I'd like to learn keys remotely please.
July 30, 2021 6:37 PM   Subscribe

Are there any good, reputable, online classes or programs to learn piano? Specifically for a human with functionally none experience.

My wife and I were planning on taking piano lessons this fall, and we would've liked to have someone teach us in person, but with *waves around* we'd rather spend our risk-budget elsewhere. We will eventually, probably still hire out a hooman to provide us lessons, but we're interested in remote lessons for now.

I learn better when I am shown how to do something, and receive feedback quickly, so I'm not the best online learner, but I've youtube-universitied a bunch of woodworking, building skills over the past few years, so it's not impossible (just not preferred). As it stands, I do not have enough knowledge to even know if a resource is quality or not (whereas with building or construction information my bullshit detector is well worn and developed at this point).

I'd like to be able to read music and play by sight, and eventually be able to noodle around with friends live, and write some little songs. Life-goal is to be able to play most of the selections from Plantasia (I love Plantasia so much let's consider this a religious imperative). I am starting from functionally no musical experience, but my wife has played trumpet since childhood, guitar in the distant past, and has taken up the ukulele recently.

Anything noteworthy out there?
posted by furnace.heart to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
If you have an ios device SimplyPiano is a great app to learn piano. It uses bluetooth to connect to keyboards that have MIDI interfaces, meaning it knows exactly what keys you hit and can give you feedback in real time.
posted by tiamat at 7:01 PM on July 30, 2021 [4 favorites]

+1 to Simply Piano! My then-7-year-old was addicted to it last year and played through the whole app like it was a musical video game. He was OBSESSED with leveling up to the next song, and it gave him such a sense of accomplishment (especially after he mastered Bohemian Rhapsody). My husband started at the same beginner level but got stuck forever on a Katy Perry song and lost momentum, so the app requires a willingness to play weird pop arrangements over and over.

While it was a wild success for my son, at a certain point playing Simply Piano is like playing piano on cheat mode - the microphone is great for pinpointing incorrect notes, but it made finding the right notes way too easy. When I switched him over to real piano lesson books and sheet music, he was super frustrated when he had to stop and think about tricky notes. He is taking piano lessons now via Zoom, and progress is a lot slower now. Learning to read sheet music 100% independently has been a much bigger hurdle than I expected - the gap between what he was able to play on Simply Piano vs in a piano lesson book was quite surprising. However, Simply Piano really helped him develop a good ear for major/minor chords and different rhythms, so when he noodles around on the keys it sounds shockingly legit. He’s way better at improvising stuff and making up his own tunes than I am! It’s totally worth trying out.
posted by Maarika at 8:18 PM on July 30, 2021 [1 favorite]

I’d recommend getting a book called something like “Teach Yourself to Play Piano!” and seeing how it goes. I’m 45 and I do a lot better with physical media than anything electronic, and during Year One of the pandemic I used this method to teach myself guitar. The first book I got ended up being too basic (I’ve played piano since childhood and do know how to read music) but it was still a super valuable experience to go through the book and see what worked well for me and what I felt like I needed more or less of. I subsequently discovered Hal Leonard’s series of guitar books that ended up working great for me. It looks like they also do piano. You might see if your library has any books to try out.

The key, for me, was a little bit every day. Even if some days it’s only ten minutes, it’s way better than only practicing a few days a week. Especially if you’re just learning to read music or training your fingers to do things they’ve never done before. For guitar, at least, I’ve found the physical part of it by far the most frustrating.
posted by something something at 8:55 PM on July 30, 2021

Why not just do zoom lessons with an actual hooman? My kids do it, and I do it, and although it isn't preferable to meeting in person, as long as the teacher is smooth and practiced with the tech, it works just fine. There is a part of me that doesn't even want my kids to go back to in-person lessons, since it is so much easier not to have to drive across town.

Plus, you don't even have to find a teacher in your area, then.
posted by umbú at 9:17 PM on July 30, 2021

I'd like to recommend Piano Foundation Formula by Carmen Morin. I did her course last year and was in the first group of people to do it so I was one of her first guinea pigs. Her marketing is really slick but she is the real deal - started piano when she was two, debuted with an orchestra at 10, is in the Steinway Teacher Hall of Fame...

If you're wanting to learn Plantasia (had to google it), this course might be a bit more than you need because it is pretty classical music-technique focused BUT that will set you on a good path to learn anything because classical is the basis for all technique. Myself, I had almost 12 years of classical piano lessons as a kid, so a lot of it was pretty basic for me, but I still learned a lot. In particular, she focuses on body awareness and how to use your forearm, wrist/hand/fingers properly so you don't have tension (things I didn't learn properly in my lessons as a kid), how to listen properly, how to express yourself... It's a very thorough course of the basics. You won't learn how to improvise/jam or write your own music, but you'll have a solid foundation to go off in that direction on your own with other resources (videos, books, teacher...).

She is super friendly, supportive and sooo knowledgeable about music. Her email address is here if you want to contact her and ask her if this is the right course for you.

I'm not paid to say any of this :D
posted by foxjacket at 9:46 PM on July 30, 2021

Response by poster: To clarify my question just a bit, I am totally open for zoom-based lessons, but would want to try to find someone local (Portland, Ore) so that eventually switching to lessons in person would be a minimal hassle. Recommendations in that direction are more than welcome.
posted by furnace.heart at 10:33 PM on July 30, 2021

Hello, I was in your boat about a year ago! I started learning the piano last year during lockdown. I got a full-sized keyboard second hand, and have been using a mixture of some learn to play books - mostly Michael Aaron piano course book 1 and 2.

I am also using Playground Sessions, which is on computer (paid) and you have to be able to hook up your keyboard or piano in order to get feedback while you play - not sure from your question if you can do that?

I did try some zoom lessons, but it was complicated because I didn't have a separate web camera at the time and it was hard to arrange for my laptop to see my hands and for me to see the instructor!

I like Playground Sessions because you can do a mix of lessons or learn songs. The songs have backing tracks (which you can turn on or off) and easier versions of well-known songs. I have mostly enjoyed playing modern classical movie music - songs from Amelie, The Hours, and The Piano. I also plinked my way through some Beyonce and Adele, which sound dramatic with the backing orchestra! You can also turn on the notes, so you don't have to read music. I am a bit torn between trying harder to read music, or just enjoying playing along. A friend who has lent me some books, and is an excellent piano player is convinced I should learn traditionally, but with Playground Sessions, I can happily sit for a good couple of hours and learn a song that I can recognise and then play (the Pink Panther theme tune is fun). I find it encouraging and helpful to play stuff that I have heard before, rather than some of the beginner exercises in the books. I don't think it's doing any harm, but perhaps more experienced players might think so?

I got distracted learning songs, but am trying to get back to the lessons, which encourage you to learn to read music. So that should work for you if your goal is to read music. I don't think Playground Sessions can listen to your piano if it is acoustic though, so that may all be moot. See link here for details on what you can or can't do with an acoustic piano.

The down side is that it's another screen, and it's a bit of a pain to have to hook everything up.

Will also check out some of the recs above and hope you find something that works for you.
posted by sedimentary_deer at 12:25 AM on July 31, 2021

Portland Piano Lab appears to be good at working with adult beginners.
posted by parmanparman at 12:46 AM on July 31, 2021

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