While it doesn’t rise to the same level as a menacing drill sergeant high school football coach or a creepy orthodontist, there does exist, in the annals of awkward adolescent stereotypes, that of the weird piano teacher.
I had one myself. A very kind gentleman who unfortunately had a strange undertaker-vibe about him. He was really old – like, 120 or something – had stained yellow teeth, wore a crumbled suit, and reeked of vodka. It was like he crawled out of a Dostoyevsky novel. Not the most conducive environment for learning your chords.
But in a way, I feel bad for him and his ilk. For just like travel agents and language instructors, they’re getting run out of town by the Internet; for an aspiring pianist nowadays, all you need is a keyboard, a good work ethic, and OnlinePianist.
OnlinePianist is an online repository of animated piano tutorials. Here you can find the largest index of online piano lessons for music of all genres, both highly popular recent songs and older. Many of the tutorials (those in the public sphere) include free piano sheet music and notes, piano chords table, lyrics and more. Pretty awesome.
The home page instantly grabs you, highlighting most recently-added songs while simultaneously accentuating the site’s impressive variety: I saw tutorials from Beyonce, Tchaikovsky, and a theme song to a Mario Brothers game. Given my love for epic, overblown chick-flicks, however, I had no choice but to select the tutorial for Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.”
I was taken to the tutorial page that showed me – you guessed it – a piano. I had the option of watching the tutorial either with both hands or the left and right separately. I could also choose the speed with which the tutorial, uh, tutored. I clicked the Play button, and off it went. The piano keys were flashing green (the left hand) and blue (the right hand), as it slowly made its way through this beautiful and heartfelt tune. As I struggled to watch the screen between the tears gently flowing from my eyes, I had two thoughts: one, hey, this doesn’t look so hard to learn after all, and two, true love is hard to find. When you do find it, you gotta hold on to it.
In addition to piano chords, the site also has a virtual library of sheet music. You can click on the Piano Sheets tab up top, and when you do, you’ll see a list of pieces with accompanying sheet music and better yet, the online piano tutorials I just mentioned. In addition to Canadian Ice-Queen divas, my other musical passion is ragtime, and I clicked on Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag,” and the sheet music instantly downloaded. (This is no small feat; unlike rock n’ roll tunes, it is traditionally a lot more difficult to get the chords for older songs, much less the sheet music.)
The piano chords page is also fantastic. Simply select a chord and the included notes in said chord lights up on the keyboard. A very helpful tool for folks who, y’know, happen to forget chords.
So to recap, we have the piano tutorials for each song, which you can take at your own pace and speed; we have a separate page to help you figure out the piano chords themselves; we have sheet music for songs in the public sphere, and – coolest yet – a Request Wall, where you can ask your fellow pianists to transcribe or create a tutorial for your song of choice (Bette Midler’s “The Rose,” anyone? Anyone?). The Request wall is a way to get tutorials for songs that recently came out. Bruno Mars, “The Lazy Song” is among the latest updates. (pictured above.)
OnlinePianist provides everything but the beta blockers to help you learn and perform these songs to perfection. And unlike paying for a piano teacher, these lessons are free. There’s no excuse.
But don’t get me wrong. While I had some ambivalent things to say about my previous teacher, real-human piano instructors can be cool, such as my most recent one. He was a patient, fun, and utterly brilliant guy. Yet when I told him I was cancelling my lessons via e-mail, he never wrote back. He never responded saying thanks; he never wished me luck. Bummed me out. In retrospect, he did have a surly streak, and to be honest, I think he was disappointed in me for quitting, which in turn, filled me with a queasy sense of shame.
So with that as a disclaimer, I encourage you to consider OnlinePianist, which provides everything you need to excel at playing piano.
Everything except the shame.