Buying a piano for a school or college can often involve a compromise: do you go for an acoustic instrument, for the authenticity of touch and tone, or choose a digital product which can be more versatile but perhaps lacks the same performing stature or integrity? Dr Chris Stanbury investigates how the new Casio Grand Hybrid piano offers the best of both, and finds out that these pianos already have a loyal fan base in education.
When I’m asked to recommend a piano for a classroom or music studio, I often have to ask further questions to find out exactly what the priorities are. For example, if it was an instrument intended primarily for advanced performance and piano teaching, I would probably recommend a good model of acoustic upright. On the other hand, if it turns out that the school needs an all-round instrument for classroom music and ensemble performance, a bit of recording, and maybe the ability to connect to other studio equipment, I’d usually recommend a digital piano.
However, I’ve always felt uneasy that schools are presented with this buying dilemma: by buying a really good acoustic piano, you get the necessary touch and performance dynamic, but you have to accept that your investment isn’t the most studio or classroom friendly (once you realise that acoustic pianos need regular specialist maintenance and shouldn’t be placed next to radiators or direct sunlight, plus they need extra equipment to record them if required).
What is really wanted is the best of both worlds: a twenty-first century piano which marries the true refinement of touch offered by an acoustic instrument with the benefits of a digital keyboard. Step forward, Casio’s Grand Hybrid series of hybrid pianos which are co-developed with C. Bechstein, my new first choice when it comes to choosing a versatile classroom instrument without compromise.
First and foremost, the keys are made of the same Austrian spruce wood as those found on C. Bechstein acoustic pianos. In addition, and unlike most digital pianos, Grand Hybrid pianos feature a real, moving hammer mechanism developed in collaboration with the Berlin-based piano company. This produces a playing action that is far ahead of any other digital piano (in my view) and genuinely comparable to an acoustic instrument. Casio say that this action solves the problem that many schools and colleges face: the need for the resilience and versatility that a digital piano brings, but with the authenticity of action that only an acoustic instrument can provide.
As part of the initial product launch, educators from some of the UK’s top music schools and colleges were invited to evaluate the new instruments. The reaction was unanimous: a very enthusiastic endorsement and genuine excitement. Conor Doherty, director of London’s BRIT school was amongst many senior members of music education that were genuinely impressed with the touch and versatility of the Grand Hybrids. Conor commented that "many of our students who come from a more traditional piano background dislike the feel of using stage pianos that we’ve often had to use, and have warmed to the Casio Grand Hybrid far more quickly, and several actually prefer it to the acoustic grand piano that we have!"
Ryan Hepburn, Head of Academic Studies at Brighton College was similarly enthusiastic about the unique keyboard action in the Grand Hybrid, saying that “it felt like you could immediately connect with the instrument. You didn’t have to compromise in any way.”
In addition to the authenticity of touch and tone, the Grand Hybrid has many important and useful features. First and foremost is its comprehensive MIDI and audio recording facilities. This means that, not only will the instrument link seamlessly to a PC or Mac running Sibelius, Cubase or Logic, but the Audio recording facility enables quick recording to USB memory stick making the audio recording of performances for assessment and archive quick and reliable. No additional leads, microphones or recording devices are required, which will no doubt save costs, not to mention time!
There are other connection options too: it’s also possible to plug the Grand Hybrids into a separate PA system if required. For school productions or concerts, this means that the sound of the piano can be amplified further with additional speakers if required. In addition, the other tones available, such as organs, strings and electric pianos make the instrument more flexible than it’s acoustic counterpart for contemporary music. On the other hand, you can also use the built-in speakers of the Grand Hybrid to amplify music from other devices, such as ipods, CD players or computers. This means that backing tracks, musical examples or students’ work can be played from a laptop or media device without needing additional amplifiers or speakers, which can be a real lifeline in a classroom environment where equipment can be difficult to come by, or if the Grand Hybrid is located in a studio which is different to the usual listening area.
If you are looking to buy an acoustic or digital piano for education, I would recommend the Grand Hybrid wholeheartedly. It is fair to call these pianos unique, as they offer a long sought after combination of touch authenticity and versatility, with the added advantage of being very reasonably priced indeed.