Tuesday, July 22, 2014

REVIEW: HomeSchoolPiano

I love to play the piano, and I want my children to love to play the piano, too. Unfortunately, time and budget constraints have made going somewhere for piano lessons difficult. With one child who dances 4 days per week (without performance rehearsals added in) and two other children with their own activities, we had to cut something, and unfortunately piano lessons were on the chopping block. I thought I could teach them myself, but that hasn't gone quite as well as I'd hoped. I had been trying to come up with a way for my children to learn piano at home, and was very interested in the opportunity to review HomeSchoolPiano.

The HomeSchoolPiano program is intended for all ages, so you can start with the youngest child you feel is ready and even learn to play yourself, if you like! There are three Books in the program, along with a CorePiano section (lessons for the absolute, brand-new beginner), each with a PDF book (between 30-50 pages) that goes along with the lessons. Each of the three Books has six units, and each unit contains the same sections:
  • Technique
  • Rhythm
  • Ear Training
  • Song
  • Improvisation, and the 
  • Bonus Section.
In the bonus section, students review everything they've learned in the previous parts of the unit, and put all the parts together with some more fun improvisation. Any printed music or lesson material students need is found in the printable books. I found it easiest to print those off and spiral bind them, and put tabs at the beginning of each book. The book then stays at the piano and each child can use it when they sit down to watch their lesson or practice.

I love this program. Love it! It includes the basics of reading music, learning rhythms and proper technique, and some other elements that are not as common - ear training and improvisation. Also, students learn to play a song in each lesson, which makes practicing more fun. All you need to use the program is a piano or keyboard, and a laptop or tablet with an internet connection. You could probably even use a smart phone, if you had to, but I would think it might be difficult to see the lessons on a very small screen.

When I took piano lessons as a child, I had an excellent teacher. She did lots of sight reading and rhythm training with her students, along with teaching us to read music and the mechanics of playing piano. Before watching the HomeSchoolPiano lessons, I had no idea improvisation was a skill that could be taught. I thought some people just "got it" and I wasn't one of them. With our previous piano teacher, who was excellent (just too far away), they probably would have learned those things, just later on. I love that HomeSchoolPiano starts off teaching them improvisation so they will be comfortable with it from the very beginning.

It might seem a little odd to take a piano lesson over the computer, without a live person sitting next to you, but the instructor, Willie Mayette, makes it easy to follow what he's teaching. You can see everything his hands are doing, and there is a keyboard above the piano he's playing that shows the keys light up as he strikes them.

If you don't understand something the first time through, you can just pause and work it out or rewind and listen again. Willie has an engaging personality in the videos, and he speaks directly to the student as if they're sitting right there with him. My kids enjoyed that.

The lessons (sections within each unit; 6 units per book) are between 4-15 minutes each. You can go through them at whatever pace suits your child best. My girls moved quickly through the first parts of the early units, but needed to slow down and take more time and practice the improvisation lessons, because that was a completely new experience for them.

My girls have each had a couple of years of piano lessons, and I wasn't sure at first where they should start. We were able to determine quickly that going through Book 1 was necessary, because even though there was a fair amount of review for them, the improvisation was all new, and one of mine had a hard time with it. It's not terribly difficult; she is just a very straightforward child who doesn't see the point of learning to improvise quite yet. (I have asked her to trust me that it's a skill she will learn to appreciate.) Also, the way Willie teaches the students to "grab the keys" is different than the way they were taught previously, so it's good to start over and review some concepts while learning what's new.

HomeSchoolPiano's excellent program is available directly from their website for a one-time payment of $299, or three monthly payments of $99.97 for lifetime access, with tracking and quizzes for up to 5 students. They offer a Free Starter Lesson, if you'd like to see how the program works before purchasing. HomeSchoolPiano has worked out to be a great solution for our family. I hope you'll check them out if you're in the market for piano lessons!

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  1. Anonymous12:20 PM

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

  2. This looks great. I do not know how to play piano but have always wanted my girls to learn. Looks like something to do together.

  3. Lilith, you could absolutely do it together! I do know how to play, but I'm practicing the improvisation along with my kids!