Review: The eMedia Piano Method steps up to the plate. Is it worthwhile?
(ShackMan | Posted 2011-05-27)
I don't exactly make it a secret that I really don't care for the idea of musical training software, and, beneath that, keyboards that claim to teach you how to play (like Yamaha's light-up abomination). If you haven't seen my ranting on the topic yet, check out our forums. In a nutshell my problems are two-fold:
I am, as with anything, willing to change my mind with a little new information, and I really got to like the eMedia Piano Method after a little fussing and fiddling with a microphone and a MIDI connection that the software didn't want to detect at first. By the way, if you have a keyboard with a MIDI connection or have a MIDI converter, use that over any microphone setup any time it's available. This is because while our brains can differentiate between sounds around us, computers barely can. So use a MIDI connection and make your life easier if you're going to be using the feedback and playback features, which, while they are helpful, also aren't anything to be relied on. That's not a fault that should be placed on eMedia, though, because honestly, the technology to do it perfectly with a microphone doesn't even exist yet. For what is available, they do a good job, but don't expect it to catch every nuance of your rhythm or every note you hit. Like I said, use a MIDI connection, preferably MIDI over USB. If you don't know what those are, look it up, or feel free to e-mail me. I'll be happy to help.
Once I got past that and delved into the lessons, I was happy from the start with the presentation. It's easy to navigate, lessons don't feel like they take oodles of time to complete, and it's all scaled progressively to have the same kind of addictive feeling as leveling up in an RPG video game. Irene, the instructor on the videos, give you a tour of the piano, tells you to take time with the lessons and learn them thoroughly, and show you the correct posture so that you don't have back or wrist problems later in life. These are very important lessons to learn early as a pianist, and I was glad eMedia put them front and center.
Now as I got into the first playing in the lessons (there's a short tour of the piano and all of its parts before you start playing), I noticed that there wasn't a grand staff. “Aha!” I said. “Now I have something to break them down on! Not even teaching players to read music!” Until I got a couple dozen lessons down the line, and there was the grand staff. It forced me to realize the ingenious method in which Irene and eMedia had introduced theory. They had begun simply with rhythm and pointing out that when one note is shown as higher than the other it will be further to the right on the piano and sound higher. Then they built on the basic principles of rhythm and added pitches to that by introducing the grand staff. I didn't even realize what they were doing at first, which makes me all the more impressed.
I would also like to commend their choice of songs for the natural difficulty curve and progression. This occurs across a whopping 314 lessons and a large index at the end. There is accompaniment for very close to all of the tunes to facilitate ear training as well as improvisation (which is one of the main foundations for really getting to know your instrument), and something that no pianist should have a reason to fear. The songs are a mixture of the classic learning pieces like “Allouette,” and “Go Tell Aunt Rhodie,” along with increasingly complex classical works from Vivaldi, Elgar, and Beethoven, and popular tunes like “Give My Regards to Broadway” and Billy Joel's classic “Piano Man.” I liked that the curriculum even provided later, more intricate versions of previously used tunes to show how to use different harmonizations to students, and hopefully spark some creativity therein.
That's really what you're buying with this Piano Course: a curriculum. You won't finish it in a week or a month, but it's an extended process into which you can put time, energy, and practice to get out a greater understanding of music and solid fundamental skills in the piano. As much as I was ready to knock it down on all of my usual points, I can't do that here, and for that I have to hand it to eMedia and Irene. Make no mistake, a computer program still can't listen to you or watch you play, so just like in weightlifting, having a “spotter” (perhaps a local musician) come by once in a while to see how you're doing is definitely recommended (and make sure to tip or put out a little food!). At the same time, whether it's on the computer or from a book, you still have to put the time and effort in to internalize the lessons and understand what you're doing. Much like an online college degree, you'll only get out of it what you put into it. Otherwise, it's just a certificate.
My own soapbox moments aside, this is a fantastic course, in some ways, and I'm sorry to say it, better than what some colleges are teaching to non-piano-majors in their basic piano courses. It's a strong curriculum and I'll be making use of it as a substitute in my own teaching. I'd advise both students and teachers to check this out. It's an easy and fun way to either teach yourself or add to your own program. As much of a fight as I put up trying it out, I have to give the eMedia Piano Course my full recommendation.
James Rushin is a bassist, keyboardist, writer, and composer living and working in the Greater Pittsburgh area. He has performed with Selmer artist Tim Price, Curtis Johnson, guitarists Ken Karsh and Joe Negri. His compositions have been featured in and around the Pittsburgh Area, and at West Virginia University and Valley Forge Christian College.
Got questions? Comments? James can be reached as ShackMan in the Music Gear Review forums, or you may e-mail him at James.Rushin@MusicGearReview.com.