If you’re in the market for an online piano method, you’ve likely come across Pianoforall.
With over 250,000 students, Pianoforall is a popular online piano course that uses a chord-based, “play first, ask questions later” approach that gets you sounding like a pro right away.
Creator Robin Hall says that his e-book course will teach you to “play piano by ear, improvise, create compositions, and then eventually read piano sheet music,” with each “bite-sized” lesson planned to move you from one skill to the next in a short period of time in a logical way.
So, how does Pianoforall work? Can it live up to its claims? Keep reading – I’ll cover everything you need to know to decide whether or not Pianoforall is the course for you.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
“Piano for all” is quite flexible in terms of what you’ll need to use the course, but a piano or keyboard is obviously non-negotiable.
It’s much better to get a 61-key keyboard and start practicing than to not have a keyboard at all.
However, I’d still recommend upgrading to an 88-key digital piano with fully weighted keys as soon as possible if you’re serious about learning the piano.
Most 61-key keyboards are unweighted or semi-weighted, which means they feel much lighter and very different from an acoustic piano keyboard.
Digital pianos, on the other hand, usually have 88 hammer action keys that try to replicate the feel of an acoustic piano as closely as possible, which helps develop proper finger strength and technique.
In terms of tech, you have the option of downloading the e-books onto your Mac, PC, iPhone, iPad, or Android.
If you’re using a Mac or PC, you’ll need to have Adobe Reader and Flash Player installed to watch the videos and hear the audio clips embedded in the e-books.
For an iPhone or iPad, you’ll need the Readdle Documents app.
An Android device requires the EZPDF Reader Lite app, which costs one dollar (USD) unfortunately.
The Pianoforall website has detailed instructions and links for the downloads, as well as a thorough troubleshooting section for when the set-up isn’t going smoothly.
With your one-time purchase of the course, you’ll receive:
Nine e-books plus one bonus book – These comprehensive e-books take you through various styles of piano music with chords, tunes, and exercises, teaching you just enough theory for each lesson. I’ll go into detail on each book below.
200 video lessons – Embedded in the e-book itself, these videos reinforce skills with explained keyboard demonstrations by Robin Hall.
He plays the lesson on a lower keyboard while an animated keyboard above shows you which notes he is playing, making it clear which notes you should play, what your hands should look like, and how it should sound.
500 audio tunes and exercises – These are beside each exercise to show you quickly what it should sound like. Auditory learners especially will benefit from hearing each exercise before attempting it.
Each e-book covers a different aspect of piano playing and builds on one another so that you are putting the skills you’ve learned into practice.
Except for Book Nine, which can be used at any time, you should read the books in order.
BOOK ONE: PARTY TIME – RHYTHM STYLE PIANO
The first book is an introduction to both the program and the keyboard.
It begins by stating the primary principle of Pianoforall – that it’s important to lay a foundation of chords and rhythms before building improv, melody composition, and sight-reading skills beyond that.
It introduces you to the notes on the keyboard and then jumps immediately into playing some basic three-note chords, reminded you that like learning guitar, it’s more important to play than to worry about the theory at this early stage.
Book One also introduces musical notation, including rests and basic rhythm.
While most traditional curriculums spend a while on note-naming and rhythm exercises, this section moves quickly. You’ll likely need to keep revisiting it to make sense of later exercises.
The rest of the book progresses by teaching you a family of chords and introducing a rhythm associated with popular music, which you can use with the chords to play a song.
All in all, you’ll learn ten rhythms and eleven basic chords in Book One.
The chords are taught with the assumption that you will be reading chord symbols in songbooks as guitar players do. Therefore, it shows you what to play when you encounter a seventh chord or slash chord symbols.
By the end of the book, you should be able to play the chords and rhythms of several popular songs while you and/or a friend sing the melody.
You should also be able to play the short and lovely “Amazing Broken Chord Ballad.”
BOOK TWO: BLUES & ROCK N ROLL
Book Two builds on your knowledge by teaching you blues rhythms to use with the chords you already know.
The first concept that it emphasizes is that you should practice left-hand rhythms much more than the right hand until you can play them in your sleep.
This book is brief compared to the first one, but it still teachers five blues rhythms and how to play a twelve-bar blues in any key.
BOOK THREE: CHORD MAGIC
Book Three is heavy. It teaches you the chords of every single key, including their inversions.
Thankfully, it also provides you with an “all chords memory trick” that makes the info dump easier to handle, in addition to many practice progressions to get the hang of the new material.
You’ll also encounter the “cycle of fifths” (commonly called the “circle of fifths”), a concept meant to encourage you to practice all of the keys, teach you the relationship between them, and help you understand the general structure of music.
BOOK FOUR: ADVANCED CHORDS MADE EASY
This book continues to teach you how to play chords from chord symbols found in songbooks, starting with a “magic formula” for bluffing a few more advanced chords.
A Barry Manilow-inspired piece called “Manilow Mood” will have you learning new musical devices before you attempt to write a Manilow-style composition of your own.
Diminished chords and cluster chords come next, with a lot of practice progressions.
The book finishes strong with a lesson on Beatles styling and a long list of Beatles songs, which you can play with the rhythms and chords you know.
BOOK FIVE: BALLAD STYLE
Book Five approaches ballad-style playing by introducing a step-by-step method for creating your own ballad-style songs.
The process encourages experimentation with left-hand chord patterns and the forgiving pentatonic scale.
This book is all about learning how to improvise, giving ideas for the melody, left-hand pattern, and chord progressions.
You’ll then learn how to apply the ballad process to songs you already know by building “Auld Lang Syne” from the bottom up.
Included in this book is the sheet music for quite a few beautiful ballads, which you’ll likely enjoy playing.
Since this is the first book to teach you about melody in-depth, these are the first full-length pieces in the course that can really stand on their own as solo piano pieces.
The melody lines for many well-known Christmas carols are also provided, but you’ll have to practice your skills by adding the left hand yourself.
BOOK SIX: ALL THAT JAZZ & BLUES
This section of the course is content-heavy, but you’ll come out with a great jazz and blues foundation.
It starts by teaching you how to get a “bluesy” sound using the blues scale, blues chords, and other tricks, before moving on to jazz.
Rather than learn to read complex jazz rhythms, you’re encouraged to learn the rhythms by listening to and copying the audio clips.
Book Six walks you through jazz in four distinct keys, gives you lots of tips and tricks for jazz improvisation, and serves up many cool practice progressions.
You’ll learn all about quartal harmony before finishing up with a comprehensive lesson in seventh chords.
BOOK SEVEN: ADVANCED BLUES & FAKE STRIDE
Book Seven builds on Book Two by adding your advanced chord knowledge and fun new right-hand chord riffs to the blues rhythms that you learned.
You’ll also learn about blues devices, such as tremolo, slides, and turnarounds.
The second part of this book teaches you about stride piano—both fake and real, the difference being the length of the “stride” your hand is taking.
You get to apply your knowledge with “the song you’ve been waiting for” – “The Entertainer” ending the section on a high note (pun intended)!
BOOK EIGHT: TAMING THE CLASSICS
Since this section largely relies on sheet music, beginning with a recap of musical notation and a quick lesson on key signatures, new symbols, and musical language. It also gives you a handy list of practice tips.
Hall teaches you to sight-read music “the Pianoforall way,” which means watching out for familiar chords and motifs, and that the notes that are sharp or flat due to the key signature are given in red for easy spotting.
You’ll then get into playing classical piano pieces, including big names like Beethoven, Bach, and Chopin.
If you have a goal of playing more pieces from sheet music after the Pianoforall course, I recommend spending quite a bit of time on this section, practicing your skills in reading music, pedaling, and tone.
BOOK NINE: SPEED LEARNING
Hall was clever with the name of this book, which is all about scales, triads, and arpeggios, aka the “vegetables” of practicing the piano.
If my piano teacher had referred to this area as “speed learning,” I perhaps would have been more eager to sit down and do it.
However, as the book states (and as I can attest to), incorporating these elements into your regular practice is an important way to improve your playing.
While this is the ninth book in the course, it contains practice “workout” routines and memory tricks that should be used from the beginning.
This section of the course will further your understanding of key signatures, triads, seventh chords, and melodic patterns, which are all very useful for the lessons in the other books.
BONUS BOOK: THE PRACTICE OF MINDFULNESS
This short e-book is not related directly to the piano, but it contains tips on creativity, focus, and incorporating mindfulness into your daily routine, all practices which are beneficial for learning an instrument.
PROS AND CONS
Now let’s sum up some of the pros and cons of the “Piano for all” teaching course.
Visual and auditory lessons. Unlike classic ebooks and printed curricula, Pianoforall provides you with visual and auditory ways to learn the content, which is especially helpful for beginners who aren’t yet comfortable reading music.
Having the videos and audio clips embedded in the ebooks makes it super easy to access this content when you need it.
Jumps right into playing. You’ll feel like you’re making progress from the first session.
Uses well-known songs. Not only does this make it easier to play by ear, but you’ll also enjoy being able to play songs that you recognize.
Promotes musicality. Playing by ear, improvising, and composing melodies are often mostly ignored in piano methods for beginners.
Pianoforall teaches these skills thoroughly, giving you a solid base of musicality and ensuring that you’ll always have something to play.
Makes you use your left hand more than traditional piano curriculums.
As is the case for many piano players who take the traditional approach, I was accustomed to focusing on the right hand. As my pieces got more complex, I had to devote a lot of time to practicing the left-hand parts alone.
Since Pianoforall encourages you to practice more with the left hand than the right, students of this program will be less likely to have a “lazy” left hand.
Information is laid out clearly and easy to understand. While a bit plain compared to printed curriculum like Faber’s Piano Adventures, these e-books are well-organized and visually clean.
Little focus on technique. Traditional piano teachers remind their students of their hand position, posture, and their wrist, finger, and body movements.
While the lack of this teaching is an obvious drawback of online piano courses in general, Pianoforall, in particular, does not address it.
I recommend supplementing the course with lessons (YouTube counts) that teach posture and other techniques.
Avoids reading music. Even in the books that rely more heavily on sheet music, the names of the notes are usually provided, and sometimes you’re given the option to improvise.
Therefore, even though one of the goals of the course is to teach you how to read music, it would be easy to come out with a less-than-stellar grasp of this skill.
Leaves out many piano notation symbols and terms. While the amount of terms and symbols this curriculum covers is adequate for those who want to improvise, play by ear, or play basic sheet music, students wanting to go beyond may find themselves perplexed by unknown markings.
If you’re one such student, Hall recommends supplementing his course with material that teaches the terms and symbols of music notation.
WHO IS THIS COURSE BEST FOR?
Pianoforall is geared to complete beginners. However, its style of teaching is so different from most traditional piano programs that even those who have some basic classical piano knowledge may find it useful for learning how to play by ear and improvise.
Given Pianoforall’s emphasis on blues, jazz, rock n roll, and other styles of popular music, it’s safe to say that this course is not meant for those whose primary goal is to play classical music instead.
While Book Eight does teach students to sight-read some short classical pieces, this course will give you a foundation on which to increase their knowledge of playing classically rather than merely teach you itself.
Though the content is different, Pianoforall’s head-first, dive-right-in approach to playing the piano is one that is usually found in courses for adult learners, such as Faber’s Adult Piano Adventures series.
Adults are determined to learn, and they’re usually not content to play simple children’s tunes for the first few months. For this reason, Pianoforall is good for adults and teenagers alike who want to make real music ASAP.
The songs chosen for this course are also aimed at adult learners.
While they’re great tunes familiar to many – and certainly better than “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” – let’s just say that older generations might get more excited about the selection than younger ones.
Pianoforall makes big promises, but for the motivated student, it just might be able to deliver. As long as you understand what the course will and won’t teach you, Pianoforall can help you reach your piano goals.
This course does not prepare students for advanced classical music, but you will come out with many skills that are useful for playing in bands, taking requests, and sitting down at the piano and being able to just play.
In addition, your skills will give you a great foundation for exploring the kinds of music that you want to play.
The value of understanding chords, progressions, keys, and the structure of music cannot be understated for any style of music.
Hall likens his course to learning the alphabet so that you can write whatever sentences you want. It’s an apt analogy.
Piano for all truly builds your skills from the bottom up, giving you the building blocks necessary not only to play other people’s music but also to play your own.
It’s a unique approach that often feels like putting the cart before the horse – but it works.