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Music for the Masses: Apps and Sites for Learning to Play Tunes

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By Audrey Watters

In his remarks at TEDxNYED a couple of weeks ago, education activitist Will Richardson shared an anecdote about coming home one day to the sound of "Don't Stop Believin'" on the piano. It was his daughter, a novice pianist, who'd placed Will's laptop next to her and taught herself the song based on a video on YouTube.

It was a testament, Richardson said, to the fact that it's a great time to be a learner, that anything you want to know about can be found online.

But watching a video on how to play a song is just one small part of learning to play an instrument. And it's just one of many opportunities that music students have now. There are abundant YouTube videos (so your repertoire needn't just be the classics of the eighties, as awesome as Journey is). There are apps that help you tune your instrument and apps that help you learn fingering. There are websites galore that offer step-by-step guides -- online method books, if you will -- and videos of how to play guitar, piano, and so on.

ArtistWorks, for example, lets you not just watch and learn online via video, but allows you to record and upload a recording of your music and get personalized feedback from music instructors.


The list of instructors at ArtistWorks is pretty impressive: jazz and gypsy guitarist Andreas Oberg, harmonicist and founding member of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones Howard Levy, guitarist Martin Taylor, banjo player Tony Trischka, pianist Christie Perry, and "scratcher" DJ Qbert.

ArtistWorks offers a basic series of video lessons, but the company also facilitates what it calls a "video exchange." Students upload a three- to six-minute video of their practice lessons, along with any questions or problem areas they're working through. Teachers then respond with their own three- to 12-minute video, helping address particular areas. Both students' and teachers' are made available online -- to search through and to watch, so that students have a library of instructional material.

ArtistWorks' Chris DeNatale says the company is eager for the release of the iPad 2 with its built-in video camera as the tablet device is much more mobile and will make the students' video recording a lot easier. The company is working on building a custom uploader for the iPad 2 so students can easily transfer their video.

ArtistWorks isn't real-time music instruction. But that's not necessarily a drawback. This enables students to move at their own pace and it allows the teachers -- many of whom are traveling, performing artists -- to respond when and where they can.

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