Can an App Replace a Teacher?
You may have noticed increasingly present on YouTube, instagram and other social media platforms are ads for piano teaching apps. Maybe it's just my algorithm, but almost every time I open one of these apps/websites, I see an ad for one of these new platforms.
I have also noticed an increased number of students coming to me after having begun learning using Simply Piano and other such apps, wanting to learn from a real teacher rather than a platform. Some students have continued with me, others have returned to the app.
Recent conversations with other piano teachers have gotten me thinking about these apps and how gamifying almost everything seems to have become such a normal aspect of our modern technology driven culture. Whilst this blog post is a discussion about these instrument learning apps, I want to be honest and up front - I have never and I will never use one of these apps myself. What I am writing is my own experience, what I have seen with students who have come to me for lessons after using these apps, and my own thoughts and opinions on this topic.
False sense of achievement
Learning an instrument is all about incremental progression. We don't begin teaching certain techniques before a student is ready for them. Whilst each teacher teaches differently, what I have noticed about these apps is that they give students a completely false sense of achievement - students can play songs and pieces but they do not understand the how and why of what they are playing. As a teacher, to me this poses a big problem because when students come to lessons telling me that they already know how to play songs hands together, with chords etc, they often cannot accurately sight read, use correct fingering (let alone understand why this is important), and they are often playing songs above their level as they have not yet developed the technical skills required by learning incrementally in order to play with good technique.
Gamifying piano playing
With the increases in technology in the home, iPads/tablets, phones, computers etc, tech companies have capitalised upon the psychology of gamifying, well, almost everything! Piano teaching apps are designed by their very nature to gamify learning an instrument - unlocking levels and songs gives students instant gratification and the serotonin hit that comes with using technology in such a way. Whilst this can be motivating for some students, it becomes an issue when they come to a piano lesson with a (human) teacher and suddenly, there are no flashing lights, sound effects and padlocks being unlocked. Students lack intrinsic motivation and therefore lose interest after a few lessons. Students also quickly realise that the rapid progress they were making on their app of choice suddenly slows down to a snail's pace as the teacher attempts to fill in the gaps of important technical skills that have been lost along the way.
Apps can still serve a purpose
Whilst the above seems like a list of cons and may appear like I am completely against apps - this is not the case. I believe that, alongside lessons and regular, targeted and goal driven practice, apps can be used as a way to supplement learning. The element of making music fun with these apps is definitely a positive, and when used correctly, can be a good way for students to supplement their lessons with songs of their choice. I do not recommend solely using apps without having actual piano lessons.
In the case of families who do not have access to a piano teacher for financial or geographical reasons, apps may be a way of introducing a child to music who may not have otherwise had the opportunity - for this reason I also think that apps can be positive. In these situations, I just hope that the child or student can eventually have access to a proper teacher who will help them to properly develop in their musical journey.
- Apps can be an 'easy in' to learning to play the piano for students who may not otherwise have opted for or had the opportunity for lessons.
- Used responsibly in conjunction with a teacher, they can be a fun way to
- In my experience, apps do not provide the fundamental technical skills necessary in order to properly play the piano.
- They often provide a false sense of achievement to students who think they are at a higher level than they really are.
- The gamification of learning to play an instrument can cause issues with lack of motivation when students do have in person lessons and are progressing at a slower rate, not 'kicking goals' all the time and 'unlocking levels'.
- Apps cannot fully replace a teacher.
Lastly, the fact that these apps market themselves as being able to take students from being total beginners to being maestros within a few weeks is utterly ridiculous and truly false advertising. It disheartens me to see these ads pop up on YouTube depicting people who clearly know already how to play the instrument, pretending to be beginners and suddenly becoming experts in a matter of weeks (according to the ads!). Please do not fall for this ridiculous marketing - learning an instrument and becoming an expert takes many, many years and hours and hours of dedicated practice and hard work. There is no app that will ever get you to that level of proficiency.