Why you shouldn’t use music apps to learn an instrument

Viktoriya Rossini Peneva, head of music at Blackheath Music Academy in London, ha strong views about people who think they can learn to play from an app.

She has eight reasons why you really need a teacher.

Here’s one of them:
With digital resources you are always pushed to ‘go to the next level’, but music is not only about correct notes and playing with no mistakes. In other words, it is not a computer game, it is an art, a philosophy, a state of mind! What is really behind those notes? Can digital apps teach you that? Be careful, if you do a mistake digital apps, most of the times, aren’t teaching you the ‘why’ you do the mistake (limits) or how you can avoid it next time (strength). You need a real music teacher for that!

And here are the rest.

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  • If more people learn an instrument, that’s a good thing. Personally I am a terrible pianist and have very little talent. I like to play Bach and I know I am bad, but I do it for the enjoyment. It is like playing a club cricket match, its about taking part, not technique. Now some people who would never go to music teacher (in my case a waste of money) but would experiment with an app. A few of those will go on to go to a teacher.

    While I do appreciate that apps will impact teachers incomes but that is offset by the overall increase of numbers playing.

    • You would be much better off finding one of those rare beasts, a REALLY GOOD teacher who specialises in adult beginners. They won’t come cheap and will be worth every penny!

      • A lot of people seem to treat “enjoyment” and “technique” as mutually exclusive. This need not be the case. With good technique, playing at any level becomes more enjoyable. Of course, those who practise more tend to make more progress. But a good teacher can find ways of helping the “casual” pupil make more effective use of the limited practice he/she undertakes, as long as the pupil is realistic and candid about his/her level of commitment.

        In my experience of teaching pianoforte to both children and adults, the main barriers to success among adult beginners are: their feelings of embarrassment; and not having an instrument (not even an electronic substitute) at home. I do my best to put them at their ease, and to give helpful guidance that reflects their circumstances (including suggestions for useful exercises that can be done without an instrument, where applicable). I am very patient, and avoid being judgemental. But ultimately, most of them seem to struggle to surmount the embarrassment they feel at their rudimentary ability, and drift away (this is probably not helped by my ‘pay-as-you-go’ model and the fact that I am relatively young). Some are hostile to my tactful suggestions to try exercises that involve ‘reduction’ or simplification (despite my assurances that such exercises are useful at *any* level). It is a pity, because adults tend to be much faster learners intellectually (children, on the other hand, have the advantage of having fewer bad habits when it comes to posture).

  • I disagree, an app allows the student to follow her/his enthusiasm, delights and develop their own sense of musicianship, whatever that maybe. Teachers can be great, but as soon as a teacher gets bored the student is totally stuffed. No bad students in the world just unmotivated teachers. An app can keep you motivated. All would be musicians do whatever you can to play music…ideally find a way to make music with other people, great teachers do exists but look hard. Also always sing, sing when you play, sing for it’s own sake, join community choirs, and choirs. Just sing songs you love…enjoy singing.

  • People taking up an instrument have different and often quite specific goals and there may be some, perhaps many, for whom learning to play from an app, or some other tutorial method that does not involve a teacher being there with them, gives them everything they need and want if they reach that goal, no matter that more was possible. These are people who do not seek to reach the heights or even mildly elevated levels. These are, in other words, people who exist but are not the reason schools and conservatories exist.

    And Lord knows that there are teachers out there who can snuff out any spark of interest in the instrument or in continuing within the first few lessons. My own late teacher was of that sort. I knew how to play before I went to him, and he understood exactly what I wanted to do with the instrument and why, so I guess I was the exception (for 38 years of lessons!) but he was just awful, screamingly awful, with beginners (as I could hear through the door while waiting for my lesson — and all too often the parents were out there listening with me).

    He went through beginners like facial tissue and after a while the conservatory just stopped sending new students to him because they knew the kids would just be more cannon fodder for his “NO! NO! NO!”-based approach. And he was also bad with experienced players, some quite talented, who did not or would not share his biases about how the instrument was to be held and played, or his admittedly bizarre notions of fingering a part. My own wife, an accomplished professional, went to one of my lessons in my place to work on some audition material, and she told me “never again.” He could not grasp the notion of a precise and limited goal. They never even got to the music in an hour because he obsessed about something concerning her right elbow.

    Compared to a teacher like that, an app might enable this or that student to actually play some music before they quit.

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