Thinking of learning piano with a piano learning software or an app? Then read this first because there are a few things you should know.
Is piano learning software a good way to learn the piano?
It’s free (or inexpensive), it’s quick, it’s easy, it’s convenient. So why not? It’s the way of the future, isn’t it? Everybody else uses it.
Many people nowadays seem to believe that you can learn the piano with piano learning software or apps. You just need technology that tells you when you make mistakes and that’s it. That’s all you need. You don’t need a teacher. You can just use technology.
What you might not realise, however, is that these piano learning software and apps present numerous disadvantages that can be detrimental to your overall learning and playing.
Here are the problems I see.
You’ll only learn the notes and rhythm
Playing the piano (or any other instrument) doesn’t just mean playing the notes and the rhythm. There’s SO much more to playing music than that. Music can’t and shouldn’t be reduced to just notes and rhythm.
What about HOW you play? What about dynamics, articulation, rubato? In other words, what about musicality? Can technology teach you this? Can it detect wrong posture, a bad technique, bad fingering, poor phrasing, too much pedal or poor musical taste?
Not that I know of… At least, not for now. Maybe it’s coming. But until then, technology is limited to just telling you whether you pressed the right keys or not.
You won’t learn certain skills
Another problem I see with piano learning software and apps is that it robs you of certain skills that are required to become a good musician.
If technology can detect mistakes for you, then there’s no need to listen to yourself or assess yourself, right? You can just let the software do it for you. But then, how do you develop the skill of listening and assessing yourself, which are two very important skills for developing musicianship?
Interactive piano software that gives instant feedback has become so widespread that people wanting to learn piano expect it. They think it’s the norm, how it should be. And if an app or a platform does not offer this feature, they complain, not realising that the “lack” of this feature is intentional.
It’s been left out for a reason, and a very good reason.
Some developers, me included, still believe that the “old” way of learning an instrument, that is, with a teacher, not a piece of software, is far more beneficial in the long term than quick-fix solutions like technology.
Technology is great if you just want to learn a handful of “songs”, but it won’t teach you HOW to play the instrument and it certainly won’t get you to a decent level.
You won’t learn to read music
Most of the piano learning software or apps don’t teach you how to read music. Yes, some include music notation on the screen but most display a virtual keyboard showing you which keys to press.
Unless you have the option of turning off this feature, you’re going to end up looking at the highlighted keys or those vertical bars, not the music.
You won’t really learn
Developers of these software and apps claim that it’s the easy way of learning the piano. It certainly is. But when has “easy” ever been the way to learn a skill, I mean, REALLY learn it?
If you truly want to learn something, you have to use your brain, think for yourself and come up with solutions. You need to make neural connections. If everything’s done and worked out for you, what are you actually learning?
You’ll become dependent on it
Piano learning software and apps keep you dependent on them because the moment you try to learn a piece of music without the software or the app, you’re stuck.
You’ll be asking yourself all sorts of questions like: “Which keys do I press?” “What note is that?” “What does that symbol mean?” “How is it meant to sound?” “What fingers am I supposed to use?” etc. And so the only way to keep “learning” will be to go back to the software or app.
You’ll be learning by rote
Learning piano with software or apps is essentially rote learning. You’re learning by rote, meaning that you memorise information based on repetition.
As Leon Ho, founder and CEO of Lifehack, explains in this article on rote learning, “The learner needs to constantly reinforce a certain bit of knowledge and this repetition stifles thought exploration and creativity when finding answers to a problem.”
He goes on to say that “… it is very important to recognize that rote learning is not the most effective way to learn most things. Meaningful learning, where the learner is taught to question, analyze, and arrive at a solution from a different angle is how true learning takes place.”
Sadly, I think that developers and teachers that still believe in the old ways are a dying breed. We’re being replaced by these accurate but emotionless subpar machines (and it’s happening across all industries…).
To make matters worse, these learning software and apps are becoming available for other instruments like the violin! I can’t imagine how anyone could learn to play the violin this way….
But hey, maybe we should just give in and join the trend, “jump on the bandwagon”, as they say. Let people realise for themselves how unhelpful this technology really is.
But I’m not ready to give up just yet. I believe there are still people out there (you included?) who want to learn properly from a teacher, who want to play musically with a good technique, and who want to learn for the long haul.
That’s why I will keep teaching sight-reading. It’s the only antidote I see.