Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Review: Piano Studio at Home

Last summer we had the privilege to try out HomeSchoolPiano in our home school. The girls really enjoyed this program. When it became available to try out the new, revised program called PianoWithWillie, made by JazzEdge, I decided to indulge myself in this program. I have taken piano on and off at several different times in my life, and even with all that training and practice, have never managed to get to the level I desired. After reaching a certain point, I would "hit a wall" and not be able to progress further. I was hoping that PianoWithWillie would give me the tools I need to be able to feel some piano success.

What is PianoWithWillie?  This program is an online piano studio, complete with an entire library of video and written lessons, as well as sheet music and additional resources that can be purchased and downloaded. There are hours and hours of video lessons, some as short as 5 minutes long, on just about every piano related technique you can imagine.

Where Do I Start? A very legitimate question, since there is so much available in this program that it can seem very overwhelming when first starting out. Personally, after signing up, I took the 22 point assessment questionnaire, which asked questions about my piano experience, prior training, knowledge, and interests.

After completing the survey, the program custom designed a tailored "Piano Plan" for me, based on the skills I already possess, and where my interest lies. All genres of music are offered, so if the student has a specific desire to learn to play a certain piece or genre, the piano plan will take that into consideration.

My Piano Plan:  Personally, my interest in learning to play the piano has always been to play hymns and gospel music, and accompany my children as they sing. I would also like to learn how to play a piece by ear after hearing it sung, using chords and improvisation.  Amazingly, the piano plan was finely tuned to these goals, laying out for me a short review, recognizing that I was entering the program at an intermediate level, and picking out video lessons that would teach me the finer points of chord building and improvisation.

Getting Started: The PianoWithWillie Site is very flexible depending on what type of instruction the student is most comfortable with. I personally enjoy having things written that I can look at, so I downloaded many of the resources and printed them for a hard copy. 

Review or a 30 Day Guarantee:  I found, as I was checking out different video lessons, that I seemed to have some gaps in my piano knowledge, (or I have just plain forgotten some of those finer points from long ago!). This inspired me to start with Willie's "30 Day Success Playbook" which I downloaded and worked through. There are also accompanying video lessons to watch. I enjoyed refreshing my mind (and fingers) and took my time getting comfortable with piano again. Willie guarantees that if this "30 Day Playbook" is followed, the student will be able to play simple piano pieces within a month of starting, and I think that is true.  Personally, I found that many of my skills came back to me pretty quickly, and several things 'clicked' that I had previously struggled with. Willie explains things in a way that just makes sense and connected those piano-playing dots in my mind.

How the video lessons work: One thing I really love about this program is the multiple ways you can view the instruction. A video lesson is set up so that you can see the instructor's face and a birds-eye view of the piano keyboard.  Orange markings show which keys are being played, as you are watching over the instructor's fingers moving across the keys. 

Fine tuning the video lessons:  Lessons can be paused, played at the student's choice of speed (slow, normal, or 2x), and the best part....repeated as often as necessary! Willie's voice and instructions are enjoyable to listen to. His enthusiasm for piano and for the learner is very evident in all the lessons. He takes the time to point out little things such as the way to hold your hands, or posture, that make for a better experience.

While I did find a piano plan to work through, I was not limited at all to just the lessons that my assessment said I needed. I have access to all the lessons, and can definitely step outside my own plan to experiment with any of the other genres or skills that are available.

Suggested Age: PianoWithWillie is best used for older children who have a basic understanding of piano up through teens and adults.

Final Thoughts: This program is an amazing answer for a busy person who would like to broaden their piano skills, or a student who possesses some beginning piano knowledge and would like to continue their learning in the comfort of their own home.  Help and support is available through live chat and forums. There are multiple questions listed that others have asked, as well as the answers that were given. I had several questions of my own that were answered just by reading through those. For someone like me who does not have the time to go for weekly lessons, but would like to broaden my piano skills, this program is perfect. The explanations in the lessons are simple enough to understand, yet complex enough to advance the student at a comfortable pace. The more the student invests in this program, the greater their yield will be. There almost seems no limit to the possibilities of musical advancement, because there are so many different lessons and topics covered. There is no limit to how many lessons can be accessed - a studio membership gives unlimited access to the entire program and lesson collection of over 3,500 videos!  Lessons are streamed, so they can be accessed on any device that streams web material. I prefer to stream lessons on the iPad so it can be propped next to the piano.

While I have not yet mastered the goals I started with at the beginning of these lessons, I definitely feel more comfortable playing along with Willie, and I have this entire year to fine tune my piano playing skills. One thing I noticed while working on my lessons was that my children were fascinated that I was playing the piano, and it seemed to really inspire them to practice more as well!

PianoWithWillie brings a complete and personalized piano studio right into your living room!

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JazzEdge has two other programs available, that were reviewed by The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew: Easy Piano Basics for beginners, and DrumsWithWillie. Click the banner below to read the other reviews.

JazzEdge Review

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