Piano Blog“Every person everywhere joyfully engaged in music”

By DeRicki Johnson, Guest Blogger

Like many living under coronavirus stay-at-home mandates, I’ve suffered my share of cabin fever. After bottoming out on my Netflix library, I began casting around for some self-improvement activity to fill my time at home.

As a youth, I dabbled with music, playing the viola for several years and the cornet in high school band. I lost touch with that part of my life once I began the all-consuming business of “adulting.” I missed the healing power of music and how it seemed to improve my cognition and creativity, but the expense and scheduling requirements of private lessons, placed learning to play an instrument out of reach.

Years ago, I got the sudden inspiration to buy a keyboard I saw in a pawn shop window. I figured I’d watch some YouTube videos and be proficient in no time. How hard could it be, right? Wrong. Without guided instruction, and someone to inspire me, I wasn’t up to the task. For the next 15 years, my keyboard gathered dust in my closet.

Hoping to ameliorate the effects of “Covid Cabin Fever,” I dragged my keyboard out of its dusty tomb and considered how to succeed in learning to play it this time around. Private lessons were out of the question (too expensive, and well…you know, social distancing). Online video tutorials, though more affordable, weren’t much better than my previous strategy of watching random YouTube videos.

That’s when I ran across an exceptional online music education service called Practicing Musician.

What sets it apart from other online services is how the learning track mimics the private lesson experience, with step-by-step modules that progress from acquiring and maintaining your instrument, to inspirational interviews and performances by your teacher, to access to sheet music for the sequentially ordered and gradually progressive lessons. The quality of the videos is  high quality and crystal clear, making it easy to see what’s being taught.

I was so intrigued that I contacted the CEO and Founder, Jake Douglass. He told me over the past 3 years, Practicing Musician has won the respect of K-12 teachers who report improved proficiency among students using the service over those who don’t. At-home users also give the service high marks, according to Jake.

What’s more, at $9.99 a month, it’s half the price of the lowest cost online video tutorial service I was able to find—a service that doesn’t come close to the ease-of-use or high production quality of Practicing Musician. The clincher for me is the service is free to use until September—a no risk situation.

So, satisfied with my research, I surfed over to Practicing Musician to set up my account and pick my instrument. Next I met my teacher, Nozomi Khudyev, an accompanist at The Juilliard School. Nozomi’s interview and performance videos provided me the inspiration to begin my classes. Since this is a self-regulated learning experience, other more seasoned students might skip some of the early lessons, even as I was able to easily jump past the section on “Choosing your instrument.”

I can’t emphasize enough the ease with which I am able to follow my lessons. The whole thing is designed with simplicity in mind. Nothing is assumed. Nozomi and Jake—himself an accomplished musician—are holding my hand through each step of the process. Sheet music for learning and practice are built seamlessly into my classes.

The only thing I would say is missing in what, so far, has been a wonderful learning experience, is that when I reach the end of a lesson track, Practicing Musician’s in-house developed assessment and tracking portion of the service has been deactivated. Instead, a pop-up explains the company is running a crowdfunding campaign to lease the industry-leading music assessment software, and to add to their library of teaching videos. Hitting the “Back” button takes me back to my lessons, while hitting the “Continue” button takes me to their Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. There’s also a button at the bottom of the pop-up that let’s you turn off the message, so there’s no interruption as you move on to your next track.

Jake explained to me the move was necessary, because of Practicing Musician’s commitment to delivering a “world class service.”

I’m so impressed and excited with Practicing Musician, I made a donation. First, because I see how the assessment software is the final piece to creating a true private lesson experience, in what is already a fantastic learning program. And second, it makes me feel good to be part of Practicing Musician’s vision of bringing effective and affordable music education within reach of millions of people. in fact, the company has committed to donating profits from at-home user subscriptions to help struggling K-12 music programs.

So stop using that guitar for a wall decoration, or grandma’s old piano for a place to stack your bills. Try your hand at that forgotten school band instrument up in the attic—you know, that viola your kid just “had to have,” but promptly ditched once you bought it. Learning to play it will be a lot more fulfilling than re-watching “Avengers: Endgame” on Netflix for the umpteenth time.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I was so impressed with Practicing Musician, I approached Jake about doing this guest blog, sharing my personal experience with the service. He offered to pay me for my effort, so I’m receiving a modest standard blogging fee.

(What Jake didn’t know is I was offering to do this for free—but hey—there’s a pandemic, and I’d be a fool to turn down a couple extra bucks. Anyway, I hope this disclaimer didn’t just set fire to my check!)

DeRicki Johnson is a Texas freelance writer and poet, whose debut collection of poetry, “Give Me A Minute,” will be released this year. You can find some of his short form poetry on Twitter and Instagram.