Private lessons obsolete? - Can multimedia do the job?

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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Tue Nov 09, 2004 12:03 pm

Private lessons have been the paradigm for learning piano for at least two centuries. While this mode of learning has been unquestionably successful, the advent of personal computers, multimedia learning software, video technology, the Internet and a host of other technological advancements over the last 25 years have given prospective students many flexible new options for learning piano. Many of these are pedagogically sound, easy to use and offer advantages over private lessons, especially in areas of drill. Because the home user can employ these himself at whatever time works best for him, the offer an additional advantage of convenience. Multimedia tools are also typically less expensive than private lessons.

So, have technological improvements overtaken or do they threaten to overtake the private lesson as the piano learning paradigm? Are they attractive to you, as a student or do you prefer private lessons? Why? Are multimedia tools most valuable in conjunction with private lessons? If used with private lessons, how can the private teacher most effectively integrate them and in what areas can the student most benefit? What are the downsides of using them? Would you advise someone to teach himself to learn piano in one of these ways, without private lessons?
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Wed Nov 10, 2004 11:19 am

Multimedia tools will never equal one on contact with a live teacher until they can actually communicate in both directions. How can a computer correct a bad hand position, suggest a subtle ritard or crescendo in a certain place, teach differences of style between Scarlatti and Liszt, call for a little more emphasis on an inner voice, notice that a weak fifth finger is not supporting the bass line, judge whether unevenness in a scale passage is the fault of poor thumb activity or a weakly voiced hammer on the piano, spot muscle tensions the student is not even aware of, monitor agogics and other rhythmic subtleties as well as tempo, make subtle shifts in communication style in response to waning interest, nervousness, enthusiasm, or other moods on the part of the student, or.................I could go on all day with this.

Software programs can be valuable additions and even shortcuts to the private lesson, but we're a very long way from a thinking, feeling, empathetic and sensitive robot teacher. Music is still an art, not a strictly measurable and programmable technology.

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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Thu Nov 11, 2004 7:58 am

Anybody who has read any significant portion of PEP knows that we have advised all over the site that nothing can "replace" the private teacher for all kinds of good reasons, some of which Dr. Leland cited. Particularly for the student past the first year or so of training, the private teacher's role is critical. However, what I was trying to do with this "devil's advocate" question was provoke some thought and comment about a trend that is already apparent and will only become more pronounced as time goes on and as computers and multimedia become more capable.

Most students are just starting piano, and many leave studies after a relatively short period of a year or so. What does the private teacher say to those who feel that it's a better investment of their money to go with software, etc. than to spend it on lessons that the student may or may not develop an interest in and commitment to? There are some real advantages to computers in drill aspects of training and I can think of no a priori reason why they shouldn't be even more effective in a larger sphere of training in the future. I'm not arguing for the replacement of the private teacher, but wondering if teachers and students need to think about how things might be changing in the future and how they might take best advantage of the changes.
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Thu Nov 11, 2004 11:46 am

I should have gone on to say (but I thought I was already long-winded enough) that, not only can software be used creatively as an adjunct to the private lesson, but it often can be a first experience for someone who wants to dip his foot in the water without yet committing to a teacher. In fact, I have suggested that more times than I can estimate to would-be piano players who email us with queries. And many of the programs are really imaginative; they can be especially good with theory of various kinds.

But I sense a long-term danger here. Many of us fall repeatedly into the habit of equating successful learning with efficiency; the central mindset too easily becomes how to get another human being to manipulate sound-producing levers in the most proficient manner possible. It's a natural result of the technological age we live in, as are the public school improvement efforts with their emphasis on test scores ("high score = good student = good school"), the labyrinthine methodologies of many colleges of education, and so on. I think it's also one of the prime motivating forces behind the mad rush to competitions and the tendency of many judges to equate good music performance with accuracy and speed. (I'm not minimizing the need for technique here--I once dropped out for two years and did virtually nothing but, because my technique was a basket case.)

But music is not efficient. It takes slowing down and being willing to listen quietly, develop a deep appreciation of what can be heard in a great performance that really brings a work of art to life, try different things in one's own performance (even on the most elementary level!), and take time to savor it all. What are we trying to teach, anyway--only an athletic skill? I've always thought the main objective was to add the love and appreciation of music to people's lives, along with the skills to make some of it themselves.

I know about, and have experienced, the frequent pressures from parents (and students themselves) who want to see a quick and measurable result for their investment--that can be a major hassle, along with all the other things that seem to drown out the sense of beauty in our frantic age. (Whatever happened to those promises that technology was going to give everybody more leisure time?) And I'm aware that these thoughts betray my age and the training of an earlier generation. But I do think it's important to keep some of these things in mind as we all exchange ideas and try to be better teachers.

By the way, I see in another thread the search for The Perfect Method. Will 'perfect' mean "most efficient", or will it mean more than that?

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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Fri Nov 12, 2004 12:00 pm

As I see it, the question is not whether technology is "right" or "efficient" or "desirable" or even representative of the "future", but how we will use that technology to accomplish all the things we need to in teaching and developing an appreciation for music. A full appreciation for the beauty, let alone the transcendant quality, of music is not something gained in a day or a week, just as we don't learn to play piano in a day. Neither private teaching nor software can give that to us quickly.

History shows us that technology of all sorts rarely gives us more leisure time, per se, but, rather, allows us to do more with the time we have. Or, perhaps, the amount of work expands to fill the time available. Either way, we feel more pressed these days precisely because we can do so much more with that time than we used to be able to. We are constantly having to make choices of how to use our time as students and teachers. That process is occurring now and will accelerate over time. How many students have trouble finding time now for lessons and practice, in amongst all their other activities? Given that set of conditions, learning "efficiency" (construed to mean learning as much as possible in the shortest period of time) will be important in the future, just as it is now.

Teaching will change in the future, just as it has in the past (e.g. teaching in students' homes used to be standard; few teachers do it now). The question is whether, and how, teachers can best use the changes to benefit themselves and their students.
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Fri Nov 12, 2004 3:07 pm

Right, John--that's Parkinson's law, isn't it, about work expanding to fill the available time?

I hope I have made it clear that I have no quarrel with using technology as a tool in teaching--music as well as everything else. But your original question was, ".....have technological improvements overtaken or do they threaten to overtake the private lesson as the piano learning paradigm?" And the topic is entitled "Private Lessons Obsolete?"

Those phrases clearly (to me anyway) suggest a scenario in which the private one-on-one interchange between teacher and pupil might take second place, or even be done away with. That seems much more radical than today's ".....the question is.....how we will use that technology.....", or ".....whether, and how, teachers can best use the changes....." No argument there.

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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Fri Nov 12, 2004 3:29 pm

Dr. Bill Leland wrote:But your original question was, ".....have technological improvements overtaken or do they threaten to overtake the private lesson as the piano learning paradigm?" And the topic is entitled "Private Lessons Obsolete?"

Those phrases clearly (to me anyway) suggest a scenario in which the private one-on-one interchange between teacher and pupil might take second place, or even be done away with. That seems much more radical than today's ".....the question is.....how we will use that technology.....", or ".....whether, and how, teachers can best use the changes....." No argument there.

Bill L.

Yes, I phrased the question in that "extreme" manner for a couple reasons: First, none of us can predict exactly how much multimedia aids will develop what form they will take or how they will be used in the future. So, the only way to think about it is to assume that there is a possibility for maximal or near maximal use of technology in future teaching. Second, I doubt that we could have had much of a meaningful exchange if I had phrased the question "Will technology play a role in future teaching?" or something like that, given that it already plays an important role in many studios. It's precisely by considering the extreme positions, complete technology or no technology, that we can figure out what the issues are.

I never had any real doubt that you favor judicious use of technology. I'm hoping, though, that our discussion will motivate other parents, teachers and students to think about and comment upon this question.
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Fri Nov 12, 2004 5:55 pm

And now, folks--how about some comments from the rest of you? We would really like to know how many of you use multimedia technology as an adjunct to your private lessons, how long you've done this, to what extent, and what you most prefer in software programs. It would help us greatly in our reviews of the programs which come to us.

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Postby Lyndall » Fri Nov 12, 2004 7:26 pm

I'm sorry to say I've never used multi-media music programs except for a few excellent demos (freebies) at our summer camps. I'm still trying to figure out whether the cost can be justified for my relatively small studio of 18 & given that this fall I had a price rise. Plus, it seems hard enough for kids to find 45 mins a week for the lesson without tacking on a 15 min. computer lab. Guess I'm just assuming that the parents will not like the idea but have never actually asked them (yet).

My dream is for hour lessons including 15 mins. of un-supervised computer lab for theory work, since it's extremely hard to get (certain) kids to routinely complete their written theory. This might be the motivater they need, plus if they're required to attend they have no choice but to do it.

If I do implement this next fall, I'm not sure whether to increase the fee again to pay for the equipment - additional computer downstairs + software, plus my time setting up the whole thing & teaching kids.

_

Back to your original idea, I can see that having a program to use at home that shows you via video how to do a drill, then waits while you play it x times might be appealing to some, especially if you like a challenge, to score points etc.

But, I cannot see doing away with private teachers - for
me I enjoy the weekly interaction with my teacher, and my students do with me for the most part I think. I would never feel the same way about trying to impress a computer with the most beautiful rendition of x you've ever played! But my teacher's praise & encouragement is what keeps me going & inspires me to play as soon as I leave my lesson.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Fri Nov 12, 2004 8:22 pm

Lyndall wrote:If I do implement this next fall, I'm not sure whether to increase the fee again to pay for the equipment - additional computer downstairs + software, plus my time setting up the whole thing & teaching kids.

Interestingly enough, the technology exists now, and has existed for several years (built into Windows XP) for students to use your lab computer form their home computer at any time that works for them. It's called Virtual Private Networking and is widely used in business now. Basically the VPN software creates an encrypted "tunnel" through the Internet that allows any authorized user to sign onto the studio network computer from their home computer as if they were in the studio, using their internet connection. Because the network packets are encrypted, it's completely private.

All that's needed at the studio end is a computer that has a broadband internet connection and stays on most of the time. This technology allows students to get the theory instruction and other advantages of music software in the studio without having to spend their lesson time on it. It would work well with the software method that I've been discussing in another forum.

The point of this explanation is precisely the one I made in an earlier post: the technology is developing so fast that the way we think about lessons, computer labs and teaching materials could be changed. Perhaps we'll never want to do away with private teaching, but we can begin to think about teaching in a broader sense,especially for time consuming and standardized things like theory and drill.

These days it doesn't cost a lot to set up a lab. Decent computers are selling for under $500, with software packages at $70 - 100 (or less). Of course, there are other issues as well. Most of these are discussed in our article Setting Up a Computer Theory Lab. The technology is making possible some new ways of thinking about lessons. :cool:
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Postby pianoannie » Sat Nov 13, 2004 9:42 am

Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Editor wrote:Interestingly enough, the technology exists now, and has existed for several years (built into Windows XP) for students to use your lab computer form their home computer at any time that works for them.

All that's needed at the studio end is a computer that has a broadband internet connection and stays on most of the time. This technology allows students to get the theory instruction and other advantages of music software in the studio without having to spend their lesson time on it.

Wow, I will definitely have to look into this. It's been just the past few months that I've been using my computer in my studio for students to do some extra drills, theory games, etc. I've also given the students the web addresses for some theory sites for extra practice at home, but I had no idea that they could access my computer and my software at their own home. Very cool indeed.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Sat Nov 13, 2004 12:23 pm

pianoannie wrote:Wow, I will definitely have to look into this. It's been just the past few months that I've been using my computer in my studio for students to do some extra drills, theory games, etc. I've also given the students the web addresses for some theory sites for extra practice at home, but I had no idea that they could access my computer and my software at their own home. Very cool indeed.

You can find out about Virtual Private Network technology in Windows XP just by clicking on Start, Help and then typing "VPN" into the search box. You find many entries that explain how to set it up and how it works. Of course, there is also lots of info on the web, which you can find through Google or any other search engine. A few years ago this was new, "hot" technology, but is now so well established that most people can use it, if they have a basic understanding of networking.

If you do this, you'll definitely want to take a look at our article on setting up a computer lab. The link is in one of my earlier posts in this thread. :cool:
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Postby 119-1097335655 » Sun Nov 14, 2004 6:01 pm

I think it highly likely that the use of multimedia tools as supplementary aids to private lessons will increase as the technological and theoretical - the practical - capabilities of hardware and software grow, however, I don't see the private lesson ever being altogether done away with in favor of these tools.
Music and, more importantly, our human way of enjoying it is too particular to our own biological, psychological and cultural makeup; as long as the replication and creation of music remains dependent on Man's innate preferences, it seems unlikely that a tool, no matter how complex or multifaceted, will serve to entirely replace human teachers in matters of aethetics - unless those tools appreciate to the point that they are themselves people...
Directly related to this is our own perception of What is Musical - a question that experts have yet to answer (I wonder if they ever will...) I read a university study not too long ago (Expressive Timing in Schumann's "Traumerei": An analysis of performances by Graduate Student Pianists; Haskins Laboratories 1995) that suggested that much of what we percieve as Highly Musical is, in fact, extremely subtle variation in timing and rythm. What leads a professional musician to select, stumle upon, or invent a given interpretation of a piece - being more intuitive than analytical in nature, and contingent on the unique combination of experiences, personal history, and biological birthright of the individual - is not likely to be appreciated any time soon by One Size Fits All software. And this lends further credence to the claim that the Individual Lesson is here to stay for yet a while longer. Although it does, also suggest the possibility that it may, in the not so distant future, become less commonplace for certain types of intermediate students.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Mon Nov 15, 2004 9:08 am

wouldbewarrior wrote:I think it highly likely that the use of multimedia tools as supplementary aids to private lessons will increase as the technological and theoretical - the practical - capabilities of hardware and software grow, however, I don't see the private lesson ever being altogether done away with in favor of these tools. ...

Although it does, also suggest the possibility that it may, in the not so distant future, become less commonplace for certain types of intermediate students.

Yes, I think this comment is very on point. I doubt that we'll ever see software replace private lessons for reasonably advanced students. However, it will probably become increasingly important for beginning and intermediate students. I agree that software can't do everything, although it can do a lot now and will be able to do more and more in the future. Ideally, private lessons can be supplemented with good software, properly monitored by a good teacher. The effect of this is to help the student progress faster to the point where he begins to actually "make music" as opposed to just worrying about striking the right keys and underdstanding the basics of theory, as is the case for most beginning students.
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Postby pianoannie » Mon Nov 15, 2004 9:53 am

Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Editor wrote:... it will probably become increasingly important for beginning and intermediate students. I agree that software can't do everything, although it can do a lot now and will be able to do more and more in the future. Ideally, private lessons can be supplemented with good software, properly monitored by a good teacher. The effect of this is to help the student progress faster to the point where he begins to actually "make music" as opposed to just worrying about striking the right keys and underdstanding the basics of theory, as is the case for most beginning students.

And this ties in very well with points I have raised recently about the cost-effectiveness of one-on-one teaching (be it piano, school courses, or anything). Students can drill and review notes names and other concrete music concepts at home, rather than one-one-one with me during lessons. This obviously frees up more lesson time for me to teach the more abstract, emotional aspects of making music, technique, practice strategies, and problem solving. And I am excited about continuing to make that transition in my own studio as I become more knowledgeable and comfortable with the technology to do these things.




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