Photo by Omar Prestwich on Unsplash

How to choose an online music learning platform?

Navigating the online learning scene could be quite time-consuming (and intimidating!). I’m not a fan of online learning as a base. I think when you first started, the old school way with traditional in-person class works best. Once you get to the intermediate level, you can incorporate a hybrid model of in-person & online learning. When you’re more advanced, you can fly solo learning online. It also depends on what instrument you’re learning. The piano, with the pedal and the sensitivity of the touch, gives the instrument a lot more nuances than simply hitting the right note. 
However, with all the convenience and efficiency that online learning offers, I encourage you to follow this framework before committing to a platform: 

1. Articulate your learning goal 

If you don’t know where you want to go, then it doesn’t matter which path you take.

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland.

Stay realistic and specific. Learning a new musical instrument is a broad goal. Try narrow it down to “Play 10 songs on the piano” for example. Keep in mind that your goal is dynamic, it will change, grow and adapt as you make progress in your learning.  If you’re more intermediate/advance, try: 

  • Write X songs about ABC. 
  • Record and publish one song a month.
  • Play Jazz and Blues

This list will give you direction when looking into the teaching curriculum. If you have a certain genre of music in mind, go for it, eliminate the noise. 

2. Consider your learning style 

The knowledge about music (music theory, foundation, etc) is universal, but the delivery of that knowledge is what sets apart different learning platforms. And some might fit you better than the other. 
The learning style in music is actually a bit different from other generic test. Scroll through to page 5 of this publication to identify which group you can relate to.  I do notice that there is lots of fuzzy areas around learning style, but normally your primary style shows strong tendency. Acknowledge your strengths, and find ways to incorporate a hybrid learning method to get the most values out of your learning session. 

For example, my primary learning style is tactile: I stroke the notes while thinking. During music theory lesson, I’m unlikely to be able to visualize the chord progression, so I always need to sit down at the piano to play. My secondary style is auditory. I’m able to play by ear and distinguish the perfect pitch. Visual is my weakest style: I can sight read because I was trained in the beginning, but that’s not something I lean toward in the first place. I won’t be able to catch up with an audio narrative about the forming the chords in blues or jazz, but if I have something printed in front of me, that’ll take the mental math out of my work, and I’ll be alright. 

A good online learning option for me, therefore, would be a website that has clear, visible chord annotation on the screen (not thru audio narrative), and the camera should focus on the keyboard. Once I got a glimpse of how the fingers are placed on the keyboard, I can imitate very fast, and start improvising without the need of mechanical explanation of piano finger technique. 

Are you a social or solitary learner? 

While I do like the aspect of social learning, I require equal time to try things on my own first. After practicing on my own, I like to take inputs from other players, learning how they interpret a certain phrases.  Some websites tend to do better on the community building side. However, if you can’t get the social aspect from the learning platform, look for some complimentary outlets: Meetup, practice with a friend, live local events, etc. 

3. Recognize your learning pace 

Reflect on your pace when you learn something new in general, not specifically for music. How much guidance do you need? How fast do you progress? 

Answering these questions provides guidance into choosing the right size of learning materials for you. Lots of websites boasted on the number of lessons, songs, or video duration, and charge more for a premium. While the number might sound impressive, don’t confuse quantity with quality. If you are already capable of playing a few songs in the past, having a vast media library of basic concepts could be quite distracting. You might only need to look for specific improvements. If you’re slow and on the newer side, it does take a long time to get through the learning materials, so don’t oversubscribe! 

Not all good instrumentalist make a good teacher. Watch a few videos to decide for yourself whether the instructor’s approach fits you. Is his/her flow understandable? Does he/she flies through many concepts while you’re not able to get a hang of it first?A compact, concise video that you might have to pause and replay several times, could be a lot more efficient than a lengthy video to explain only one concept.   

4. Weight in both learning paths and tactics 

People who navigate the self-taught path, playing song to song, from free videos on the internet will find themselves constantly searching for tactics (e.g: How to switch chords faster, how to use the pedals, etc.). However, I recommend starting out with a learning path first, so you get the basic cover before you zealously jump into any tips or tricks. The key of learning an instrument, is to be able to take a concept, play it for a couple of times until you’re familiar with the mechanics, then replicate it in other scenarios. I also find that tips and tricks are very easy to find on Youtube for free, but a systematic way to learn is much more difficult to find. 
You don’t want to sink into bad habits that become irreversible. 

5. Look for accompanying resources 

Apart from tutorial videos, look for backing tracks, music sheets, ebook, summary note, song books, audio files, etc. Is the learning platform an app, or only web-based? Would you be able to learn on idle time (e.g waiting for the plane to board)? 

6. Prioritize time and fit over cost. 

Learning online is a lot cheaper than in-person learning, and most platform has the subscription or pay-as-you-go model, so your upfront cost investment isn’t a burden. Worst case, you can always back out, and switch to free youtube videos. 

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Now that you’ve done your due diligence, comment below and let me know what learning software/website/app work best for you? 

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