Live Online Piano Lessons are the Best Way to Learn Piano

By Paul Adams, Designer of 1ON1 Piano

I am a pianist, a piano teacher, and an entrepreneur, and I have spent the past five years working on a technology that revolutionizes online piano teaching and performance. This is the first in a series of posts I am writing that detail my passion, and my vision for the future of piano teaching. 1ON1 Piano is a platform for teaching piano online and is available for preorder now on iOS, Android, and MacOS. 

A Brief History on Piano Lessons

Fifty years ago, if you wanted to learn piano, there were only a few ways to do it. You hired a piano teacher, and they either came to your home, or you went to their home. You might also take a group piano class, which was taught by a live teacher. A few brave souls would try to teach themselves, but this often ended in frustration – more often than taking lessons from a live teacher did at least. 

Today, there are many other options for learning piano. There are apps, free tutorial videos, paid tutorial videos, and a plethora of pre-made courses. One of the most popular piano-learning app formats is one that teaches students to imitate a hand or play along with a Guitar Hero-style feed of dashes that align with the right keys at the right time. This is also a very popular format for tutorial videos. Tutorial videos may even have a master teacher walk students through how to learn a song or piece. But none of these options provide what students get with a live teacher.

The Live Teacher Difference

A live teacher teaches students how music works, how to read music so that they can learn new music on their own, and the athletics of how to execute what they read. Like learning to read and comprehend books when we are children, learning to understand and read music is an iterative process. We fail often and need someone to put us back on track when we fail. We usually work from a curriculum and learn basic spelling and grammar, but we still need the teacher. A music teacher not only helps students become musically literate, but they also help students play the instrument in a healthy way. Many pianists struggle with stress injuries, and while new students rarely play enough to injure themselves, without an instructor demonstrating and monitoring their technique, inexperienced students will struggle to execute the music even if they understand it. They may even feel soreness, and they will certainly feel like they are bad at the piano. 

Some readers might already be convinced that a live teacher is best. But many are not, and that’s reasonable in the context of modern culture. The idea that someone can learn from a machine likely comes from low exposure to performing music for others in contemporary society. If one compares learning music from an app animation to something that culture is more exposed to, it would be like learning to play basketball by watching videos, reading about how basketball works and imitating a virtual player in a video game. Most people would laugh at the idea that someone could succeed at basketball that way, yet when they set out to learn to play an instrument, consumers are deluded into thinking that they can succeed at mastering an instrument by watching a video or following dashes on a screen. Continuing the sports analogy, learning music from an app or a video is like learning to read text so that you can understand football plays, then watching videos of plays and running the routes on your own with no feedback, and then attempting to show off to your friends how well you can play football. Enough of us have played a sport to know that won’t work. And that is exactly what happens when people play piano after learning from videos or a dash sequence. They freeze up when they try to perform for other people, the music sounds lifeless, and saddest of all, they don’t love the way they play. 

We Must Know What We Are Doing to Succeed at Piano

The problem with music learning methods that don’t involve real-time feedback from a human is that they make the student dependent on imitating, and do not instill a holistic understanding of music and what students are doing when they play. The AI-based apps and videos “work” in that the product teaches users to make sounds happen at a certain time. However, they do not work in that the person performing doesn’t know WHAT they are doing, and as a result, cannot reliably perform, and cannot enjoy what they do. You can imagine what would happen if we learned to recite books from an app that read them to us in a monotone: we would be unlikely to remember them, and if we did remember them, no one would want to hear it. This is almost exactly what we do when we learn to play a song from an app. You can even see it in the advertisements for the apps; the playing is often not very good. They are no more inspired by their playing than a person on a production line who has been trained to do something to build something they don’t understand.

So, you get my point now: live online piano lessons are the best. But unfortunately, we have pandemics and geographic distance to overcome, forcing us to look to technology to replicate and replace the live lesson experience. Because of weaknesses in software and apps available for live music lessons, apps and videos have been developed to entirely ditch a live teacher. After all, ditching a live teacher simplifies things and lets you take a lesson whenever you want. That sounds appealing until you try it and get stuck. Furthermore, anyone who has developed a skill knows that routine and social interaction is crucial; doing it regularly at a specific time creates incentive and lets us achieve time-based milestones while remaining accountable to the person instructing us. Ditching live lessons won’t work.

Why Online Music Teaching Technology Needs to Improve

This leaves us with a need for live online piano lessons. But why aren’t online video lessons the preferred way to learn an instrument? Because there isn’t good software for it… yet. The big problem is that online music lessons are typically given on software that was designed for conversation and voice, not music, or the app used is an adaptation of software designed for voice. Music and voice are very different. Most video chat apps were designed for meetings that are held by businesses or educational institutions where people talk to each other, and the goal is clarity of words rather than fidelity to the actual sound. Furthermore, existing software is lacking sufficient visual representation to monitor and demonstrate physical and athletic movements, as is done in music lessons. 

“But we can send people to space, we should be able to solve this” you might say, and you would be right. The technology for live online piano lessons does exist. All that is needed is an app built from the ground up for music lessons, and that uses technology that is outside the box of corporate video chat apps. And that app is here in 1ON1 Piano, which uses piano-to-piano technology, and is designed specifically for teaching piano online.

Want More?

In the next blog, I’ll tell you how we came up with the technology and why it changes the paradigm of live online piano lessons and performances. 

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