Why Traditional Music Lessons Have it Backwards
This might be the best time in history to start piano. Here’s why.
We all know practice is what really matters in music learning. Any teacher will tell you that weekly lessons do nothing if the student never practices at home.
So why do we basically leave practice up to the student?
Traditional music lessons go like this: you see your teacher once a week. You’re given a lot of information at once – technique, theory, musicianship skills. Then your teacher tells you to “go home and practice.” Basically, all of the emphasis is put on that one brief period each week, with the majority of growth left up to the student.
A friend of mine is a professional dancer, and she’s always confused by the concept of “practice” as an isolated task. When dancers talk of going to “practice,” they mean rehearsal – something they do for many hours a day, but always in a group, with constant guidance.
So why not flip the music lesson model on its head?
Instead of spending 10% of your time with your teacher and 90% practicing alone, why not spend 90% of your time with your teacher and 10% alone? Instead of a “teacher” and weekly lessons, why not a “coach” who guides you through daily practice?
Of course, there were unsurmountable problems with this idea in the past. Hiring a private tutor for daily practice has never been available to anyone other than the very wealthy. And scaling to a group doesn’t work as well as it does with dance, or sports practice – if you put 10 pianos in a room, you get cacophony. There’s no room for students to make mistakes or to try things at their own pace.
Online learning has changed that. Students can now, magically, learn alone in a room – and have their teacher by their side. Not only that, online learning is ideal for creating daily habits. When I wanted to practice yoga during the pandemic, I turned to daily yoga videos from Yoga With Adriene. When I wanted to create a meditation habit, I took a daily introductory course on the Waking Up app. When I wanted to learn a language, I used Duolingo to keep track of my daily growth.
Let’s teach piano the same way.
I’m developing a 30-Day Challenge to teach beginners the most essential skills at the piano. Beginner pianists need just a few things in their toolkit to make learning songs easier: some rhythm basics, a few chords, a little technique. With this course, you won’t have to worry about what to practice, or how much. You simply hit play on one video every day. Each video is only 5-10 minutes long, and you won’t spend more than 20 minutes at the piano unless you want to.
You’ll practice with me, a little every day. And a little every day is how we get good at music.
Daily music instruction doesn’t have to be a fantasy anymore: it can be available to anybody with a piano and an internet connection. That’s why it’s the best time in history to start piano.
I’m looking forward to trying this course. I’m not a beginner, but I’m no expert either. It’s easy to lose proper technique or skip the basics (I still don’t remember proper fingering for the flat scales and never learned the minor version fingering at all). It would probably do us all good to take a refresher.
Awesome Nigel. I bet it will be quite easy for you, but I’m aiming to make things fun and flexible enough that even a more advanced student like you might have a good time. Lots of “play along with me.”
It’s been a while since the post – any news on that course 🙂 ? It would be great opener 🙂
It’s live as of Friday!
Yes – now that was a good timing to ask 👍
Im after Day3 and its great so far 🎶