Monday, October 29, 2018

You Can Afford An Adjustable Piano Bench!

Here's a photo of one of my 3rd grade students. In the right side photo, she's sitting at standard bench height with no foot stool, and in the left photo, she's at the proper height with a stool for her feet. She looks pretty uncomfortable on the right, doesn't she? It's impossible for her to use a good hand position when she's sitting at the wrong height. How long do you think she'll persevere in practicing without growing frustrated if she's not comfortably aligned? Not as long or with as much focus as she would if were sitting at the appropriate height with her feet supported!

Some folks make do with pillows, cushions, carpet squares, or those foam floor puzzle pieces, but I find it hard to get students high enough on those and still be stable and comfortable. Most teachers know the value of using an adjustable bench, but, many don't use them because, well, they're expensive! A fancy artist's bench can cost several hundred dollars. Not only are they expensive, they're heavy as lead. I take my adjustable bench to my recital venues, and I'm very grateful that it isn't too heavy to move around. The good news is, you can invest in one for less than you might think, and you can find good options for your students to purchase for their home practice for less than $50. It's definitely worth it. Next to the piano, I consider my adjustable bench the most important piece of equipment in my studio, and I always make it a point to suggest to parents of young students that they consider getting one themselves.

A piano teacher needs a bench that can be adjusted quickly. Back around 2001, I bought one from a Canadian company called Concert Master. They're now out of business, and good thing, because it took over a year and a threatening letter from my cousin the attorney before I ever received the bench I had paid for. That company was bought out by Exemplar Furniture, another Canadian company, and they still sell the bench. (That is, unless it's just a rename of the same company. I don't know which is true.)

At today's exchange rate to US dollars, my bench would cost $321.38 including shipping to Georgia. I have no experience with Exemplar, but I will say that despite the frustration in receiving it, I do love my bench. It adjusts quickly and easily with a scissor-like mechanism to 7 different positions, and the highest one (23.5") has been a good height for my shortest students. I put it all the way up for my first and second graders. It's one of the tallest benches on the market. I've been using it since 2002, and it's very sturdy. I really like this particular type of adjustment mechanism. I'm not a fan of the scrolling knobs on a typical artist bench, even just for myself. They take too many turns of the knob to adjust, some are hard to turn, and all but the most expensive benches seem to get wobbly after a while. It would be especially annoying to deal with if you needed to change it for several students a day. If you've got the budget for it, I do recommend this bench from Exemplar Furniture. If they ever make a doubly-adjustable duet bench, I'd probably buy it, but I think I'd get some kind of binding contract with them about when I could expect to receive it or I'd be refunded.

There's another company that makes a very similar-looking bench - Made of Wood Piano Benches. They're in California, and the price looks similar ($320). Frustratingly, they don't show their shipping prices on the web page.

If you don't have a $320 budget, here are some more budget-friendly options for your studio. Be aware that I have no personal experience with these benches, but I'm choosing models I'd be willing to take a risk on based on the features and reviews. A teacher will want to look for the following features:

  • the ability to adjust to 23" high to accommodate young children (this knocks out a whole bunch of them)
  • as many height positions as possible
  • a quick and easy adjustment mechanism in case you have a first grader followed by a college student followed by a middle schooler...
  • sturdiness - you don't want something that's going to become wobbly in a year or two of piano teaching
  • a total weight under 30 pounds if you plan to take it to recitals

This bench by OnStage adjusts hydraulically. I like it because it adjusts up to 23", close to the same height as mine and the hydraulic mechanism is quick and allows for an infinite number of positions. A small student may not be heavy enough to lower the bench with their body weight (requires around 75-80 pounds), but you could easily slip over and sit on it yourself to lower it. It weighs 29 pounds, which is a little heavier than I'd like, but it's not as heavy as some artist's benches. It's $199 on Amazon Prime.

You can save a few more dollars with this bench by Stagg. ($144.40 with free Prime shipping)  It gets pretty good reviews, appears to be sturdy, adjusts up to 23", and according to one review by a piano teacher, is relatively easy to scroll up and down. It does adjust by turning knobs, which I don't prefer, but if it's easy enough, you can let the students do it and save the wear and tear on your own wrists. It weighs 25 lbs.

Finally, this is the cheapest adjustable bench I'd be willing to recommend for studio use, and a very good one to recommend for students' home use. This bench by OnStage adjusts up to 24.5". This is the tallest I've seen. It's only $47.95 with free Prime shipping. There's a video on the listing, but I can't quite tell how the adjustment works. Several reviews indicate that it is fairly easy. Do read the reviews about this - it seems that there are 4 holes for pins to create the height options, but it may be possible to get up to 8 different height settings. Some reviews seem to indicate that adjusting it requires turning it upside down, but other reviews indicated that it could be adjusted in 30 seconds and wasn't that hard. For a student, this bench would be ideal since, even if it takes a little more effort to adjust, he/she would only need to readjust once they grew a bit taller.

You'll notice in my photo that I use a stool under students' feet for support. It makes a huge difference in how comfortable they are. My students really like using it, and they readily set it up for themselves when they sit at the piano. It's 5 1/2" tall and that's just about right as a one-size-fits-all solution. When they start to grow out of it, we have about a month or two when their toes just reach the floor, but their knees are uncomfortably high with the stool. A couple of textbooks on the floor takes care of that. I also have a pedal extender that provides a higher platform for shorter students, but I seldom need to use it for that purpose. That perfect purple stool is what's left of a regrettable purchase years ago of The Firm exercise program. (As Seen On TV!) There were two exercise steps that could stack together, one taller and one shorter. They were dubbed "the fanny lifter." If you saw me today, you'd know that there's been no fanny lifting going on around here! These are not sold anymore, and it's terribly hard to find a step stool that is not too tall and has a cut-out to accommodate the pedals. If I didn't have this one, I'd probably build something. You might be able to make do with an exercise step like this one or this one.

If you've had success with a particular model of adjustable bench that isn't more expensive than these, or a great solution for foot stability, please share with us in the comments!

If you share my frustration with scrolling piano benches, you'll enjoy this video by an inventor who found a solution!

1 comment:

David Shapiro, DC, CFCBP said...

Thanks for sharing your Piano bench blog. I loved the way it can elevate. As a chiropractor in Brookhaven, I realize how important ergonomics and posture are. In addition, my daughter teaches piano to young children. Unfortunately, most benches are not designed to fit the pianist.

Thanks again for sharing.