How can we learn piano online

Online piano schools in comparison

by Wolfgang Wierzyk,

Online piano schools have been establishing themselves on the market for some time. Paper versus screen and (interactive) online links versus conventional lessons - these are two aspects when it comes to evaluating online piano schools. Time for us to get to the bottom of this.

The strengths of online piano & keyboard courses seem obvious. With simultaneous listening and seeing as well as a variably controllable learning pace, your own teaching situation can be scheduled flexibly and regardless of location. In addition, quickly available learning content is offered, which is also continuously updated and improved. According to currently circulating figures, online lessons can also save up to 70% of the costs otherwise incurred for conventional lessons. For this purpose, the online methods are largely offered regardless of age. However, one provider recommends an age of at least 12 years as the lower user limit.

But how does it all work out in practice? We took a closer look at the three largest providers of this type of school, which is quite new in this interactive form.

Skoove was founded by Stephan Schulz and Dr. Florian Plenge, who have extensive experience in the industry. The teaching program is created and continuously developed by Dominik Schirmer, a former lecturer at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts.

Skoove understands either German or English, a nice cartoon teaser introduces the program. There are three menu items on the start page: Under »FAQ« z. For example, questions about the target group, instrument recommendations and the program settings are described - everything briefly and clearly to the point. As further menu items there is a »course overview«, and the obligatory »cogwheel« leads to the settings. Depending on which online browser you are using, a small MIDI plug-in may be installed; in Chrome you can start right away without any additional installation.

The program can now optionally correspond with a connected MIDI / USB electric piano / keyboard or, via a microphone, with an acoustic piano. An iPad version of Skoove is expected to hit the market in December, and the Android version is planned for 2017.

After registering for free, some lessons can be used free of charge. If you want to go deeper after this test phase, you can choose between a monthly subscription (19.95 euros), a quarterly subscription (12.95 euros per month) or an annual subscription (9.95 euros per month) - there are also a "20-day money-back guarantee". The scope of delivery also includes the option of contacting the two piano teachers via chat button, Skype or telephone in order to receive support. The questions will be answered as soon as possible.

Florian Plenge emphasizes that he is interested in easy access to piano playing with the help of a lean program. The main focus is on the auditory control of what is played. Theoretical explanations such as B. to the tie, appear in the lessons by means of expandable text fields in which there is an application reference to the song - this avoids initial theory junk.

In the three basic and three advanced courses with a total of 105 lessons, it goes straight to the point and thus to the first piano piece. Further »special courses« pop piano (with improvisation), piano for producers, classical music (with a focus on expression), boogie-woogie and a course on Christmas carols are available or in progress.

The program looks very tidy and clear. Each lesson comprises up to eight steps, which can be easily stepped through by clicking on the green fields above the notes or by stepping through with the L / R cursor keys, the mouse or the keyboard remote control (second black key from the left). The note playback (with position indicator) and the key video with the gray-shaded keys currently to be played are the two display levels.

A methodical specialty is the »waiting mode«: The playback remains on the current note until the correct note has been played via MIDI or microphone - this way you can check that the correct note has been played. If you play fairly smoothly in this mode, the uninterrupted playback indicates that the rhythm is basically right.

The learning steps are organized as follows, for example: listening to the song or the exercise, practicing the right hand in waiting mode, practicing the right hand at the specified speed, then practicing the left hand in the same way, finally practicing the two hands, and last but not least you will be commended after successfully completing the lesson.

The selection of songs and learning content is based on a colorful mix from Mozart to Madness, from James Bond to Monty Python, from Game Of Thrones to Back To Black (Amy Winehouse).

The operation is very easy. Lessons can be shortened and adapted to your own learning pace. Some songs even have additional band arrangements. Unfortunately, an optional continuous metronome is missing. However, this feature is in the works together with an optional tempo adjustment.

Flowkey was founded in 2014 by Jonas Gößling, Alexander Heesing and Ahmed Hassan, all three former students at the TU Berlin. At Flowkey things get down to business quickly: A MIDI plug is loaded to complete the lessons with a connected MIDI / USB keyboard, alternatively the internal computer microphone can also be activated to analyze the playing of an acoustic piano. The entry window is a bit reminiscent of Spotify: Here you can choose from record covers with a large and very current selection of songs across the musical garden, from pop to classical with many current songs. A sorting function filters the content as required.

The online course can be used on PC (Win 10), Mac, Android (from 4.4.) And iPad (iOS 6).

With a jukebox feeling, I click on the Coldplay song Clocks, and a small video quickly shows me the different practice modes: Individual sections (loops) can be defined, and the Waiting mode can be used, in which the program waits during playback until the correct note has been played - and last but not least, two slow playing speeds are available at which the sound flutters slightly, but this can be tolerated. The keys played are highlighted in color on the video and marked with the note names, whereby the last feature can also be switched off - that's how it should be. Fast forward is done with the L / R cursor keys, start and pause are entered with the space bar, as with all popular music programs.

What about the educational offer? On the left side of the main window there are four entries: »Discover« (the jukebox window just described), »Search for songs« (entering a search term), »My songs« (songs that have already been played) and courses with the subsections: Getting started into piano playing (ten courses) and chords & pop piano (nine courses). The first step into playing the piano is with the right hand with Beethoven's An die Freude. My joy evaporates a little, however, because rigid guidelines such as "Listen to the song" and "Play on hold" have to be fulfilled (three times, sometimes even five times) in order to progress. The procedure can only be shortened if you exit the window in order to click on a further step. Setting individual sections and playing along with the video in the three tempos is not possible in these courses.

This approach may be right for some beginners, but I would like more flexibility with an age-independent method. This point of criticism has also reached Flowkey, a skip version for fast switching is being planned.

The strength of the program lies above all in the many (also current) songs, which are also recorded in a very musically appealing way. About the costs: Flowkey is available monthly for 19.99 euros, quarterly for 38.97 euros (12.99 euros a month) or all year round for 119.88 euros (9.99 euros a month). For real bargain hunters, there is also the Lifetime tariff for 299.99 euros, which pays off after around two and a half years - provided that you are in good health. If you do not want to finish immediately, you can deal with eight freely available lessons in order to make a decision afterwards.

music2me is an online platform founded in 2010 by Andreas Kraus and Yacine Khorchi for guitar and piano; so far there are around 150 videos available for piano. The »Dashboard« is the start page from which the videos, organized in seven modules, can also be called up: First Steps on the Piano (33), Playing with Notes (27), Advanced Course (26), Advanced Level (21), Demanding Pieces from classical and jazz (2), film & pop music (23), 7 Christmas carols (15). In terms of difficulty, a distinction is made between "beginners", "difficult" and "talented".

Within the lessons you can quickly navigate in the video and in the notes by dragging the position marker with the mouse or by touching the scroll bar, the L / R cursor keys also work. You can even create a slow motion and shimmy from tone to tone. Clicking the video window, the start button or using the space bar starts and stops.

In contrast to the competition, the length of the note is animated by bars running downwards, the length of which shows the rhythm values. At first it irritated me - if you let yourself into it, however, it is a very useful additional option, which unfortunately cannot be switched off and which is also not available in all lessons.

The practical introduction to the keyboard game is done by grouping the black keys in groups of two and three. However, this introductory module (33 videos) only contains 7 pieces, instead a lot of emphasis is placed on theory videos with topics such as sitting posture, fingerings, tempo indications or scales. The exercises with the black keys over the entire keyboard, which I think are unnecessary, also delay actual piano playing.

The first piece of play calls for the holding pedal and playing with both hands. Everything is documented with three camera perspectives (from above, from the side, pedal) and additional notes. Tip: Since you can switch between the lessons very quickly in the program, you should make use of the option to shorten or postpone theory lessons.

Many lessons are first practiced slowly before continuing at the actual pace of the game; in many lessons there is also the option of varying the pace with a slider, which causes the tone to flutter. At the bottom of the page there is access to the PDF download of the practiced songs. This is a very good idea because it can then also be played without a screen - that is a big plus compared to the other two competitors.

There is no waiting mode in music2me, but loops can be set and also saved. In the video you go to an area where the note beam runs through below. Then you can click on the “Practice mode” icon on the right side of the page. Now a green area opens in the note beam, which can be moved freely in terms of length and positioning on the sides. This green part is then looped. As already said, you can also save these self-made loops. For example, when you practice an intro to a piece or have a particularly large number of loops in one piece.

Many songs are accompanied by playbacks. A highlight of the online portal are, in my opinion, the songs in the film & pop music module, such as B. The magical world of Amelie, River Flows in You or Una Mattina as well as the film music for Pretty Best Friends (Ludovico Einaudi). Especially with Una Mattina there is a really good explanation and an optically well-prepared analysis of the song structure.

About the costs: A 30-day pass costs EUR 15 per month, a 6-month pass costs EUR 12 per month and the annual pass costs EUR 10 per month. In addition, there is the possibility of reclaiming the entire membership fee within the first 30 days without giving reasons, regardless of whether it is a monthly or annual fee. As a taster offer, guests can see excerpts from the learning videos.

Conclusion and evaluation. As a music and piano teacher, I am of course not really neutral and, due to my job, I was rather skeptical. Are the optical effects and aids always helpful? The more information you get at the same time, the more difficult it can be to concentrate on the music. It therefore makes sense for the users of the online schools to be clear about whether they want to record the learning content aurally, via video (with the marked buttons) or through the grades.

Overall, the three programs are well structured so that orientation is easy. What online schools haven't done so far: Timing and dynamics are not really checked, musical expression is not evaluated, hand position and fingering are not checked and not adapted to individual needs. Some note lengths and pauses are only implemented half-heartedly in the video recordings. Feedback that is comparable to that in conventional lessons, including personal advice such as "Leave the piece alone" or "Better play this exercise or this song first," etc., should not (yet) be expected.

Of course, there are also no answers to the questions: Why do I make mistakes? How can I avoid mistakes at this point? The methodical approach to tackle the more complex parts with the separate practice of both hands and possibly more slowly is one-dimensional, there are numerous other possibilities that arise in the classroom.

At the moment the methodical credo is a little exhausted in the combined video / audio / sheet music demo and in the waiting control mode. However, this is definitely a good way to train sections in a stress-free and flexible manner. This performance is even superior to a learning situation with a teacher if the parts are flexible in tempo and practice sections (loops) can be defined. Here you can shamelessly use the infinite patience of the virtual player, and you can take your personal piano lesson when you need it, e.g. B. on Sunday evening after the crime scene.

The steadily growing library of edited songs, z. Some even come up with playback arrangements, which are also good reasons to go through the online piano courses. The quality of the arrangements, depending on the level of difficulty, is generally good. All three providers have top-class pianists at work, there is hardly any reason to complain here.

Skoove has, in my opinion, the best stringent pedagogical structure including waiting mode, Music2Me scores with the ability to download PDFs, offers different camera perspectives and an optical processing of the note lengths. Flowkey has the largest and most up-to-date selection of game pieces with the possibility of looping as well as using tempo variations and a waiting mode.

Thanks to the various payment modes (monthly, quarterly, half-yearly or year-round), flexible notice periods and the possibility of freely accessible lessons, anyone who is toying with piano can treat themselves to an individual test phase. And there is nothing to be said against taking individual lessons from a piano teacher to deepen and expand the lessons. And a teacher should actually be happy when a prepared student already knows the notes / tones and both can concentrate on the music and less on the guessing game "What is where". But even without a teacher, the online schools for piano novices are a good and flexible way to get used to the keys.

With a curious look into the future, I would like to see more advanced applications such as the ability to record your own game and evaluation by a virtual or linked teacher. It would also be nice to have a transpose function based on the motto: How does it sound in Eb major? How does the piece sound in minor? How does the melody sound with other accompaniment patterns? An option to intervene in the grades would also make the teaching situation much more free. Such advanced learning functions would no longer necessarily have to be completely documented with videos - a video demo of how the principle works would be sufficient. Overall, there is still enough room for improvement, and I'm really excited to see what the providers will come up with in the future.

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