Thanks to new technology a beginning
musician in California can take learn how to play the piano or guitar from a
teacher in Maine, or even Spain and for a lot less than in-person music
Need spawned the first of these ventures. In 1995, Andrew Mercerís best
friend and fellow musician moved away to take a job at a university.
"Our collaborations, our compositions, all of our music stopped, so I
went to the Internet to see if there was any type of technology out there to
allow two musicians to connect and collaborate over the Net," said
Mercer of St. Johnís, Newfoundland, Canada. "And there was nothing
Mercer developed the necessary software and concentrated on uses for his
new technology. "Up to that point, people had never been able to take
music lessons in a fully interactive fashion while physically
separated," he added. "Now they can play their keyboards and the
teachers on the other end can stop them and demonstrate to the student on
their keyboard what the student should be playing."
Taking lessons on the Net is fully interactive. The student plays his or
her keyboard and the teacher hears it immediately. The teacher sees all the
studentís keystrokes, all his peddle work, every note, every nuance of
whatís being played very clearly over the Internet in CD quality sound.
Mercerís company has developed OnlineConservatory.com,
one of several Web sites currently dedicated to making learning music as
easy as surfing the Web. OnlineConservatory.com targets nontraditional piano
students at all skill levels. "We donít expect to compete against
traditional music education," said Mercer.
Teachers, from all over the world, set their own fees, but lessons cost
an average of $20 for a 30-minute session. OnlineConservatory charges
teachers a small fee for use of its software.
Mercer noted that some teachers are offering English-As-Second-Language
music lessons. "Foreign students study with U.S. teachers to learn
English while learning to play the piano," he said.
During the lessons, the image of a keyboard appears on both the studentís
and teacherís computer screens. As each strikes the keys on their
electronic keyboards, the corresponding keys on their computer images light
up in bright pink and green.
While OnlineConservatory.com handles those interested in taking lessons,
Mercerís other site, Melodus.com, showcases his companyís Melodus
technology. This free site is open to intermediate and advanced musicians
who want to jam online. All they have to do is download the free software
and plug in their keyboards.
New Music School
Another top site is the NetMusicSchool.com
from Interactive Music. This site offers guitar, as well as piano lessons.
For $8.95, students get 12 months of unlimited access to the
password-protected lesson package they choose. The site now offers four
beginner packagesĖthree for guitar, and one for pianoĖas well as lessons
for intermediate and advanced instruction.
The lessons start with a very basic introduction to the instrument, then
move on to teach notes and chords," said Jan Renner, president and CEO
of Interactive Music. Students play the attached sound files to hear just
how the notes should sound. And each lesson teaches a song."
"We recognize that people learn at different speeds," he added.
"Some people fly through the lesson in a month, while others take one
lesson, and then donít return for three months. The year of unlimited
access lets student learn at their own pace and on their own
NetMusicSchoolís lessons use Macromedia's Flash technology, streaming
animation over the Internet to show proper hand position and movement. An
animated guide, a stick figure appropriately named Sticky, walks and talks
students through each lesson.
Mercer said one of the misconceptions is that student need expensive
equipment to do this. They can go to their local Radio Shack and buy a
Musical Instrument Digital Interface-compatible (MIDI) keyboard for $70 that
will allow them to take music lessons or play off the Net.
Both men agree that the better the equipment, the richer the experience.
While a built-in sound card in a five-year-old computer will do, an
investment of about $40 for a Soundblaster Live card will upgrade the sound
considerably. Add to that a good set of speakers with a subworfer for about
$14 and a 28.8 Internet connection, and the student is all set.
Among the drawbacks to online lessons is a lack of feedback.
NetMusicSchoolís Sticky can't tell students what theyíre doing right or
wrong. "We recognize the value of feedback, and we highly recommend
that people go out and get private instruction," said Renner. "Our
site offers an online database of music instructors, so students can search
by location and find a teacher."
Online lessons are no substitute for a flesh and blood teacher.
"This is a great way to get started," said Renner. "So many
people are afraid to make a fool out of themselves in front of someone else.
Online lessons give them a chance to practice first."