Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Jazzing Up Our Music Lessons with HomeSchoolPiano

We enjoy music of many kinds, and learning to play music is something that my daughter is especially interested in. We had an opportunity to review HomeSchoolPiano for the Schoolhouse Review Crew, and I was excited to give it a try! We received a Lifetime Subscription to HomeSchoolPiano - Complete Set of Books.
Homeschool Piano Review

HomeSchoolPiano is online piano instruction for all ages, and from absolute beginner level through to an intermediate level. The course is based on video instruction featuring Willie Myette, a graduate of Berklee College of Music and a respected clinician and performer. Also included is access to the downloadable "Books" that go along with the lessons, and these are in pdf format.
Homeschool Piano Review

HomeSchoolPiano uses a six-step cycle of instruction that works with the National Standards for Music Education for well-rounded music curriculum that includes all nine of the NAfME requirements.
  1. Technique - learning proper technique and developing speed and dexterity right from the beginning.
  2. Rhythm - vocalization approach to learning the 'engine' that drives music.
  3. Ear Training - learning to hear rhythm, melody and harmony.
  4. Reading Music - step-by-step approach to this essential skill.
  5. Song - music that sounds like song rather than exercises right from the beginning.
  6. Improvisation - making your own music and developing your own creativity.
There are three "Books" of lessons, plus CorePiano, which is for absolute beginners. Book One is for the beginner, or perhaps for someone who has previously played piano but needs a good brush-up on their skills. Book Two is for beginner to intermediate level players, and includes more complicated concepts and skills. Book Three is for intermediate and up, and gets into more advanced concepts such as syncopation and voice leading.  Each Book is broken down in to Units, and each Unit has seven lessons. The video segments average about 10 minutes in length. The student is given some practice instructions, and assignments, and there are quizzes for some units.
Homeschool Piano Review   Homeschool Piano Review


How did we use it? I admit to being somewhat skeptical initially of the effectiveness of a video lesson where the student and teacher can't interact, but the emphasis on improvisation and having fun with music really stood out to me, and since I have many years of experience playing piano (I can't say how many; that would give away my age!), and Kennady has already started learning, I thought the HomeSchoolPiano approach would be a good fit for us. Kennady has been taking formal piano and guitar lessons for about a year, but has shown musical ability since she was very young. She has a pretty good foundation in the basics of reading music, and she has a good ear. However, we still spent some time going through the CorePiano course to get an idea of what it was like. There were a few details in there (such as key signature) that Kennady needed a refresher on. Then she moved on to Book One. She is essentially a beginner, having only had one year of lessons, but much of the technique, rhythm, and music reading instruction in this section of the course was easy for her and just review. So while we watched the video teaching for those units, our focus went straight to the Song and Improvisation sections, and the Bonus material. The videos include Willie playing a drum track and the bass accompaniment line, and the student can play along. We couldn't use that aspect, because we don't have a device for watching the video online that can be moved to where our piano is located. But that didn't slow Kennady down - with the videos being only 10 minutes long or so, she could easily remember what Willie talked about and then run downstairs and practice it. And practice it for a long time! She just played the bass line accompaniment herself, and made do without a drum track.
Practicing her improvisation skills with her other music!
The lessons can be viewed on a laptop or desktop, on a tablet, or on a mobile device. If we could have viewed the lessons on one of the portable devices in the same room as the piano, it would have been fantastic! That is the ideal situation for using HomeSchoolPiano but as we found out, it works out fine if that's not possible.

The video shows an animated keyboard that highlights and names the notes Willie is playing, his keyboard (so you can see his hands - very helpful when he explains keyboarding technique), and a view of Willie talking to the camera/student. When he refers to music that is in the printable files, he usually places that page in the keyboard screen so the student can see exactly what he is talking about.

As for myself, I've been browsing the more advanced lessons, looking for some new tricks to add to my toolbox of accompaniment skills. I took formal piano lessons throughout my childhood and into my young adult years, but formal lessons tend to focus on classical music and playing what is on the page. I loved that, but in real life I found that I needed to be able to read from guitar chord style lead sheets and fill everything in. For many years now, I've played keyboard for worship teams in a church setting, and that is a different skill set from studying and playing music by Beethoven or Rachmaninoff. Not much in my formal music training prepared me directly for what amounts to jamming with a band! I guess the solid background I had in theory and composition meant that I don't have to think hard about what a Cmaj7 or D9 chord looks like - I just play it. And I just improvise all the accompaniment within the chord structure. Problem is - I really don't know how to explain what I'm doing or how to do it to a student; and I know that's what Kennady would love to be able to do! This is the kind of thing she is learning (and I am improving upon) through HomeSchoolPiano! As valuable and rewarding as it is to learn how to play a Bach Fugue or a Chopin Etude, I think that being able to play by ear and improvise given only a chord structure or bass line has a great deal of practical application in today's world. I know that playing confidently from a lead sheet is a fantastic skill to have for accompanying church music, and it's not often taught in formal piano lesson settings.
Willie teaches skills and music theory, and then allows the student to make use of what they've learned in their own creative way. One statement he made in an early lesson that really stuck with me (and I'm sorry I didn't jot down the exact quote) was something the effect that we can't improvise and play with something unless we've already learned about it. Creativity is essentially rearranging the elements of music that we have already learned. Some time later I came across this quote, and thought it was a wonderful summary of why HomeSchoolPiano is such a unique and valuable approach to teaching piano. It gives students all the tools they need to create their own music.
Only someone who is well prepared has the opportunity to improvise. ~Ingmar Bergman
What we liked best:
  • I love, love, love the emphasis on improvisation! To me, this is what sets this program apart from every other online music program, and makes it valuable for beginner and experienced pianists alike!
  • There's also encouragement for students to write down their own music, and this happens from the very early lessons on. I love that improvisation and invention are so strongly encouraged, because even beginner students can create their own music, instead of always copying someone else's music.
  • Willie often says, "now let's have some fun!" and music should be fun! Yes, it requires effort and practice to gain the skills, but there should be the reward of having fun with those skills even as they are being developed. Plus, it's obvious that he is having a good time himself! He speaks in a friendly, enthusiastic way, and sometimes makes a goofy joke. When he plays, he is clearly enjoying the music, even the very simple beginner songs. That love of the music is contagious, even through a screen.
  • learn at your own pace; review anything any time you need to; pause, rewind, slow down, or speed up the video lesson if you need to.
What I need to mention:
  • you will need a keyboard with at least 49 full-sized keys. You can read more about the requirements at the page What Kind of Equipment Do I Need? on the website. Your keyboard does not need to connect to the computer, which is a great advantage!
  • you will need reliable internet access in order to watch the videos. On days when our internet was running slowly, I needed to leave the video on "pause" while it loaded before viewing it in order to avoid it stuttering. Most of the time this worked fine, but on a few occasions we missed the end of the video, and this was a problem with our connection.
  • since it's a video lesson, there is no direct interaction with the instructor, and no teacher feedback for the student. 
Our bottom line: I am loving HomeSchoolPiano! I love the encouragement to have fun and be creative, and the broad base of skills being taught. Kennady sees this as an addition to her regular piano lessons, but as she gets farther along in the program, she is gaining new skills and is pretty excited about learning to play boogie and blues styles!  
Homeschool Piano Review
Would you like to explore HomeSchoolPiano? Here's what you need to know:
Visit the website: http://HomeSchoolPiano.com
Learn more about the HomeSchoolPiano method and National Music Standards on the page: Learn Piano At Home Method; and see more about the equipment requirements on the page: What Kind of Equipment Do I Need?
Try out a Free sample lesson here: Free Lesson

Pricing: The Success Package - unlimited life-time access to HomeSchoolPiano - Complete Set of Books along with all the bonuses (downloads, jam tracks, and sheet music) for up to 5 students - is available for one payment of $299; or in a Payment Plan of $99.97 per month for three months.

Recommended Ages: All ages!

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Anonymous said...

From all of us at Jazzedge, we thank you for your unbiased review. Hope you enjoy the lessons!

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