For the past few weeks, I've been trying to work with a FREE piano program from Simply Music
. Given that I don't have a working keyboard or piano in my home, that isn't always easy. I've been using the keyboard at church when I can, and am over halfway through the Music & Creativity - Foundation Course at this point.
This photo is of Trina working on one of the first lessons, as sometimes she comes along when I head over. Trina has only worked up to lesson 3 at this point, so she isn't very far into it.
I love that during lesson 3, she is learning her first song, and she has already spent time improvising as well.
The course consists of twenty total lessons - an introductory "Quickstart" lesson, plus 19 regular lessons.
In addition to the video lessons, there are downloadable components as well. There are a total of four items to download. The one I've used most is the soundtrack zip file, but there is also a reference book that includes words for the songs, and the diagrams used to help visualize the pieces by helping you to see shapes and patterns. The fourth item is a pdf book, Music and the Art of Long-Term Relationships.
What is not included is any sort of traditional music. This course does not teach you to read music in a traditional sense -- the idea is to gets hands-on, to learn by playing. As you go along, you are introduced to some music theory, but it is all very active and not at all.
Many of the videos include some instruction from Neil Moore. He sits at a piano and talks to the camera, as shown here from lesson 9.
I really liked this particular lesson, as he was discussing accompaniment, and that was one of the reasons I was particularly interested in taking this course. I played piano as a child and I was pretty good. But I never, ever was able to accompany a choir or even a soloist really at all.
It has always made me feel fairly inadequate, to be honest, and when I've been asked to do things at church, I get so hung up on all the chords in the hymnal, and the idea of transposing into a key we are capable of singing to, and I really don't even try.
Neil explains that the accompaniment is a bit like the canvas that a picture is painted on to. It isn't the song itself, it is a foundation that allows the soloist to shine through. He makes me think I can actually do this.
Most lessons also include some time where Neil is playing the piano and demonstrating what you are to be playing. Here, in lesson 7, he is showing some techniques for using the sustain pedal, and I really liked how the camera shows us both what he is doing with his hands and what he is doing with his foot.
This screenshot also demonstrates a bit about how the lessons are set up. Each of the 19 lessons has at least one video segment, and once you have completed that section, you have to mark it as complete. In the shot above, I could not move on to Lesson 8.1 until I marked that I had watched this one.
Note that I don't actually have to watch a lesson to mark it complete. If I wanted to skip forward and try the lesson on Amazing Grace (Lesson 14), I could just go in and mark each video as complete until I get to the one I wish to watch. So it is possible to skip ahead, but it is not a quick process to do so.
To do the lessons, you need to have a screen on which to watch the lessons over the internet (they are not downloadable), and you need a piano or a keyboard with at least 49 keys. Having a device to play the soundtracks and having headphones is a plus, but not totally essential.
To do a lesson, I bring my laptop and my iPad with me to church. I have the lessons playing on my computer, and I can get the iPad to play the soundtracks. If there are extra people around at church, I can plug in headphones.
Because I have played piano for a lot of years, I don't find that I need to spend a lot of time with the instructional portions of the program. I can generally watch the lesson once and not have to really spend any time processing it.
Trina hasn't done much on a piano before, so she does spend some time getting comfortable with the right hand part before moving on to the left hand segment, for instance. So far, she hasn't needed a lot of time either though.
Neil does address how you are to work through the lessons. You are to 'control events' by verbalizing what you are going to do before you do it. Initially, you focus on 'what to play' rather than 'how to play,' so the expectation is that you are not going to sound smooth initially. And on the subject of how long it will take before you move on, his answer is, "as long as it takes."
I really do like that.
He addresses the parents in how to help your child through the lessons, and one thing he pushes is that you make sure your child is not moving too fast. Take small pieces and get comfortable before moving on to the next chunk.
I love that approach.
This screenshot is from the last lesson I did, as I realized I hadn't shown any shots of the camera angles when he is demonstrating what to play.
So what do I think? This program is free, so it is certainly something worth trying out. A student who really needs to know exactly what they are doing before they do it may be better off with a more traditional approach to learning piano, but I think this is a great way to go for a lot of people. For me, it is teaching me to *play* with the music in the improvisation sections, and it is changing how I look at accompaniment. I hope to actually follow through and play keyboard with our praise team.
For my daughter, she is able to sound good from the start and she isn't having to learn to read all the crazy squiggles on a page to do that.
My one caution for anyone else with previous keyboard experience is to persevere. The first lessons do get a bit hard to get through, particularly lesson 3. It is worth it to keep going, though.
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