There are dozens of courses on the internet these days that promise to teach you how to play the piano. I have in the past few years bought a few of those courses myself, including:
- Pattern Piano and Keyboard, David Sprunger
- The Secrets to Playing Piano by Ear, Jermaine Griggs
- How to Dress up Naked Music on the Piano, Duane Shinn
- The Sudnow Method, David Sudnow
- Piano Magic, Michael Anderson
- Quiescence Music, Edward Weiss
Here is my opinion on each of these courses:
Pattern Piano and Keyboard, David Sprunger
Book and DVD. This is a very basic course that teaches you how to accompany a singer.
You learn how to form chords (something you can learn on this site for free) and a number of “patterns” that you can play with those chords. A pattern is a fancy way to play the chord so it becomes more interesting to listen to.
This course does not teach solo piano, where you play both the melody and the accompaniment. Instead, it teaches you to play accompaniment patterns with both hands. It’s really boring to play songs this way unless you or someone else sings the melody too (or plays it on another instrument).
However, it’s one of the few courses that teaches this, so if you want to learn to play accompaniment (for example if you write your own pop songs), then this is a good place to start.
The book contains chord sheets and patterns for a number of simple songs and the DVD illustrates how to apply these patterns. Unfortunately, the course doesn’t explain exactly how you can create your own patterns: you’ll have to experiment with that.
This course was the first I bought and it’s good for what it is. Despite the claims on the site and in the book, it won’t teach you to “play by ear”: you still need to find chord sheets for the songs you want to play.
I also bought additional lessons from their website and they were okay but nothing special. They do have a nice free series of lessons about the blues.
The Secrets to Playing Piano by Ear, Jermaine Griggs
Book and CD-ROM. Also called the “300-page course”. They should have called this: “The 300-page Scales and Chords Workbook”, which would have been more accurate.
You will not learn how to play by ear from this course! It’s a workbook that has you doing a lot of exercises on scales and chords and then only spends a handful of pages on actually applying this to playing songs, in a way that is not helpful at all.
Then again, if you are interested in any of the other Hear-and-Play courses (and they have plenty of them), you should probably start out with this introductory course. Otherwise, avoid.
How to Dress up Naked Music on the Piano, Duane Shinn
Book, additional booklet with leadsheets, 1 DVD, 2 audio CD’s. This course presents 101 different techniques that you can use to spice up your sound.
Duane Shinn has a lot of different courses that all seem to overlap somewhat. They are also pretty expensive! I bought this particular one because I wanted to learn about riffs and other things that I could insert in my playing.
It’s a decent enough course, although I’m still not really sure it was really worth the money. To get the most out of this course, you should already know how to read sheet music — or at least leadsheets — and have some piano playing experience too.
On the DVD and on the CD’s Duane explains the techniques from the book, which really helps. The DVD is really a digitized videotape and the CD’s are digitized audio tapes so the quality isn’t super, but passable.
However, before you spend good money on this course, go to Duane Shinn’s site and sign up for his free email newsletter. Not only will you learn all about chords, he also gives away a lot of the techniques from this particular course, with audio and video examples.
By the time you’ve worked your way through his newsletters, you won’t need to buy this course anymore.
Tip: if you’re a complete beginner, then you should get Duane Shinn’s “One Year Adult Piano Crash Course” first before you buy any of his other materials. This course lays the foundation you need in order to get the most from his other courses.
The Sudnow Method, David Sudnow
3 audio CD’s, one DVD, a tiny booklet, additional downloads, internet forum. David Sudnow developed a method to teach adults how to play the piano that produces instant results.
You don’t need to learn a lot of theory first, you don’t need to start at the beginning by playing boring songs from old-fashioned books… instead, you dive right into popular songs (jazz standards in this case) with lush chord voicings.
Originally, David taught his method in weekend-long seminars, and that’s what you get on the audio CD’s: a recording of such a seminar. Every student begins the same way: first you listen to the audio CD’s to get the general idea, and then you learn how to play “Misty”.
You don’t need to know how to read sheet music — or even anything at all about playing the piano. Misty is provided in something called “dot notation”, a simplified alternative to sheet music that simply shows you which keys to press on the piano.
Once you have memorized how to play Misty, you’re supposed to continue with several other songs for which the dot notation is also provided. The idea is that by the time you know 15 or so tunes by heart, your fingers will learn to automatically go to the proper places, even on new songs.
I don’t quite buy that theory — also, I seriously dislike having to memorize songs — but fortunately, David also gives you a number of rules for creating your own arrangements. You do need the ability to play from a leadsheet for that, though.
The Sudnow Method is so simple that you could summarize it on a single sheet of paper. Unfortunately, it’s a lot harder to get into your hands. I only recommend this course if you are very disciplined, want to learn to play cocktail-style “jazz” piano, and don’t mind spending a year or more memorizing the dot-songs.
Piano Magic, Michael Anderson
This course is different from the others in that you don’t receive any course materials through the mail. Instead, it’s a subscription for access to online study materials (text, audio and video) and a discussion forum.
You will learn to play — by ear — any song you can already whistle, sing or hum. Right from the start, you’ll be playing the songs you already know instead of the traditional simple beginner’s tunes. (Obviously, if you don’t know how a song goes, you cannot play it by ear.)
There are no separate ear training exercises or boring practice routines: everything is learned by playing your favorite songs. You don’t need to know how to read sheet music, and you won’t learn it here either.
Not only does this course teach you how to quickly pick out the melodies of songs, but also how to harmonize these melodies in a variety of ways. In fact, you’ll be able to make your arrangement different every time you play. Piano Magic students never play a tune the same way twice.
Because you’re playing by ear, there is nothing to memorize: you’ll even be able to play songs you’ve never played before with full chords on-the-fly. You’ll find an enormous freedom at the keyboard. You can just sit down at any piano and play your heart out. Piano Magic is wonderful if your wish is to learn how to improvise or compose.
This is my favorite course and I used to recommend it to everyone but these days I’ve learned that it doesn’t work for all people. If you’re looking for a structured approach and someone to hold you by the hand, then Piano Magic isn’t for you. You’re left to your own devices here and you’ll have to discover most things for yourself.
Piano Magic also seems to work better for people with no experience than for people who have already been playing for a while. You’ll need to set aside your current knowledge and come into Piano Magic with the mind (and attitude) of a true beginner.
Piano Magic is not a “canned course”. You are encouraged to participate in the forums and to interact with the teacher and the other students. The course may seem fairly expensive but that is nothing compared to the time you need to put into it to get the most out of it.
Quiescence Music, Edward Weiss
This is also an online-only course that you subscribe to. The focus is on improvisation and nothing else.
Through a series of simple lessons you’ll learn to improvise in New Age style, but the course is interesting even for people who don’t particularly care about New Age music.
This course is important because too many piano students are afraid of improvisation and don’t know how to express themselves on the piano. Improvisation is the best way to creatively express yourself through music, so I think it’s great that Edward Weiss has taken to awakening people’s creativity.
After a while all the lessons seem a little the same, but you can subscribe per month so that’s a great way to find out if this course is something for you.
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