The internet is saturated with e-learning platforms for learning to play the piano. Some of these platforms go as far as claiming that their users will master the art of piano playing, which basically means that thousands of pianists have been wasting their time practicing for hours every day.
As a professional pianist with over 20 years of experience in performance, I can tell you right now: there is no way that you will master the instrument using any online learning platform. It will just never happen. BUT… it IS possible to learn to play using an online teaching program.
Pianote offers a modern solution for those who simply want to play the songs they love without becoming classically trained piano virtuosos. There are no empty promises of mastering the piano in a single week but instead an honest description of what is on offer.
Pianote promises a lifetime of lessons for new members – pay once only and have access to lessons for life. This made the $497 signup fee seem less exorbitant, but it is still a lot of money. Will it be worth it? Will you learn to play the piano properly?
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A Little About Me
I am a South African concert pianist with over 30 years’ experience in performance and teaching. I studied music at WITS university and Trinity College London. My training was exclusively classical at first, but I later branched out to all other genres of music. I have performed across the globe in both solo recitals, as part of a band (Rock and Jazz) and as an accompanist.
The Pianote Platform
To be perfectly honest, this platform was new to me, I never knew it existed. Of course, professional musicians are a little snobby and we believe that there is only one way to learn an instrument. Spending up to 8 hours a day practicing does tend to make one judgy when it comes to promises like ‘mastering the piano’.
We all get those annoying adverts on social media which promise to teach you to play guitar, master the piano or drums, or tips and lessons on how to become the next Beyonce. The empty promises quickly become apparent when you signup and, to be dramatic about it, dreams are shattered.
There are, however, some platforms that will get you what you want. These, of course, come at a price, and whether it’s worth it or not will only become clear once you have completed the course.
Before I started with the actual lessons, I did a bit of browsing and research on the platform. Pianote has a very active YouTube channel with frequent uploads of new songs, tips, and other great content. This includes a video story of Kaitlyn (from support) learning to play the piano which was inspirational for my ‘lab rat’, Marco.
Marco, my son, has never shown any interest in the piano and this made him the perfect candidate for testing the efficacy of the lessons on offer. It is a bonus point to Pianote that he ended up enjoying the lessons so much.
There are over 500 videos on the Pianote YouTube channel to help you and guide you on your journey to learning to play the piano, and they are of course all free. You will find plenty of song tutorials and other relevant content that will keep you busy for weeks.
All content is, however, aimed at beginner and intermediate pianists. The lessons, at times, oversimplifies the music but it is a great way for first-timers to learn something other than a crude version of Chopsticks. Pianote will give you something to play at family gatherings, but don’t expect to wow anyone with bravura playing.
That being said, the course content that comes with a subscription, offers an enormous quantity of learning opportunities covering various topics, genres, and techniques. This is one of the best features of the Pianote Method – it covers everything.
Pianote METHOD Membership
The Pianote lifetime membership will cost you $497. This will give you access to all the content, lessons, tips, and downloads on the site. As an additional bonus, you will get a free one-year subscription to Singero and Guitareo. The alternative is an annual subscription at $197 a year.
With the lifetime membership offer, you get access to a dizzying quantity of online lessons, songs, downloadable content, backtracks, and much more. On the homepage, you will find lessons on chording, technique, theory, and song tutorials.
This will also get you access to the ‘METHOD’, which is the main online learning platform of Pianote. This comprises 10 levels that will guide a student from the very first note on the piano, from beginner to intermediate level.
There is just so much to choose from as far as the video content goes and it all comes with downloadable materials that are a great help when learning to play the songs and read the music.
In short, I believe that for beginner pianists, this is well worth the price. You will not be running out of videos and lessons for a very long time.
The Pianote Method provides you with levels, which are organized into courses. Each course has several lessons which are 5 minutes or longer, depending on the lesson and level.
A great benefit is the inclusion of basic music theory – not only will you learn to play piano, but you will also learn to read music, understand rhythms, time signatures, and much more.
Forums are one of the best sections of any online learning platform, software, or shopping platform. This is where you get to ask all those ‘dumb’ questions that you just can’t find the answer to.
All the tips and secrets, shortcuts, and additional information can be found in forums. Pianote is no exception here.
Pianote offers several forums which are constantly busy and updated frequently. The main forum, and by far the busiest is the General Piano Discussion. There are also a Community Discussion, Student Progress, and Update & Feedback Discussion.
The Method in Short
The lessons start right at the beginning – which piano to buy. Lisa Witt, the teacher, in my opinion, did a very comprehensive introduction here. She touches on everything – acoustic vs electric pianos, weighted keys, and touch-sensitive action.
From this point, lessons progress very quickly, and it covers a vast ocean of information. A great option is the ‘mark as complete’ and ‘add to list’ functions. Lessons are not automatically marked as completed, hence, you get to decide when you have mastered a level.
Any lessons that you need to redo, you can simply add to a list for easy navigation later.
What the Lessons Cover
Almost everything you need to know when starting out will be covered. Just analyze your expectations and adjust them according to what the platform can offer. Some of the basics offered in the lessons include:
- Practice habits
- Major scales
- Power chords
- Chord progressions
- Major and minor scales and chords
- Sustained chords
- Diatonic Chords
- Diminished Chords
- 7th Chords
- Slash Chords
- Triad inversions
- Hundreds of songs
- Aural Training
- Sight Reading
- Chord chart reading
- Fills and Riffs
- The Circle of 5ths
There are currently 10 levels to work through in your quest to learn to play piano. The levels, in my opinion, are relatively well designed to enable any reasonably intelligent person to follow and learn.
Each level is divided into courses and the courses are divided into lessons. Lisa carefully adds new techniques and information with each lesson which is then applied to the songs you’ll learn for that level.
It progresses in a way that never makes you feel overwhelmed, according to Marco. While I ran through most of the lessons and levels quickly for a broad understanding of the method, Marco was steadily doing each lesson and repeating lessons where necessary.
The songs selected for the levels cover a wide variety of genres and time periods within popular music. Everything from Rock to Pop and even mood music is taught throughout the course. The first song, Let it be by the Beatles, is used for many lessons to help the student gain confidence.
There is also a Classical Course later on which gives a more comprehensive introduction to playing classical piano music, including style and performance. Several compositions by well-known composers such as Bach, Händel, Haydn, Mozart, Grieg, and Tchaikovsky are analyzed and studied.
The classical course is not aimed at creating tomorrow’s next superstar concert pianist, and you will not find a Martha Argerich or Vladimir Ashkenazy here. You will, however, get an idea of how classical music works and how to practice it.
I must note at this point that most of the music in this section was simplified a great deal.
From there you go into the Blues and Jazz piano where you will dive into Jazz chords and swing rhythms, walking basslines as well as some blues riffs.
The Teachers and Coaches
Up to level 6, you will be working with Lisa Witt only. At level 6 you meet jazz enthusiast Sam Vesely. There is also Cassi Falk who focuses on developing piano techniques. There are many other teachers and coaches that you will meet in the different sections of the learning platform.
Lisa Witt has been teaching piano for 19 years and has a relatively strong classical music background. She is also a singer and songwriter, and her enthusiastic but relaxed approach makes the lessons fun and interesting.
Combined, the 9 coaches on the platform boast 204 years of collective teaching experience. Among the coaches is Kenny Werner, an internationally recognized pianist, composer, author, and recording artist.
You will also meet Jay Oliver, a great pianist who has performed with the likes of Celine Dion and Sheryl Crow.
The Method in Detail
Each level consists of a few courses. Each course has several lessons divided into different sections. Members will start by learning a new technique. From there, the technique is expanded and used in the song featured for that lesson. Each course also has a theory lesson where all the information that have been discussed is notated and explained in detail.
Lessons are presented in a relaxed and easy style by Lisa Witt. Every part of the lesson is carefully explained and Lisa provides practice material for members to work on in their own time.
Lisa spends enough time on the geography of the keyboard – explaining how to locate middle c, how to find notes using the groupings of black notes, correct posture, and hand placement. This is very important for beginners to understand.
Each level features a song, or songs, which is where you put your newly acquired skills to the test. The lessons move along at a brisk pace however and many members will have to redo lessons a number of times to really understand and master the skillsets required to move forward.
In later levels, the infamous Hanon technical exercises are introduced. Hanon is believed by many to be a key to virtuoso playing. Its inclusion in the Pianote method is a good sign. Though the real benefits of Hanon exercises are disputed, you will increase technical ability and dexterity.
Lessons within the courses are divided into different categories for easy navigation. You can quickly access the section of a course that you struggled with, without having to search and scroll for hours on end.
This section covers the new technique and the song for the course. This includes the chords, melodies, and whatever new technique has to be learned to progress.
Theory and Ear Training
This is the last section of each course. In these lessons, you will learn theory, rhythms, and aural training.
This only comes later. Reading music is essential for any musician who wants to do work on stage, as a session musician at a recording studio, or with big bands or orchestras. The ability to read, understand, and play sheet music in front of you is an essential skill.
For me, this is a huge plus for Pianote. I have on occasion worked with very capable musicians who had flawless technique but were unable to read music. This wastes a great deal of time teaching the individual the notes.
Below the video of each lesson is a downloads tab. This is your link to all the course material covered in that lesson. Some lessons include more downloads than others. This is one of the better features of the method – providing downloadable material for members to use between lessons.
Backing tracks are provided for each song that you learn – from the very easy power chord songs at the beginning of Level 1 to the much more complex work of the later levels. Various backing track options are available: with Vocals, without vocals, with a guide track, or without.
Scales, chords, sheet music, and chord sheets are available as pdf downloads. Members can build a library of music while learning to play the piano on Pianote.
Each lesson also gives you an assignment to complete. Whether technical exercises or learning theory and songs, it is a great way to keep you going.
Additional Training Packs
Once you have completed the Pianote method, there is a great deal of additional content to learn from. In the navigation section, you will find Packs for example. This is where you can get into the detail of piano playing and music.
The Training Packs cover everything from increasing speed and control to Worship music and sight-reading. It also contains a 500 songs in 5 days section which promises to provide you with the tools to play any song ever written.
Another feature is the Courses section. This section gives you access to even more detailed lessons on a variety of topics and styles. Boogie Woogie Basics, Improv, Cocktail Piano, and so much more are available in this section.
This section, without doubt, is a huge drawcard for any online music teaching platform. The reason for learning to play an instrument is to enable you to play songs that you love. The library is already extensive and is still growing.
For each lesson that you complete, you will get XP. Unfortunately, this does not buy you anything new or special, but it does give you that extra motivation to keep going. In the time that I spent I managed to reach 43,406 XP, which earns you a ‘MASTER II’.
Managing your expectations is the key here. You must understand and accept that this platform does not aim to turn you into a master of the piano, but rather opens the doors and teaches you the basic skills to begin your journey as a pianist.
As Lisa Witt frequently reiterates, you are in control of your schedule. You decide how much time you want to spend on practice each day. That will be the deciding factor, more than anything else.
You will only ever be as good as the effort you put into it. But to be clear, if you stick to it and really put in the time, you will be able to play several songs, read music to a degree, and know your way around the keyboard.
In short, you will be well on your way to becoming a pianist once you have completed every lesson. You will have a basic understanding of technique, theory, and composition, and you will be able to continue your learning.