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The Future of Piano Lessons is Here: How Technology is Changing the Game



"Back in my day," little technology was available for piano teachers and students. An electric metronome was the height of innovation (I still used an antique windup metronome personally). A tape recorder may be employed to send home backing tracks for singers or other musicians. Rarely for a piano player, though.


In some ways, I’ve heard parents today express the expectation that their child’s lessons be similar to their own regarding technology. It would be a great disservice to the student to NOT use the myriad of innovative and helpful technologies now available. Like it or not, tech is here to stay, and it can and should be used to enhance learning. In this post, I will review a few ways I use tech to teach my students. If your child’s teachers don’t use tech, consider recommending one or two options.


Practice Apps


Before the pandemic, I taught all my lessons in person. I wrote my students’ assignments on paper assignment pages, complete with cutesy clipart befitting the season. I was lucky if this sheet of paper was ever referenced between lessons. Quite often, it was lost entirely.


When I took my lessons online over one weekend in March 2020, I needed another way to send assignments home to students. Enter practice apps! I started with another practice app that has since gone out of business. Now, I use Practice Space, though there are other options available.


On the teacher’s side, I can enter all my standard assignments to easily assign songs from the method books I use most often or technique, aural, and other supplementary assignments I use with all my students. On the student’s side, they clearly see what they need to practice each week. Assignments can have audio files, documents, video links, and more attached. Hence, the resources a student needs to be successful are always at their fingertips. Parents can also access the app to monitor their child’s practice. Most practice apps allow students to communicate with their teacher between lessons. Rather than being stuck on an assignment because they have a question, they can get clarification immediately and keep advancing their practice.


Practice apps also have features to help students with extrinsic motivation to practice. Through practice, students earn points that, depending on the app, allow them to buy virtual or even physical items in the app’s store. My students are pretty fond of the vinyl waterproof stickers. I mail quite a few monthly as students spend their practice gems to buy them. While ideally, we want our students to be intrinsically motivated to practice, few students start with intrinsic motivation. It needs to be cultivated through individualized lessons. Extrinsic motivation can be helpful to get kids practicing until their intrinsic motivation kicks in.


Audio and Video Recording


Have you ever tried to play a game without glancing at the directions? Sure, you can muddle your way through it based on knowledge from playing other games, but you will likely miss a lot early on and take a lot longer to figure it out. Listening to a song before first trying to play, especially while following the music with your eyes, is a lot like reading the game instructions. Sure, you will need to start playing to fully understand the nuances of the game or song. Still, those instructions really help you get started successfully with more confidence.


Technology that allows students to listen to their songs before playing is valuable. While this could be through a practice app, most method book songs can also be found on YouTube. So, even if your child’s teacher doesn’t use a practice app or send home audio or video files of music, finding the song on YouTube for a first listen is very helpful. Encourage your child to read the sheet music with their eyes while listening. Keep a pencil, highlighter, or tape flags handy while listening to mark any sections that sound or look like they might be tricky so they can be practiced separately.


I encourage my students to listen when they first get a new song and use the recording to self-check their progress mid-week. Listening again while reading their music can help students pinpoint areas they aren’t playing correctly. This enables them to give those sections more focused practice. Videos of the music can be beneficial if a student is struggling with fingering in a passage of music.


Virtual Lessons


I will freely admit that before the pandemic, I didn’t fully understand the potential of online lessons. In all fairness, many of the resources we now use for online lessons were more fully developed due to the pandemic’s requirement for online lessons. There are pros and cons to in-person and virtual. My studio is a bit hybrid since I teach weekly lessons online via Zoom. However, with most of my students still local to me, I have in-person recitals and group lessons.


I love online lessons. When first “coming out of the pandemic” (are we fully out yet?), I wondered if my students’ families would want to go back in person (because I didn’t). I had so many of them reach out to me to tell me how much they appreciate online convenience and ask if I planned to stay online! I did, and it’s been fantastic.


No drive time. Parents don’t have to figure out what to do for 30 minutes (and invariably run late picking up their child if they attempt an errand during that time). Students can get themselves online if a parent is running late from work. Students can still attend lessons if their family is quarantined due to illness. No driving in snowy or icy conditions or canceled or missed lessons. Parents have been more involved since they can easily sit quietly nearby and monitor the lesson. I teach from a home studio, so it’s much easier for my family to not have students in and out all the time.


Gamification and Interactive Learning


Before I went virtual, I used games in my lessons. At the start of the pandemic, the options for online games were limited - and most were only available on Apple (I’m an Android fan). Where there is demand, though, supply usually follows. The resources for gamifying learning both inside and outside of lessons have grown tremendously in the years since 2020. I utilize two subscriptions that provide an endless supply of screen-optimized games and learning activities that I can easily share during Zoom lessons. The options in the Google Play store and Apple store for students to use at home are nearly unlimited. If you and your child have something you want to learn or a skill you are struggling with, there’s an app for that!


A few popular game apps for students to expand on their learning at home are:


NinGenius Music App https://www.ningenius.net/

Learn ALL the essentials of music theory and watch your students quickly master their notes, fingerings, rhythm, and theory in your band, orchestra, or general music classroom!


Flat is a collaborative music notation platform for beginner composers and professionals alike.


Bees Keys makes learning the piano key names fun, easy, and simple. Piano key identification is your first step to learning how to play the piano and how to read music. iOS only.


Flashnote Derby is an app that takes the drudgery of memorizing the notes of the music staff and turns it into a fun and challenging game. Simply select the notes you wish to practice, and it’s off to the races.


Note Rush is like a virtual flashcard deck for all ages that listens to you play each note, giving instant feedback and awarding stars based on speed and accuracy.


Tenuto is an enhanced version of the exercises and calculators available for free on musictheory.net. Each of the 24 exercises and six calculators uses a friendly touch interface fully optimized for all screen sizes across all devices. iOS only.


Conclusion


In the ever-evolving landscape of music education, embracing technology has become not just a choice but a necessity. Today's music students have access to a treasure trove of innovative tools. As we navigate this fusion of tradition and technology, it's evident that using these tools enriches music education and ensures its resonance in the digital age. So, in the spirit of progress, let's embrace the harmonious blend of melody and technology, ensuring that music education remains timeless and tuned to the needs of contemporary students.


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