Why Yousician and Simply Piano Need to Die

Are you sad you can’t play a musical instrument? Or are you disappointed your child won’t practice when you tell them to? Have you been feeling like completely disregarding the decades of blood, sweat, and tears musicians go through to achieve mastery of their craft? Then you can pay a minimal fee to oppress every natural force of learning music with these wonderful learning apps! It doesn’t matter if you learn anything factual, proper, or real just so that you can impress your friends for a week and forget it all later.

My professional patience has run thin, and so has my mental bandwidth, so here’s why music learning apps need to go to creative prison and die:

1. Online-only music lessons deprive you of human contact. The base of any valid learning is meaningful relationships. Learning without emotional connotation tends to fade into nothingness with time; it’s what moves your soul that lasts a lifetime.

2.  Music isn’t easy. It’s not supposed to be easy. Good musicians make it look easy. Anything that is easy is not really worth learning (most of the time). I’m not talking about things like tying your shoes and washing your armpits daily, but more like spending time and money learning a fraction of what you really should be learning. This isn’t valuable learning. You must struggle to learn; you must struggle to propel yourself forwards.

3. It robs you of a real connection with your instrument and music itself. Learning to develop a relationship with these is crucial to following your path in music. Apps prevent you from blurring the lines between yourself and your instrument by teaching you that you need them to continue. This is completely false.

4. Their ads lie. They use pianist actors, fake stories and lie about how much music is actually missing from their apps. They’re also constantly emotionally manipulating parents and catering to their insecurities, pretending like the app fixes their family issues.

5. Kids don’t like apps like these. Scrolling aimlessly through notes they can’t read (and even if they can) gets boring fast. You ever hand a kid an Ipad? You better believe they’re opening up Candy Crush as soon as you look away…

6. They don’t work. They are lacking a large portion of information and have errors as well as testimonial videos covered in technical and theoretic mistakes. I don’t care who you are, you cannot learn Chopin’s Fantaisie Impromptu within a year of picking up the instrument.

7. There is much more to music than reading notes. Like reading all the other notation, interpretation, technique, analyzing, theory. These morons claim theory is boring. Theory is hard but I’ll be damned if I don’t remind us all of the ABSURD complexity of musical theory. It’s certainly not boring. 

These people think they’re funny, stealing a long-tried craft from our experienced hands, as if they thought we wouldn’t notice.

I’m coming for you Yousician and Simply Piano. You piss me off.

Written by Talia Plante
*Edited by Dominic Abate

About Talia Plante 44 Articles
A classically trained pianist from the Laval suburbs, Talia sees no other clear path in life other than her passion for music. An experienced music teacher and social bird, she seizes any opportunity to be with others. Being an avid psychonaut and lover of emotional connection, she can often be found at parties of any variety, likely rubbing her face on cats she’s allergic to, or somehow slipping into conversation that black metal and baroque music are really just close cousins. Her lifetime favourites include Black Sabbath and Liszt, and anything even remotely psychedelic, doom, or stoner-like. Her current dreams are to become the modern day Mary Poppins (umbrella and children’s laughter included), buy a van to drive across any drive-able land, and spread sunshine wherever she goes. If spotted in the wild, the best way to make her smile is to ask her anything…or offer some cheese.

1 Comment

  1. Good rant. Here’s the rebuttal.

    Disclaimer: I’m not defending Yousician and Simply Piano as I’ve never used either platform. I’m defending music technology and online/self-guided learning.

    “1. Online-only music lessons deprive you of human contact. The base of any valid learning is meaningful relationships. Learning without emotional connotation tends to fade into nothingness with time; it’s what moves your soul that lasts a lifetime.”

    The base of any ‘valid learning’ is not meaningful relationships. A student who learns on their own is no less ‘valid’ than someone who learns from another person. In fact, someone who learns on their own is, while perhaps more likely to develop bad habits without guidance, less likely to adopt the habits or preferences of a mediocre teacher and also more likely to seek new material on their own. You don’t need an emotional connection to another human to learn – you should have an emotional connection to the learning material. Many pro musicians are self-taught.

    And ‘online-only’ music lessons can still provide human contact – live video lessons, for example! You may not be there in person, but you’re still interacting and providing expert guidance – something I hope you’ve been doing since social distancing came into effect.

    “2. Music isn’t easy. It’s not supposed to be easy. Good musicians make it look easy. Anything that is easy is not really worth learning (most of the time). I’m not talking about things like tying your shoes and washing your armpits daily, but more like spending time and money learning a fraction of what you really should be learning. This isn’t valuable learning. You must struggle to learn; you must struggle to propel yourself forwards.”

    This reads like total elitist gatekeeping. You want music to look easy and fun. No one would want to learn if it didn’t.

    Even ‘learning a fraction of what you really should be learning’ is learning, and it’s valuable learning. So what if a student does things slightly out of order? If you get to the same destination, it doesn’t matter if your journey is traditional. And self-directed learning can teach students to learn from their mistakes and problem solve – something many teachers fail to leave room for in traditional lessons.

    Learning/playing music is not easy for many. Mastering music is not easy for anyone (and maybe this is what you meant to say). But just because someone finds difficulty in learning does not automatically make them a martyr who has risen up to overcome their challenges and are therefore on a high level that someone who didn’t work as hard could never achieve it. ‘You must struggle to learn’ = NO NO NO. You MAY struggle to learn. And that’s okay. But you don’t NEED to struggle. You don’t NEED to feel like a tortured artist to learn. Music is supposed to be fun, even when it’s challenging, and if you don’t love it, you aren’t going to have a good time.

    “3. It robs you of a real connection with your instrument and music itself. Learning to develop a relationship with these is crucial to following your path in music. Apps prevent you from blurring the lines between yourself and your instrument by teaching you that you need them to continue. This is completely false.”

    Learning online doesn’t affect your connection with your instrument or with music. At all. There is literally no difference between reading music on a screen and reading music on a piece of paper, aside from the fact that you can play along to tracks, loop problem areas until you nail it, speed up or slow down tracks and metronomes, oh wait…these are all advantages of modern music technology. And I don’t understand the idea of apps keeping you and your instrument separate (‘prevent you from blurring the lines’).

    “4. Their ads lie. They use pianist actors, fake stories and lie about how much music is actually missing from their apps. They’re also constantly emotionally manipulating parents and catering to their insecurities, pretending like the app fixes their family issues.”

    Here’s the one thing I agree with. It’s Marketing 101, though. Ad messaging caters to your insecurities. It makes you feel like you need it. It’s supposed to strike a nerve. It’s supposed to make you hit the ‘buy’ button. And if it doesn’t work on you, the ad is not for you.

    “5. Kids don’t like apps like these. Scrolling aimlessly through notes they can’t read (and even if they can) gets boring fast. You ever hand a kid an Ipad? You better believe they’re opening up Candy Crush as soon as you look away…”

    I guarantee if you poll a group of kids, they’ll choose music apps and music games over the old-fashioned alternative 100% of the time. Here’s one survey where Gen Zers overwhelmingly preferred YouTube and apps over books for learning in general, and I bet you’ll find similar results in music learning: https://www.pearson.com/content/dam/one-dot-com/one-dot-com/global/Files/news/news-annoucements/2018/The-Next-Generation-of-Learners_final.pdf

    “6. They don’t work. They are lacking a large portion of information and have errors as well as testimonial videos covered in technical and theoretic mistakes. I don’t care who you are, you cannot learn Chopin’s Fantaisie Impromptu within a year of picking up the instrument.”

    If there are errors, that sucks, and they should be corrected. Everyone makes mistakes, including experts sometimes. But yes, some people CAN learn advanced concepts or songs within a year of starting an instrument. They work their asses off and probably have a predisposition for the instrument as well. We have a word for these people: prodigies. Just because some or most people can’t do it doesn’t mean nobody can.

    “7. There is much more to music than reading notes. Like reading all the other notation, interpretation, technique, analyzing, theory. These morons claim theory is boring. Theory is hard but I’ll be damned if I don’t remind us all of the ABSURD complexity of musical theory. It’s certainly not boring.”

    To anyone picking up an instrument for the first time, THEORY IS BORING and it’s one of the biggest complaints students have about learning music. The app teams are probably using this in marketing materials to acknowledge a common pain point for potential customers. There are a million ways to make theory not boring, and that’s awesome. But let’s call a spade a spade. Theory can get absurdly complex, yes, and complex things ARE boring to someone who isn’t yet at that stage. Boring does not equal easy.

    When you’re marketing to new musicians, you need to present them with messages they can relate to. Theory looks boring. Yup. And you want to learn how to play your favourite songs quickly. Yup. This is how most people discover their love of music, including the pros.

    “Why do you want to play piano?” “Because I want to play songs.” Reading notes and learning how to count are much more important than learning all of your scales and key signatures. Why? Because students should see how amazing it feels to start playing songs – probably the main reason they wanted to start learning. Once they can do that, hopefully it drives them into wanting to explore the instrument further.

    Defend theory and traditional teaching methods all you want, but this mentality discourages people from picking up an instrument and implies it’s only for those who want to take it seriously. Wrong. Not everyone is going to become a professional musician and most people don’t even know how far they want to go with it when they first start learning.

    “These people think they’re funny, stealing a long-tried craft from our experienced hands, as if they thought we wouldn’t notice.”

    I guarantee apps and programs like these are designed, developed, and tested by music teachers. If you have an issue with these particular apps, maybe you should contact them with tips on how they could do it better. Honestly though, it sounds more like you feel threatened because you haven’t adapted to modern technology in your teaching (‘stealing’ from ‘experienced hands’?). Many teachers are incorporating apps into their lessons as complementary learning tools. You may be a good teacher in the traditional sense, but don’t be surprised if you become obsolete.

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