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Piano Education Page 20th Anniversary

 

by John M. Zeigler, Ph.D.
Rio Rancho, NM USA

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he Piano Education Page (PEP) celebrates 20 years on the World Wide Web in 2015. When I started PEP with a piano teacher in 1995, I was an early middle-aged man. Now, I'm officially a "senior"! The time with PEP has flown and most of it has been wonderful, amazing, and gratifying. Although the Internet has changed immensely in that period, PEP has preserved its focus - to be a free, educational, unbiased and comprehensive resource for pianists, teachers, students, parents and lovers of the piano. I hope that the many millions of people who have visited the site in that 20 years have found it as useful and valuable as it has been fun and challenging for me to write and operate. I will reflect here on PEP's 20 years on the web - and some of what may come in the future.

keyinfo.gif (1045 bytes)People want to learn to play piano because they want to understand, play and even create music.

The Piano and the Internet

When I started PEP with a piano teacher 20 years ago, it was just about the only general-use piano education site of any consequence available anywhere on the Internet. Now, there are literally tens of thousands of piano and piano education-related pages, nearly all of which are valuable to at least some piano fans. Even with that much "competition", the over 1000 pages of the original content of PEP continue to be read widely. The site visit statistics indicate that the pages are read by people in just about every category of interest in the piano, from literally all over the world.

The Spanish language version, The Piano Education Page en Español has its own audience. I have long hoped to expand it and, also, to locate native speakers of other languages who are willing to donate their time to translate PEP into idiomatic versions of Spanish and other languages. If you are willing to donate time to such a large project, I would like to hear from you. Both PEP and the Español version have benefited in the past from the insights of many pianists and piano educators. Their expertise and time contributions have been invaluable, then and now.

Even with all the "competing" sites that have developed over the 20 years of its existence, PEP has won over 50 awards. Although I'm certainly happy about those awards, what I find far more satisfying is the degree to which many others have made numerous valuable and unpaid contributions to the site, merely out of love of the piano and piano teaching. The willingness of these talented and busy people to donate their time to help others gives me some degree of confidence in the future of humanity. Although I have publicly thanked those contributors many times on the pages of PEP and elsewhere, I wish to express again my deep gratitude for their work appearing on PEP. The site simply wouldn't be what it is without those contributions of articles and interviews. You can find a listing of the site article contributors on our Credits page; a listing of those who have been interviewed for PEP is on PEP's Interviews page. In the first ten years of PEP's existence, I also had to depend upon the generosity of those who were willing to donate server space for the site. I thank them, too - especially in light of the fact that some of them donated a good deal of of their time to that effort, as well.

Site Operations

I wrote extensively about the workings of the site in honor of the tenth anniversary of the founding of The Piano Education Page in The Piano Education Page - Ten Years On, and somewhat less extensively in 15 Years of the Piano Education Page. The operation of the site hasn't changed a great deal since then, although the amount of content on the site continues to grow. Thus, just keeping up with the existing content takes more time than it used to. I have always run PEP in "stolen" time from my consulting business. Sometimes, as in the past few years, it has been difficult even to find time, let alone steal it. Nonetheless, I have fairly regularly updated the site - as often as I can, given my other responsibilities.

I describe in the Ten Years On article the update process for PEP. Those updates include complete site rewrites every few years to freshen the appearance of the site and improve usability. In its twenty years of existence, I have upgraded and updated the site about 300 times!

Because there are a number of "best of web" type print books out there which include screen images of PEP at very different stages in its evolution, I thought it might be worthwhile for the 20th anniversary to put together a page, The Piano Education Page Looks Through Time, which shows screen images of the home page at various times over its 20 years. To whet your appetite, I include an image of the first version of PEP, Opus 1, Number 1, from 1995 at right. This and several others were written directly in HTML code. I'm glad I don't have to do that anymore!

You are hereby notified that the journey through all of PEP's looks over the years may not be for the faint of heart or the design-inclined! However, it is suitable for children. I am the culprit behind all of these designs for PEP, even though I have often sought input and ideas from others.

One aspect of the operation of the site which the Ten Years On article doesn't discuss much is the sheer volume of time I have spent creating original graphics. Although PEP is, by no means, the most graphic-dense of my 4 major web sites, I have created over 700 graphics for it in its 20 years, with another 50 or so for The Piano Education Page en Español. Some are scans or screen shots of the sort just above which can be done relatively rapidly, but most take an hour or more of work each to get "right". The twelve screen images on The Piano Education Page Looks Through Time took about 10 hours to assemble the data from backups and create. For example, the process for creating the screen shot above was:

  1. Find and assemble from backups that site version
  2. Load home page into a browser
  3. Cut out the home page image and copy it to clipboard
  4. Paste from clipboard into graphics program
  5. Reduce image size from near full-screen to the one shown
  6. Sharpen the now fuzzy image
  7. Add edge and shadowing
  8. Save the final graphic

I mention the importance of creating graphics for those who aspire to start their own sites. Plan on spending some serious time in creating original artwork - or running some equally serious copyright infringement risks if you appropriate artwork of others.

Paying the Bills

For most of its existence, PEP hasn't generated any income at all. Virtually everyone involved with the site has worked unpaid. Probably the hardest decision I have ever made regarding the site was to allow ads on it in 2009, after 14 years of running the site without any income source whatsoever. Ad rates on the Internet are so low now that the ad income doesn't pay for much more than the costs of running the site, but at least these no longer have to come solely from my pocket. I have tried to target the ads as much as possible to things our visitors might find interesting or useful, though I occasionally see some whose relationship to the site I can't quite fathom. I have had very few complaints from visitors about the ads, so they seem to interfere little with the visitor experience. Recognizing that children should not be merchandised, ads do not appear on any of the kids pages.

Changes and Opportunities

PEP will continue to grow and address new topics of interest to those with piano-related and other musical interests. The PEP Forums are one of the best ways for people to be heard. Although they have been less active in my near, and unplanned, absence over a good deal of the last few years, I hope that others will take advantage of the opportunity offered by them. There are other forums on piano, but few as committed to the issues of piano and music education as this one. If you care about piano and piano teaching, let others know on the Forums. There have been several occasions when posters to the Forums have distinguished themselves in the quality of their posts to the point that I have asked them to write for PEP. They have never done anything less than a great job.

Digital music hardware and software have improved so much that they have literally changed the landscape of what can be done musically and educationally. This is true even for those (including me) who feel that the acoustic piano will never be equaled by digital instruments. Indeed, I can think of very few reasons why equaling the acoustic piano should even be considered a goal or paradigm for digital instruments. We are fortunate that they are similar enough to the acoustic piano that many of the approaches used to teach acoustic piano are applicable to digital instruments. I hope to bring a little more focus to the topic of how to become better acoustic pianists and digital keyboardists, using the new tools available now.

The opportunities for listening to music virtually anywhere have never been greater, with the widespread use of MP3 music players (e.g. iPod, etc.) and the similar functionality integrated into smartphones and tablets. Because these devices have an array of sensors, including microphones and speakers, built into them, they are being developed rapidly as I write this for an array of scientific and technical applications which previously required very expensive scientific instruments and software running on desktop computers. One of the topics I intend to take up in the coming years is the use of smartphones and tablet computers in musical applications. This area has burgeoned in the last five years and, in my view, is still under-exploited by most teachers and students. If you can learn elements of music in your spare time on a device you carry with you most of the time, why not do it?

As implied by my comments in the previous paragraph, PEP will never forget the acoustic piano. Learning to play the acoustic piano is a goal and a source of comfort and enjoyment for untold millions. Its importance is slowly waning as costs for acoustic pianos continue to go up, while those for increasingly capable digital instruments continue to drop dramatically. However, it will remain a part of the music world for a long time to come.

Why Piano?

Learning to play the piano has never been an academic exercise ("it's good for you") for most people, even if their parents have "forced" them to do it. People want to learn to play piano because they want to understand, play and even create music. All the new avenues which have opened up for doing these things in addition to the acoustic piano suggests that opportunities, both financial and artistic, exist for those teachers who see themselves more as "music teachers" than "PIANO teachers". In that approach, lessons become a vehicle for teaching the wonders of music, not simply the playing of the acoustic piano. This means that the teacher must find out the interests of the student and conduct lessons accordingly, rather than simply teaching every student the same things in the same way. I have made this argument too many times, since the very beginning of PEP, to fully advance it again here, but I believe that developments in the 20 years of its existence have shown the truth of it.

This is one of the most important reasons that we have never tried to "teach piano" on PEP. Rather, we have tried to start a discussion about the importance of experiencing the benefits of good music, with the piano as an important step in that direction. Music teachers play such a critical role in achieving that goal that we have devoted a great deal of our writings on PEP to helping teachers be successful in their music businesses, both financially and educationally. I hope that PEP has helped teachers and can help, in a small way, to expand the ranks of those who not only appreciate piano, but good music generally.

"One in a Million"

Only the tiniest fraction of sites on the Internet from 20 years ago, especially non-profit ones, can celebrate 20 years in existence, as the overwhelming majority of sites from that time have long since gone away. When I started PEP 20 years ago, there were "only" about half a million web sites. Most of those were one or two pages in length and are gone. Now, the number of sites is estimated at around one billion, with about 5 billion web pages. PEP has survived so long because those who started and contributed to it felt it was important and those who visited it found it useful. It has been a privilege for me to be associated with it and with them.

I would be happy to hear from anyone who has comments about the site on the occasion of its 20th anniversary. Just fill out our comments form to send them to me. Thank you for visiting PEP during its emerald anniversary year. Join us in 2015 for more good music and more ways to learn about music and enjoy it.

 

 
 
 
 
Page created: 1/8/15
Last updated: 09/06/15
 
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Reprinting from the Piano Education Page The Piano Education Page, Op. 10, No. 1, http://pianoeducation.org
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