Technology has been advancing at a rapid rate for quite some time now. Those advances come with both benefits and trappings. How does this apply to music and/or music lessons? And more specifically how does this apply to piano lessons?
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The advancement of technology has had a two-sided effect on our world and especially our children.
One side states that new-tech takes away from real communication and interaction.
The other side states that new-tech enhances education and creates more diverse connections, be they social, cultural, or as is relevant to this article; musical.
A third side (that side being “me”) says that, from a long-time professional musician’s perspective, technology has made recording and editing music easier and faster while simultaneously making a whole lot of commercial music worse. That could be an entire book worth of discussions and opinions.
We are here, however, to discuss piano lessons and the advantages and disadvantages of online and in-person lessons. Therefore, that same “me” side says, from a teaching perspective, that new-tech – if used effectively and appropriately – can do absolute wonders for music-based education during both in-home and online sessions.
As you’ll see throughout this in-depth article, I truly feel that the the best piano lessons incorporate the use of modern tech for teaching piano both online (via SKYPE or ZOOM or something similar) and in the home (with a real, live teacher present). And for those interested in learning whether buying an eBook or online course to teach yourself piano will be able to match the quality of teaching you’d get by having an in-person teacher, I’ll break down my thoughts on this topic, as well.
If you’re in the market for a brand new digital piano, then check out the table below, where you can compare some of the best digital pianos on the market against one another:
Pros and Cons of Traditional Piano Teaching
I’ll be honest: it’s really hard to beat having a teacher in the same room with you as a student, guiding you through lessons and music pieces. There are only a handful of disadvantages so I’ll start with a list of the advantages.
One-on-one lessons (in my experience) give you better hand/eye coordination training than can online lessons. Maybe the online teacher has a super high-end tech system and maybe you (as the student) do too. But being in the same room with both teacher and student playing the same piano allows the student to experience the vibration of the strings, the tones bouncing off the wood and soundboard and walls, and last but not least, the body language the teacher uses to create all of that in a way online lessons just can’t.
Financially speaking, if you travel to your teacher, the cost is almost always lower than if you have him/her come to your home. Prices vary, but most lesson rates are reasonable and there is a direct payment connection between student/parent and teacher who all have met in person.
The musical relationship between a student and teacher being in the same room can be crucial to accelerating a student’s learning/application speed. Again, it’s the human element at play there. I’ve taught lessons with students that had successfully been progressing on my roster for awhile but it just so happened that one particular day they were just having an awful time of performing their lesson pieces. Being in the same room allowed me to sense something was off/different with the student’s personality and mood.
You don’t often (if at all) get the same “vibes” from online lessons. In my one-on-one classes (home or studio) I’m able to pick up on it and say “Let’s take a 5-minute break. How was your day?” or something similar. Turns out a student was bullied on the school bus ride home right before lessons, or they were upset because their parents weren’t getting along, or they got grounded or struck out at a baseball game, etc. Now, granted, as a music teacher I am not saying it is either functional or appropriate to just jump in and start asking personal questions of the nature I just described.
However, I am indubitably saying that, by being in the same room with my students I was able to pick up on the different/off vibe, take a short break, let them vent, and voila! Suddenly they were playing well again, with focus, and with adjusted personalities returning to their similar positivity and effort. This is a huge advantage for the student because they avoided a feeling of double-failure (such as being bullied on a school bus and having a bad lesson) and a big advantage for the parent/payee of the lessons because a 30-60 minute, prepaid session wasn’t wasted.
It is very easy to get solid, reliable word-of-mouth reviews/reports on local piano teachers. Chances are that if you’re a parent, you know another parent whose child is taking lessons with a certain teacher. There are PTA meetings and general forums for such discussions as well. And even if your friend’s child is taking violin lessons from “Mrs. A,” that teacher is quite likely to know a “Mr. B” who is an excellent piano teacher.
Eye contact is a huge factor in one-on-one lessons. There is nowhere for the student or teacher to hide during the course of the lesson and that leads to more progress (in my experience) than can be achieved during online lessons. Now, when I say “nowhere to hide” I mean that there is a much higher chance for me as a teacher to figure out what the inferred issue(s) are and push my student to overcome it/them during that lesson and not by the next lesson. In-home or in-studio, one-on-one lessons allow the teacher to notice more subtleties and details that could change the smallest nuance of hand-positioning or posture problems into a huge, feel-good success. That saves time, prevents the repetition and need to practice certain passages/pieces for another week, and, for the lessons payee, gives more for the money without doubt.
I know the above list of advantages for lessons with the student and teacher in the same room leans mostly toward the human-element factors in teaching piano. That being said, those factors truly ARE the biggest advantages to lessons of that nature.
Now, let’s look at a small handful of disadvantages to in-home/in-studio lessons with a teacher present.
I require all in-home students to pay one month up front at the beginning of each month and give a minimum of 30 days notice to discontinue lessons with the exception of medical emergencies. So once you start with me, you’re committed to a minimum of two month’s lessons. Obviously that’s not a disadvantage for me as a teacher. And truth-be-told it’s not a disadvantage to the student either. Whether they think they love playing piano or think they hate playing piano, sticking it out for 8 weeks is a solid way to “sleep on it” a bit and see where your feelings and goals as a student really are. So financially-speaking, lesson prices vary per teacher but in the case of my policies (which many other teachers have), be prepared for at least a short, financial commitment.
Another disadvantage can combine two elements: gas money and time. If you’re driving round-trip to a teacher once a week you have to budget for it both financially and schedule-wise. I’ve had such a wide range of students from such a diverse background of family situations that I can honestly say that some people can pay for lessons a year in advance and some people can barely make it to the lesson on time and they forgot their wallet, etc. So it can get hectic depending on how your job and home are set up and how many children you’re raising/managing/taxiing around all week.
Having a teacher come to your home eliminates you driving to lessons. However, every teacher I know who does drive to student’s homes for lessons charges more. So while you’re not spending gas money, you might be paying $15-20 more per lesson to have a teacher come to your home.
Sometimes….it’s just not a good teacher/student fit. Personalities don’t always mesh. Therefore, always ask for a free evaluation if the teacher doesn’t offer one. I give a free, 20-minute evaluation so parents, students and teacher can meet in person prior to making financial and scheduling commitments. Many teachers won’t do this and demand payment. I love the idea of the free evaluation because it eliminates this specific disadvantage. It seems clear, however, that if the student and teacher don’t vibe or communicate effectively, the student is going to be less motivated and the payee is going to be spending money on lesser results than had they demanded an evaluation up front.
There simply might be a limited supply of quality piano teachers in your area. I grew up in a very small, farm town which was 30-60 minutes from any major city so my immediate, local teacher options were quite limited. I did study with all of them but I outgrew them all with fair rapidity. My best suggestion for overcoming this potential limitation is to call the local schools and ask to talk to the music teacher. Ask her/him what they think or who they know both in your area and a (perhaps) more convenient distance away than a 2 hour round-trip. If you’re in or near a college town, call admissions (usually easiest to get a hold of) and ask for names of the jazz professor, the piano instructors and so on. If you cannot acquire their contact info directly, leave a specific message for the lot of them and include your number, email and the best times to reach you.
Pros and Cons of Online Piano Lessons
The focus here is going to drift back to the pros and cons of modern technology to some degree. I will also list the advantages and disadvantages the same as I did above.
I already stated in the beginning of this article that I truly do love the proper use of modern technology for teaching music. There are some things to look out for when searching for quality online lesson sites and I will make sure to point those out as clearly as I can for you as a student/parent.
Let’s get to it!
Online lessons offer the student the convenience of staying in their homes and having a lot of potential scheduling flexibility.
There are many, solid video-conferencing tools on the market (some free) to choose from. I have used both SKYPE and ZOOM for nearly everything I’ve done online pursuant to music and teaching music.
There are also many, many ebooks, online lessons purchasable in sections or as full courses. YouTube is also an obvious source for countless tutorials through which you can browse to find the kind of piano lesson information/training you are looking for.
There are a lot of free, PDF/downloadable exercises on the web. When you find the right sites with the right exercises for you, you can turn your laptop or tablet or phone into a virtual music lesson library.
The biggest advantage for me (thinking as a student) is the diversity of teachers online with experience levels and teaching styles you can research easily in their posted bios or lesson example videos. If you want to become a salsa master on the piano, you can research what seems to be endless sites to find the right, authentic teacher for your goals.
The best online lesson sites run background checks on their teachers before allowing any teaching profiles to go public. So the sites themselves do a part of the research for you well in advance of you finding them.
E-books allow you to utilize what they offer at your own pace. They are similar to video-conferencing lessons in how you learn from them, but instead of having to schedule and pay for a lesson up front, you can use them whenever you want. I strongly urge students to maintain a regular, practice schedule, but ebooks have a flexibility that is strongly attractive to adults with busy schedules and students of any age that really are taking lessons more as a hobby. Don’t misunderstand me: quality, piano lesson e-books are valuable tools for every student.
They simply offer endless flexibility in how the student decides to put them to use. Also, they are a one-time purchase so your money stretches as long as you use/need the book. So be sure to research amount of content vrs. Price. For example: Is a $50 e-book you can only use for a few weeks worth the price? It wouldn’t be for me. But just note that most authors of e-books set up the ability for multiple purchases/courses, and most free downloads lead you to links where you can purchase something else. For example, there is a Hanon exercise website that allows you to download 240 exercises for free if you grab them one at a time. But for $4.99 (USD) you can purchase all 240 exercises in one convenient e-book and with only one download (as opposed to 240).
There are really good deals out there for e-books and downloads. The one listed directly above – 240 fantastic and personally recommended exercises for $4.99(USD) – is definitely one of them. And no, I don’t get a commission for suggesting it. I simply love the Hanon exercises and use them with all my students in some way.
If you’re interested in learning how to play piano or keyboard in a fun and interactive fashion, then look no further then Piano for All. This course features 10 in-depth eBooks that contain 200 video lessons and 500 audio lessons. And best of all, the course works on PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, or any Android phone or tablet. Get your copy of Piano for All today while supplies last!
While it is true that there is a huge selection of courses and e-books available online, only a certain percentage of them are excellent and/or right for you. There is a chance of spending money on several courses before you find one from which you (as the parent or student) truly benefit.
Following up on number one (directly above), it is quite time-consuming to research all of the courses available for purchase, be they e-books or video-conferencing lessons with a teacher on the other side. And it is hard to tell which courses get pushed to the top of search lists because they are actually the best, or because they spent money advertising to get their products there.
Pricing may not be based on a “pay for what you get” value system. And until you actually get “it” you may not know how effective it really is for your needs as a new piano student.
There are some YouTube tutorials that are simply outstanding. There are some that are awful. There are many that promise progress/education but instead spend the entire time of the video leading up and leading further up to it but never getting to it. Then you have to subscribe and/or pay to get what you thought you were getting for free in the first place.
Another issue with YouTube tutorials is a combination of time-consumption and lack of adequate skill sets/information. There are so many times I read the title of a link/video and thought it was interesting and worth a look only to be disappointed right out of the proverbial gate. Sometimes 10-20 minutes can go by before I realize that no one is going to learn anything from the content provided in some video tutorials. You have to weed through the bad to get to the good/valuable and that can be a quest of tedious length.
As stated above numerous times, I believe in the human element of music education as being the most important factor between teacher and student. If you buy an e-book and don’t understand something due to the way it is being taught, it’s not like you can ask the e-book to explain it differently to you.
Video-conference lessons are fully dependent on your WIFI speed, the type of computer/camera you are using and your lighting/surroundings. There can be lag and sonic dropouts, making it hard to understand what the teacher is saying which results in less bang for your buck. What point is learning from the best Salsa piano teaching in Argentina if you can’t hear him/her half the lesson?
There are some convenient piano lesson apps you can download to your smartphone, but many that I have found nag you for in-app purchases and have access to all your personal information.
In conclusion, I recommend finding a qualified, local teacher for weekly lessons and supplementing with online lesson options of purchasable/downloadable e-books. The teacher can easily incorporate whatever technology-based product you’ve purchased into your lessons.
Also…spend time on YouTube going through tutorials. And I do mean “spend time.” But you’ll find the gems and when you do you’ll be blown away, I assure you.
Demand a free evaluation session that includes (where applicable) parent, student and teacher. Discuss and understand terms and personalities before signing up.
I do like video-conference lessons. Sometimes you can even get them with famous musicians (when offered). I still say use them to supplement in-home/in-studio lessons with a teacher present. And be sure to not use them to compete with your weekly teacher if you find something different from what she/he taught you. Present it to your teacher with the idea of “Hey…I found this and really enjoy/relate to it. What do you think and how can we incorporate it into my lessons?” That is a proper approach.
So yes: take weekly lessons with a qualified local teacher and supplement with technology-based lesson products.
And no matter what…always keep searching, learning and growing as a musician. There are many ways to learn piano for you to. So what are you waiting for? Go get ‘em!
If you’re still interested in learning how to play piano or keyboard, get your copy of Piano for All today, which features 10 eBooks, 200 video piano lessons and 500 audio piano lessons!
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