t want to learn the Marimbas :)
    Maybe you could find them a nice Harpsichord…

    If they stop practicing we’ll buy it from you in a few years (for $580, but we want free shipping) and make Viv take piano lessons.

  4. Kimmers

    I don’t think I could tolerate this piano teacher. And it would’ve KILLED ME to cave and buy the one he suggested! But you’re a great mom, and I’m sure it will be good for the kids. Plus… excellent leverage. That’s a nice bonus.

  5. Em

    This reminds me of something that happened here this month. We were supposed to be getting a rescue dog and the kids were EXCITED. The day before the dog was supposed to arrive, they called and cancelled (long story). Do you know what children’s faces look like when you’ve told them the new best friend they were expecting isn’t coming? Long story short, I am currently listening to a pure bred puppy that cost twice as much as my first car whining in the other room as I type.

    Three cheers for moms who keep their word!

  6. suburbancorrespondent

    Unbelievable bargains? Generally are. Oh, well, nice try. Enjoy the Yamaha; we have one too, and it’s been good to us.

  7. Aimee

    Mmm… I love the smell of leverage in the morning. It smells like VICTORY.

  8. Amy

    That’s pretty funny that she had it figured out so quickly to record. I thought that would have taken a little more time for them to come up with! Luckily my kids have shown no interest in music yet…

  9. Izz

    My huz and I just had a discussion about weighted keys and the child abuse charges that would surely ensue if we decided to get anything besides an actual piano. Of course, it’s all moot as we have not one single spot in the whole house to put one. But I had to laugh out loud about the cardboard with keys drawn on it. I totally used to do that when I was really little!

  10. All Adither

    Let’s hope this concludes the Piano Saga. Not for our sake, as it’s very entertaining, but for yours.

  11. Patricia

    When my husband and I got married and I was unpacking ourselves into our first apartment, I located this cassette (we are old, shut-up). I asked, “Honey, we don’t have a player anymore, what is this?”

    “Oh, that’s the tape I made of my clarinet playing so my mom would get off my back about practicing.”

    Seriously, I think I peed my pants from laughing — I’m apparently DUMB — it never occurred to me to do that.

  12. Astrogirl426

    You know, they do make some pretty good drugs for those schizoaffective electric keyboards. Some you might even get to share.

    And, um….”it turns out that no matter how many times you whack your chin on the dashboard, it doesn’t make a dent.” On the dashboard, or on your chin?

    I took piano for about ten years. Ten grueling, miserable years of my life; grueling and miserable because (I realize now) I was a complete INGRATE and did not appreciate the opportunities my parents gave me by paying for piano lessons every week, and buying me a full-sized (Full! Sized! Full-sized!) upright piano to practice on. I was such an ingrate that I went and spilled nail polish remover on the keys, which didn’t ruin the sound, but did ruin the plastic finish.

    And now? More than anything I want a piano so I can take lessons again. Life, she is a bitch.

  13. Janet

    I just spit out my water at the monkey-bust. !!!!

  14. SoMo

    You have convinced me, NO PIANO LESSONS,EVER!! I think we will stick to dance with their over priced one time only costumes and gymnastics where they tell you to practice and I feel the carpet is enough cushion for my wee one.

  15. Karly

    But…it was under warranty! Shouldn’t they have replaced the Korg if it was under full warranty and broken? THE JERKS.

  16. Dee

    While I understand the money issue, I’m one of those crazy, music-obsessed people who actually get what that piano teacher is about. The piano is my great love, but ever since I moved out of my parents’ home, I’ve not been able to have one. Anyone renting a cheap flat with a piano? Didn’t think so. Also, not very practical owning one when you have to move every year or so. So I switched to guitar. Learned another instrument just because it was more mobile. However, I still pine after the piano, even after 10 whole years.

    My real point is, even if I love piano so much that I’d trade my firstborn for one, I’d never buy myself a cheap keyboard. I’m even iffy on the expensive ones, because it’s just not the same instrument. A keyboard has its virtues but to me it’s just not the same. It’s like an accordion of some sorts, there’s no deep, physical feel to the sound it makes, when you can feel the little hammer hit the string. It’s just different, not necessarily worse but different.

    To hear me yammer like this, you would never think I used to ABHOR PIANO CLASSES as a kid. I loved the piano, just hated the music school and having to practice boring etudes ad nauseam. I had crying fits when I was supposed to practice, it was fun for the whole family. Only AFTER I stopped going to music school, I really started to love playing. Oh, it took me two years to get over all the trauma, but afterwards, I was good as new.

    Another thing which I firmly believe is that musical talent isn’t something you’re either born with or not, black or white. Instead I feel that it’s a gradation of levels and that practice helps improve, not just in a technical way but also developing a more subtle feel for music. Even if your kids aren’t musical savants now, if they practice, they might develop a keen ear for music, even to a point where they’ll be able to compose their own pieces.

    Basically, what I’m trying to say is – Mir, don’t fret about the money spent. It’s worth it. Also do you have a pile of money you don’t need, I could use a new flat and a piano. ;D

  17. Cele

    Oh mi gosh, too funny, sad, and hilarious all over again.

  18. Sophia (Adventures of Brown)

    Great story!

    Well, the good news is your kids are funny.
    The bad news is they’re smarter than you.

    Lucky for you, though, Monkey is always ready & willing to spill the proverbial beans.

  19. susie

    And since you blogged about it here, couldn’t you write it off as a business expense?

  20. Randi

    Okay, the whole “electric vs real” thing? I have a real piano, and I love it – and no, you do NOT have to get it tuned every year. Should you? Probably, but once you get it where its going, and tune it once, it’s fine! Truly! Our piano was my great-aunts and it is still beautiful and has stood up to the test of time (and toddlers).

    I think it’s HILARIOUS that Chickadee figured out to record and play back! HA! Too funny! You’ve gotta admit, she thought out of the box on that one!

  21. Elisa

    Man, I hate those “good as new” fake ads. I would have done the same. Plus, as you said, the local purchase gives you leverage. AND the teacher will stop being a pain. What’s better than that?

  22. jennielynn

    So like me to focus on the small detail that has nothing to do with the actual story but what didn’t get dented? The dashboard or your chin? You’d be even more darling with a cleft chin, you know…

  23. MomCat

    Funny how kids can understand the features on any piece of electronic equipment in about two minutes flat. Absolutely great for the aging ego.

  24. Jenn

    I have a feeling you’re going to develop a finely tuned ear for pre-recorded practicing. Hearing the same mistakes over and over again is a dead giveaway.

  25. Jan in Norman OK

    After listening to the awful screeching and scratching sounds that my aunt was making while practicing the violin in her bedroom, my grandmother couldn’t take it anymore. She walked into the room to find my aunt sitting on the bed reading a novel. The violin was next to her on the bed and she’d been dragging the bow randomly back and forth across the strings with one hand while turning the pages of her book with the other.

    Not surprisingly, that was the end of the violin lessons.

    Since my aunt is now well into her nineties, I suppose this comes under the heading of “‘Twas Ever Thus”.

  26. D

    Totally unrelated, but SFGate has your name in an article about “Mommy Blogging” and since I haven’t been here for months, figured I’d stop by again. Sounds like the usual mayhem [controlled?] is going on at your place. :-) Nice to see that. :-)

  27. Tj

    Lovely, that’s all I can say. Your writing is the first thing I check on my lunchbreak and it always leaves me with a warm fuzzy feeling. Keep up the blogging

  28. Amy-Go

    Oh, if you ever get Chickie to use those brains for good instead of evil you will be in mighty good shape indeed, my friend!

  29. Flea

    Dude, in eight years we’ve had the upright tuned once. And two moves – one halfway across the continent. Of course, it’s never been hauled upstairs.

    Good for you, using the leverage you have to your advantage!

  30. Sheila

    That Chickadee cracks me up. Precisely why our digital piano does not have the record function.

  31. Claudious

    I bought a piano with full intentions on learning how to use it… and I still have full intentions to learn how to use it… someday. I think you made a good choice on the keyboard, I’d like a real piano someday, but they’re far too heavy, and they can go out of tune, and… why do I want a real one?

    You still win at shopping, that bait and switch tactic is one of their favorites.

  32. crazyjane

    hey, my boys are playing the cello the school handed us, too! luckily, they never practice.

  33. Florida Mama

    When I asked my six year old daughter what instrument she would like to learn, she said “I want to play the drums.” So, I put her in gymnastics!

  34. mommytherobot

    ah a girl after my own heart: a little bit ruthless and a little bit cheap. haha you did do the right thing by just succumbing to the more expensive yamaha and then threatening the kids that its so easy to take it back. good mothering!

  35. Carolie

    That SUCKS that the other one was “under warranty” but they wouldn’t repair it. I’ve bought the “demo model” several times, and the three times that “demo model” was not right, I got it replaced by a brand new item for FREE because of that lovely warranty.

    But hey, you finally have a piano!

    (And I knew we were BFFs in a previous life or something…I played ‘cello too!)

  36. angie

    Piano tuning is not absolutely necessary, and it’s only $80 or so a shot. I think we’ve had our piano tuned twice in 16 years. We should really call that guy again. . . but, hey! Weighted action! And there are internet tutorials on tuning and maintaining pianos, too.

  37. jo-less

    My mother bought my brother an electric piano to replace the real one we’d had for ten or so years (got free from somewhere I think). He is still playing it a decade later and enjoying the time he spends playing. I thought it was a ridiculous purchase at the time as I preferred the real one but it seems to have been well worth it for him :-)

  38. Rick Bucich

    Your posts make me laugh out loud, my colleagues have now asked me to share posts that draw unexpected and uncontrollable outbursts.

Things I Might Once Have Said


Quick Retail Therapy

Pin It on Pinterest