What’s wrong with a standard kitchen-type chair, you may ask? There are some old paintings showing pianists sitting on chairs to play but these are not designed for piano playing; they are made at a fixed height, which may well not be the right height for the player and if the seat is not level, it may tip the sitter backwards which makes it even more difficult for the player, who has to sit towards the front of the seat to play.
Comfort – You need a stool which is comfortable but firm, supports the player without sagging or rocking, is strong enough to withstand a lot of use and is, importantly, height-adjustable. Try the stool in person if you can. If you’re ordering online, check the returns policy in case it’s not right for you.
Height adjustable – This is important for comfort and health and ease of playing especially for a growing child. Adults might change their minds about how high to sit and the keyboards of different pianos are not necessarily the same height. Also, the stool height may need to be changed for different people – different family members / playing duets etc.
The method of altering the height is different for different stools. For example, there may be:
– a wheel on each side which you wind – one way for up and the other to go down. (I find it helpful to have a label on one of the wheels with an arrow to show me in which direction to turn the wheel.)
– a lever or bar – this can be a much quicker way of adjusting the height than the traditional wheels.
– a few different set levels on a fold-up stool of the type which can be supplied for use with electronic keyboards. This may only have a very few different heights or possibly no choice at all.
– a rotating circular seat (not common today). This must be stable otherwise players may find they fall sideways when reaching for high or low notes.
If you already own a stool which is fixed at one height, for example a self-assembly one which perhaps came with a digital piano, and it’s not the height you want, you could put a thick block of wood under it but there is a danger that the stool will slip off the wood and that the pianist could fall over (or trip over the wood). Alternatively, chair-raiser blocks could be put under the legs but the stool might then be unsafe when moved – the distance between the stool and the piano is different for each player depending on the length of players’ arms (and legs).
Colour and fabric – There may be a choice of of seat colour / fabric and a choice of colour for the rest – wood finish etc.
Duet stool Some of these are just extra long to make room for two people to sit at one piano. Some have two separate seats but are joined together. Do both seats raise and lower together or are they separately height-adjustable? It may be easier to use two ordinary piano stools but place them so that the ends are nearest the piano so that both players can sit at their own height without the stools colliding.
Is the stool washable / sanitisable? Some stools are but some have a soft fabric top which may be difficult to clean. If the stool is not easily cleanable, it may be possible to make simple covers for them so that they can easily be wiped between players / pupils. (I made sanitisable covers for each of my piano stools by cutting out a large rectangle of suitable fabric, hemming it all round the edge and attaching an elastic loop half way down two sides to loop round the height-adjuster wheels.)
Tapestry top Some stools have a very decorative tapestry seat; it may be possible to buy a kit to make your own.
Fire safety? If you’re buying an old stool, does it meet modern fire-safety regulations?
Storage? Do you want room inside your stool to store music, a metronome, a practice note-book etc? Some stools have a lift-up lid or drawer.
Price Somestools are very expensive but there are suitable ones available at lower prices.
Self-assembly / storage / transport Some stools come apart for easy storage or transport; some are quite heavy and may therefore be less easy to transport.
Does it squeak?! Check before you buy, especially if it is to be used for a concert or recording. (It might just need the bolts underneath the seat tightening.)
Hopefully, these points will give you some ideas to help you to decide what sort or piano stool is right for you.