To start with, let's back up a little with some details. Emily is now 16, that means she has wanted piano lessons since age 6. In our area, most beginner piano lessons run $12-$15 for a half-hour lesson. We'll just use the $15/half-hour lesson for the math, because I have looked up some near-by teachers who charge $20/half-hour. At $15 a lesson, if Emily were to take weekly lessons for 40 weeks out of each year, that would equal $600! While I know many families set aside that money easily, some of us just don't have that luxury. We value music in our home, but there is always a breaking point in each family's budget between wants and needs . . . and piano lessons always fell into the want category, so Emily never had them. Now please don't misunderstand me, I know there are wonderful piano teachers out there who deserve ever penny you pay for their great lessons, I just want you to see the other side of things. The side where you tell your children "no" or "not now" and they grow up a little and realize that their life may not be just like everybody else's and that's OK.
Here is the first part I found fascinating about HSP . . . your $299 purchases a lifetime subscription for up to five (5!) students in your family. That means I can learn the piano at my own speed, while Emily learns at her speed, and we can watch the lessons over and over again as many times as we want or need to. The program keeps track of each student's progress individually, and lets the parent login to see how far their students are (and if they took the recommended quizzes!) I understand that nothing truly replaces a personal teacher sitting beside you while you are improving your advanced techniques, but this program opens up the door for a lot of students to begin lessons and learn a whole lot more than most students ever accomplish. Once these three book levels are mastered, any additional lessons you provide for your students will take them to a level of mastery many piano students never reach.
Since we were blessed to be able to join in the review, Kurt and I decided to invest a little bit and purchase a new keyboard for Emily and I to play on. We purchased a Yamaha with 61 weighted keys, a power plug, and a warranty for about $225. This has been a great keyboard for us. If you look at the HSP website, you'll see that you need a minimum of 49 full-sized keys, a stand and a bench for your student to sit on. Luckily we already had the bench and stand!
Willie Myette is your piano teacher on HSP. Willie is dedicated to teaching students to play the piano and have fun while doing it. Willie graduated from the Berklee College of Music and has toured both the US and Europe. More importantly, he has been teaching piano to kids since 1996. Willie teaches in the Jazz style, which may make you wonder 'what about Classical?' I'll let you know that everything I have seen so far in this program can easily be adapted to playing Classical Music. I think the Jazz side makes the individual lessons more fun. Emily has loved listening to Classical Music for years, I think her four current favorite composers are Gershwin, Debussy, Chopin and Tchaikovsky . Emily is still in the beginner level lessons, but she is applying what she is learning in HomeSchoolPiano to teach herself to play a simple arrangement of Tchaikovsky's "Waltz from Sleeping Beauty." Most students in CorePiano and Book 1 will probably just stick with the songs Willie teaches in the lessons, but Emily is interspersing her practice for HSP with parts of the waltz. Thankfully she knows how to waltz (thank you very much Conner Prairie!) so she can understand the 3/4 time signature.
By now you may be wondering how I am doing with the piano lessons . . . not bad considering my limited amount of time. I am learning a lot in the CorePiano lessons that I either never learned, or have forgotten since Middle School! For CorePiano and each of the 3 book levels, there are accompanying PDF files that you can download (and I suggest you print them too!) Willie refers to these pages as he goes about teaching the lessons. We had our local print shop print CorePiano and Book 1 and spiral bind them together. When Emily is almost ready to move to Book 2, we'll have them print books 2 & 3 and spiral bind them together as well.
While you are watching a lesson, you will see Willie, an overhead shot of his keyboard, and above that, his virtual keyboard which highlights all the notes he plays and tells you which notes they are (C, D, G, etc.) I love this self-pacing of the program. Some lessons take longer to learn, while some are easier. Sometimes you might be able to learn two or three lessons' worth of material each week, other times you might need two weeks for one lesson. One point Willie makes in his blog (which you can read from the website,) is that younger students really need a parent to sit down with/near them while they practice. Practicing can be a lonely endeavor. Willie encourages his students to practice a minimum of 5 minutes a day, but 20-30 minutes day is much better. The reality is that you won't improve without practice. One of the great features is that you can view your lessons on any internet-enabled device. We prefer the iPad because we can watch the lesson and see the sheet music/ practice pages while setting at the keyboard.
Once you've mastered the CorePiano lessons, you move on to Book 1. Here is where HomeSchoolPiano's lessons really shine. Each book is divided into 6 Units, each unit is divided into 6 lessons which focus on the 6 parts of learning to play Jazz.
The six parts of each lesson include:
3- Ear Training
4- Reading Music
Technique teaches your student proper techniques for holding their hands and playing the keys. This part of each unit builds strength and dexterity in the student's hands in small chunks of time without overworking them. Willie stresses the fun in these lessons. He encourages the student to do the prescribed exercises first in each practice time, and then to feel free to move around on the keyboard to another octave, or do the exercises backwards for variety while still building dexterity and strength.
The Rhythm section stresses the importance of playing the parts of your song correctly so that it sounds right. You are going to want to make sure you have printed out the pages that correspond with the Rhythm lessons so your student can work alongside Willie. In Books 1 and 2 Willie uses a vocalization method to teach rhythm. I found this helpful, and I'm sure your youngest students will too. HSP is geared for ages 6 and up, but could be used for younger students with enough parental help. Reminder- you can review these lessons as many times as necessary to make sure you master the rhythm being taught. This section also comes with an optional quiz. I optioned not to take the quizzes right now, but I'm going to make sure Emily takes them so we can really assess how much she is learning in each unit. Books 1 and 2 use 4/4 time signatures, and Book 3 moves on to other time signatures as the student becomes more advanced. The camera angle shows Willie at his keyboard, with you at his right, as if you're sharing a large bench and playing together. This gives an 'in-person' quality to an online program.
Just in case you're wondering - you CAN download the individual lessons to watch. This would be particularly helpful if you have a slower internet connection.
The Ear Training sections help you distinguish what you are listening to. Book 1 focuses on melodic ear training and rhythm ear training. (I haven't gotten far enough to know what book 2 covers.) This section also includes a quiz. Willie helps the student learn how to listen and then look at different printed examples of music to help them figure out which one they are listening to. This will come in handy as the student progresses, AND for music appreciation.
The Reading Music lesson in each Unit takes each part of the song that will be learned and breaks it down to its most basic parts. Each term is learned or reviewed (with frequent reminders to go back to the CorePiano lessons if you need/want more review) and each measure of music is taught one by one. Willie does an excellent job of explaining all the 'other' things besides just the notes on the page. Reading music includes being able to understand the differences between playing 'piano' or 'forte' and 'ties' or 'slurs.' This lesson also has a quiz, and I think you should check to make sure your students understand it well before moving on.
The fifth part of each unit is a lesson on actually playing the song, from beginning to end. Here is where Willie shows the student HOW all of the parts they have been learning (technique, rhythm, and reading) fit together to make playing the song easier. Willie gently shows the student all of the parts and techniques they have learned and how they combine into the finished song. Then he encourages them to play it in different ways, possibly adding in a drum track or changing instruments if they are using a keyboard.
The Improvisation lesson makes this program totally unique from other piano lessons. In this lesson the student learns how to incorporate their own personal expression into the music they have been learning in the unit. They learn how improvising is not making something out of nothing, but rather combining parts they already know in a unique way. Playing along with the video gives a 'Duet' atmosphere with Willie adding the accompaniment to your playing. With the flexibility of this online program you can practice and play your duet at any time of the day or night. Ever heard of a piano teacher for people who work weird hours? Know anyone else who will accompany you at 2 a.m.? Me either. That flexibility in lesson time also makes a keyboard with headphones a wonderful option for the rest of the family!
I really appreciate the flexibility to learn at your own pace. It has been great for me these past few weeks when my time to play each week has varied widely due to work and the girls' 4-H judging schedules. This really is one-on-one instruction. It also gives older students the ability to work at their own pace, which may be faster than your average beginner student, but still seems slow to them.
We also have Arlene registered on our account at HSP, but because of her 4-H projects, she hasn't really had a lot of time to watch the videos. That's ok, I'll plan time into her school schedule for this fall. She can learn at her own pace.
Before I wrap this up, I want to spend a minute or two telling you about the student records part of HSP. When I login, I can view how far any of us have gotten in our lessons . . . and who took their quizzes. The program tracks each student individually and always reminds them where they left off, giving them the option to watch that lesson again, or move on to the next lesson. Technically, you could skip ahead, but I wouldn't recommend it. CorePiano shows when each lesson was started and finished, and the Books' reports also show if the quiz was taken and what the score was (you can take each quiz up to 3 times, and you need at least a 60% to pass.) The bar below shows I still need to finish this Improv lesson!
Each video lesson is somewhere between 5 and 15 minutes, usually the technique ones are shorter, and the music reading and improve videos are longer. Unless your student has played for many years, I would suggest they watch the CorePiano lessons, even if they don't need need to practice these ones. Older students who are brushing off the dust could watch all of the CorePiano lessons in a day or two, beginners need to watch them one or two a day max and practice each part.
Overall, I cannot express how impressed I am with this program from HomeSchoolPiano! I would consider it a great value if only CorePiano and Book 1 were included at the $299 price. When you consider all 3 books, it becomes an outstanding value! I think many families who are wavering on whether or not to get piano lessons for their children would benefit from this program. With the ability to have up to five students per subscription, you could learn a lot about your students' musical stick-to-itiveness without breaking the budget. For those of your children who stay focused and compete the program, private face-to-face lessons will be a quality investment, not just a 'we'll see if they like it' option.
You cannot learn to play the piano without instruction - unless maybe you're the next Mozart. For the rest of us, HomeSchoolPiano is a wonderful option to learn to play the piano! If you're still not convinced, you can sign up to watch a free sample lesson.
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