Monday, June 1, 2015

Review: PianoWithWillie from JazzEdge

If you know me in real life, I know what you're thinking. What, Nelleke? Jazz? Edge? JazzEdge?
Yes, boring, classical, stick-in-the-mud Nelleke was learning some jazz piano. It was a lot like learning a new language, and it was fun!

I've been thinking for a while that I need to play the piano more often, especially as my children are growing. As the busyness of my family life has increased, I have played less and less. SA(6) is beginning to learn how to play the piano as well now. The thought has struck me that trying to teach him without first inspiring him by my own example would be a lot like teaching a child to read without ever having read aloud to him. And then the Schoolhouse Review Crew offered me a chance to try out Studio Access to PianoWithWillie from JazzEdge in exchange for my honest opinion. "This will be my catalyst," I thought.

PianoWithWillie is like an online piano teacher for the experienced piano student (JazzEdge has other programs for beginning students and younger children, such as Easy Piano Basics or HomeSchoolPiano). With a high speed internet connection, you can stream videos with a variety of "Foundational" (technique, rhythm, reading) or "Fun'dational" (songs and improvisations) lessons. Course materials and sheet music are also available for download.

Since it has been a while since I've played the piano regularly, and the whole world of jazz piano is new to me, I began to follow the "Piano Start" guide.

I downloaded and printed the course materials for the "30-Day Success Playbook" and began to go through them. I quickly realized that the first lessons were too easy for me, so I skipped ahead to Day 21 (with the teacher's permission, of course!). I easily sight-read all the music for the subsequent days, but began to realize that understanding all the complex chords would be a challenge.

I began to watch the video lessons corresponding to the days I found challenging. This is where I ran into trouble. We have "high speed internet," but we live in rural PEI where that doesn't mean much (Though I hadn't anticipated problems because Netflix and even YouTube work fine here.). Even with all the settings turned down to as basic as possible, the video lessons only streamed seconds at a time before stopping to load another few seconds. After chatting online with someone on the JazzEdge support team, I paused the videos for a few minutes to allow them to load more before playing. Even so, I could never get them to load more than three minutes at a time. Needless to say, this was extremely frustrating. I began to watch the videos while doing other things, just so the wait every couple of minutes wouldn't drive me completely crazy. Once I was done with the 30-Day Success Playbook and began to try other lessons, I realized that I did not have the same problem with all of the videos on the site. (My computer-tech husband tells me that they may have been recorded differently, and indeed, the videos that worked well for me did seem to be a bit older.)

Jazz was not a natural choice for me. However, I do like the complex chords and the clean sound of some jazz piano. And I found that PianoWithWillie is not at all limited to jazz, but has lessons on gospel music, pop/rock, blues, and even a bit of classical music! I spent the rest of my time on the "Fun'dational" side of the lessons, trying out different songs. I especially enjoyed "Precious Lord, Take My Hand." Having done that, I know I will need to dig into the more "Foundational" lessons to really get the most out of PianoWithWillie. I really want to learn more about chord formation now, and that's where I'll focus next.

SA said to me just last week, "Mama, I like the way it sounds when you play the piano." PianoWithWillie has done what I hoped it would --it has inspired me to play the piano regularly once again. And my children are listening. I am proud of how diligently SA is practicing his own piano lessons now, and I don't think it's unrelated to the fact that I have been practicing myself. I look forward to continuing to learn from PianoWithWillie.

For more reviews on PianoWithWillie and other JazzEdge products, click the link below:
JazzEdge Review
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