His videos are also available on YouTube, like this one.
When I was a teenager, I remember asking my Dad, an entrepreneur, why he one of his products was so much less than his competitors. Why not charge the same and make more money? His answer was that he knows how much he himself loves to find a bargain, and how much bargains have helped him raise a large family. He said that whenever you can make something more affordable, you are doing a service to your customers. He told me he would rather serve 100 people to make $100 bucks than rake a couple of people over the coals for the same amount of money. Likewise, he likes to give his business to people who share that philosophy and are serving the community with their business. Yes, you do have to put food on the table, people understand that, but the wonderful thing about making something affordable is that you will attract more customers. You serve more people, and you still have your needs provided for. That lesson from my Dad has really stuck with me.
In the music education business, websites like freepianolessons4kids are a breath of fresh air. As a musician, I have been really surprised at the cost of many music materials. Math websites an resources are a dime a dozen. Same goes for reading, spelling, and writing. Why not music? I’ve been so shocked at the price tag of some of the music products I’ve come across in the past. When I first examined Joseph Hoffman’s site, I immediately thought of what my dad had said and I loved it right away. He is a good man who sincerely wants to help more children learn the fundamentals of music and he has made it very affordable. This website is a real gem and a service to the online community. This is his business model:
The piano lessons are free. Completely, totally, 100% free on YouTube. They are the meat and potatoes, and they are designed so that you don’t really need anything else to progress through the lessons. Isn’t that wonderful? The lessons are fantastic too.
For sale is the e-book that has a printout for every lesson. Sometimes it’s a cutting activity. Sometimes it’s a coloring activity. Sometimes it’s the music written on the staff so you can become more familiar with reading music. There’s a rich variety from lesson to lesson. It’s very well done. You can also purchase the videos on DVD. I love this business model.
So now that we know that it’s affordable and I like his business model, it’s time to look at why I love the piano lessons themselves.
First off, my kids love them. They really love Mr. Hoffman. My 4-year-old is so proud to tell people that she is taking piano lessons and Mr. Hoffman is her teacher. Every time we finish watching a video she waves at the screen and says “Goodbye, Mr. Hoffman!” She really loves him. My 5-year-old especially enjoys the movement incorporated into the lessons, and the Early Learning community will be happy to know that while my 2-year-old hasn’t actually played the lessons on the piano, he is gaining a lot from the lessons as well. He is able to count the rhythms “ta, ta, ti-ti, ta”, sing the songs, and overall has a good sense of accomplishment at the end of the lessons. He knows he is getting piano lessons too and he loves it. Mr. Hoffman is his music teacher too. I don’t hesitate to recommend these videos to very young children, they don’t have to practice on a piano to benefit. (although obviously for best results you would.) Concepts like low and high, fast and slow, steady beat, the music alphabet, and SOLFEGE are taught very well and thoroughly.
I think it’s awesome that he teaches solfege. He teaches the ABCs and incorporates movable do (which I prefer over fixed do) into the lessons, so Do-Mi-So is synonymous with a I chord. By the end of the e-book you are playing simple melodies, like the frog song in my review video above, in the right hand, while accompanying with chords in the left hand. And they kids will understand the why behind the chord as well. I love the theory in the lessons, and the e-book reinforces it very well. By the way, it’s a full-color e-book, I just printed it out in black and white to save ink.
I love the story he uses to teach where the C is on the piano (and all the other letters). It really stuck with my kids. We’ve been using a piano insert with the letter names and the kids have been reluctant to get rid of it. Well, shortly after watching these video clips, my 4 and 5-year-olds told me they didn’t need it anymore. And they were right! So check out his videos for that perk alone.
The videos are short and sweet. This is great for short attention spans. You can move at your own pace. Since my children have already had some piano exposure, we’ve been going through about 3 lessons a week although we will need to slow down soon. If they don’t “get” a topic, they can watch the video again. It’s short enough they can watch it before practicing each day really. So go slow. Go fast. It’s up to you. Mr. Hoffman is always encouraging. If the kid didn’t practice for a week there’s no awkward apologies necessary. Just pick up where you left off and work through it. I am finding that short video lessons with worksheets and other non-media reinforcement afterwards has been the best education model for my kids and our family. That’s what we’re doing with http://thehevproject.com/ too. It’s a great way to learn.
I’ve hit on it already, but I love the kinesthetic reinforcement. Children stand up and move to demonstrate Do-Mi-So, proper posture, bad posture, and steady beat. Awesome.
I love the Kodaly elements that are in the lessons. I recognize that influence, and I think it’s fantastic. Things like showing notes on a one-line staff, rhythm solfege, the rhythm and letter flashcards, and the kinesthetic elements are things I associate with the Kodaly/Orff teaching methods. The most powerful, life-changing music class I had in college wasn’t one required for my vocal peformance degree. It was my Orff training I had one summer before I internshiped with the Cache Children’s Choir. My piano-teaching approach dramatically changed after that class, for the better. My students were better able to understand and internalize music concepts with the tools I gained. And it’s so much more fun! I wish every music teacher could benefit from this kind of training. I wish every music student, especially children, could gain from this kind of teaching approach. Well parents, Mr. Hoffman’s got it and he’s nailed it.
The other question is, does this replace piano lessons with a paid teacher? Well, that’s up to you. Ultimately there’s no replacement for real-life feedback. If you are uncomfortable with teaching piano, hiring a teacher is a great option. There’s something to be said for a weekly commitment with a teacher. If you pay for something, you take it more seriously too- they say you get what you pay for, and it goes both ways- sometimes you get what you pay for because you expect to get it and put in the effort. But we’re talking about the very basics of piano here. These videos will not prepare you for Solos and Ensembles or other like-music competitions by any means. But they will teach the basics, no matter what age you are. If you know nothing about piano, you can learn with your children. I wouldn’t put an upper or lower age limit on these videos. You are where you are. If you are a beginner, you will benefit from watching these.
As an early learning advocate, I’ll put in a special plug as well. It is hard, it can be nigh impossible, to find a teacher willing to take a 3 or 4 year-old for piano lessons. Usually it’s not because young children can’t learn to play piano, but because they lack the attention span for a 30 minute lesson, which seems to be the gold-standard length for children. Not only that, we seem to think young children HAVE to practice 30 minutes a day for it to be worth the money and effort to take them to lessons. Because of this barrier, many wait until their children are 7 or 8 to start. Even then, there’s still the issue of jumping in and creating burnout. Even at 7 or 8, a beginning piano student needs to taste success and unless they are naturally inclined to music, they will reject the new 30 minute workload. 20+ years later we hear them regret that they quit piano when they had the opportunity as a child. I think these online piano lessons are the perfect bridge for preparing children for formal lessons with a teacher. A child who has gone through these lessons will have a good foundation and will be ready for that workload. Alternatively, these videos are an excellent tool for piano teachers to use with their beginning students. Let the videos and e-book be their homework, and an in-person teacher can reinforce what they have learned. Either way, you win. And the videos are on YouTube!