There is a myth (mainly perpetuated by piano teachers) that if you learn to play piano on a MIDI keyboard, and particularly if you learn in the absence of a human teacher, e.g. with a piano lessons app such as Musiah, you will be taught to play ‘mechanically’ and without emotion.
As part of providing a solid musical foundation, Musiah places emphasis on such fundamentals as being able to play in time with a beat or backing track, particularly in the beginning levels.
Sometimes this is misconstrued or misrepresented as lending weight to the above myth.
I think it’s important, however, to understand that one shouldn't place too much emphasis on expressiveness in the early stages while students are developing the more basic skills of reading notes, finding the keys, developing coordination, developing their timing, etc.
When Beethoven famously said “To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable”, I’m quite sure he was not referring to beginners tunes like ‘Hot Cross Buns’ or ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’.
After all, what emotion would be appropriate for Hot Cross Buns?
In support of teaching students to play in time... one of the most common errors made by students who have learned with traditional piano teachers is to slow down at the difficult sections and speed up in the easy parts which is often glossed over or deemed acceptable because it is incorrectly seen as "expressive".
While I of course understand the importance of being able to play expressively (when students reach that stage), Musiah is about giving students the necessary and proper foundation to develop a skill set that will enable them to ultimately go on to play in virtually any style after they have finished the course.
There are of course many online programs that permit students to advance even if their timing is not very accurate. Leaving aside that this is not good for their timing, will such an approach necessarily result in them playing more expressively? In my experience, no.
Speaking from personal experience, as a young boy, I initially learned on a non-touch sensitive keyboard (because we didn’t own a piano when I first started learning). And I can assure you that this in no way impacted on my ability to play expressively later on in my musical development.
For students who are learning on a MIDI keyboard or digital piano, these points are honestly not going to apply as much as they might if the student is practicing on an acoustic piano.
Other than dynamics (loud / soft), it is the nature of MIDI instruments that they will be in some respects more limited expressively than an acoustic piano.
Additionally, coming back to my point about basics first, then polish... in the time when I used to run Australia's largest in-school keyboard music program, I hired and trained more than 800 piano teachers over an 18 year period.
And in that time, it constantly surprised me just how many pianists who can play with wonderful 'timbre / color' struggle to play some of the more rhythmic pieces near the end of the Musiah course.
Had they been exposed to stricter instruction re timing in their younger years, they would still have been able to play expressively — but they would also have been able to play in time.
Yes, I absolutely believe it can — based on the emails and communications I receive from students who have completed the Musiah course, many of whom comment on how having a good grounding / foundation in the basics of notes and timing, they can now play songs / pieces they have always wanted to learn – and do so with feeling and expression.
One such student is Ali Hussain. In this video, Ali plays Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata (slow movement) which he taught himself using the skills he learned from his Musiah piano lessons.
What this video shows is, in my view, an example of a Musiah student playing with considerable musicality and expressiveness — particularly for a student who has only been learning for three and a half months.
As the video shows, unless you are at a very high level, you don't need a piano teacher to show you how to play expressively. It comes from within.
But the basics / foundation – it's is hard to find a traditional piano teacher who can give this to you properly unless you are willing to pay them big bucks over many, many years.
By contrast, Musiah is very effective and cost-effective at giving you a very good foundation in the basics — and you will most definitely be able to play expressively by the time you have completed the course.
If you, dear reader, would like to see just how effectively and quickly Musiah piano lessons can help you advance your note-reading and playing skills, why not take our 14 Day Free Trial.
And of course, if you have any questions for me personally, please feel free to contact me HERE.
Thanks for reading,
Brendan Hogan L.Mus.A, A.Mus.A.
Piano Teacher & Musiah Inventor
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