Review of Learn and Master Piano
This is my detailed review of Learn and Master Piano, a self-teaching piano course from Legacy Learning Systems. I purchased this course recently, and am in the process of working my way through it. I’ll keep updating this review as I progress.
1. My Background
First, a bit about my background, since this will colour my perspective on the course. I started classical piano lessons when I was seven, and continued for about four years. Since then I’ve played on and off, but don’t feel like I’ve made a lot of progress. In terms of the British ABRSM exams, I can play pieces of grade 6 – 7 standard, but I know there are some significant gaps in my skills. I bought this course to help fill some of those gaps, and also to gain experience with areas I haven’t studied before, such as non-classical piano styles.
So, I’m not starting from scratch like most people who buy this course probably are, but I think it’ll be helpful. Also, I do know what it’s like to teach myself a new instrument as an adult (I’ve done that with the guitar and flute), so I can see the material from a beginner perspective too.
2. What Is Learn & Master Piano?
This course teaches you to play the piano from the comfort of your own home, and is suitable for beginner and intermediate pianists. It is a physical course, with a tutor book, instruction DVD, and CDs to play along with (there isn’t a downloadable version). The DVDs are region-free, so you can use them wherever you live. The material covers various styles, including classical, rock, blues etc. There’s also a forum where you can ask questions and discuss your progress with fellow students, as well as with the course instructor, Will Barrow (who is a professional Grammy award-winning pianist).
The normal price is $249 plus shipping, but there are regular sales throughout the year (I got mine for $149). There’s also an option to pay in instalments. I live in the UK, and the postage was about $35, which I think is the normal international rate, but it’s much less than this for the US and Canada.
When I bought there was also an option to purchase any one of Legacy’s other courses for a steeply discounted price. I didn’t take advantage of this, but I plan to try out Learn and Master Guitar next year so I can review it for this site, and will probably pick up the drum program too, if this offer is still available then.
3. How The Course Works
The Learn and Master Piano course is divided into 28 lessons or sessions. Each session has an accompanying ‘workshop’, where you can gain further practice with the material you’ve just learned. Each session explains a set of musical concepts, with detailed practical demonstrations from Will Barrow, which show you exactly what to do. There are three sessions on each DVD, with each session lasting around 30 minutes. The workshops are on separate DVDs. After you learn the material for a given session, you can move on to the corresponding workshop for extra practice. You’ll also make use of the course CDs, which contain backing tracks for you to play along with – directions for which tracks to practice are given in the sessions.
If you’re a complete beginner and practice daily, you might expect to spend about 1-3 weeks working through each session and the related workshop and CD tracks. So the course might take around a year or more to complete. Obviously though, each person will learn at a different rate, so this is just a rough estimate.
The topics covered include:
- Posture and hand position
- Learning the notes on the keyboard
- Reading music
- Chords and chord progressions
- Simple and complex rhythm
- Major and minor scales and arpeggios
- Accompaniment patterns
- Song form
- Playing by ear
- Classical, rock blues, ragtime, Latin and other musical styles
4. My Impressions So Far
I ordered online without any problems, got my tracking number quickly, and received the course a couple of weeks later (delivery will be faster if you’re in the US). My first impression was that these are quality materials – it comes in a solid glossy box with a velvety lining, with a professionally produced book and discs.
So it looks nice, but does the content measure up to the packaging? So far, I think so. The DVDs are easy to navigate, and the production quality is very high, both on the visual and the audio side. This professional production sets Learn and Master Piano above many other internet lessons (especially the free ones), where the production is often amateurish and harder to watch/listen to.
Will Barrow has a pleasantly laid back but very clear teaching style that is easy to follow. He demonstrates the material in a very thorough way which should be easy for even complete beginners to keep up with. So far I haven’t learned anything I don’t know already, as I’m still going through the early sessions – but I think that if I was new to the piano, I’d find this to be a good guide. Will’s approach is very different from the classical piano tutor books I used as a child (Piano Lessons Books 1-3 by Fanny Waterman and Marion Harewood), but it’s an effective one, especially if you’re interested in learning non-classical styles. The fundamentals of good posture and hand position are explained clearly, which is especially important if you’re learning without a teacher, then you start learning to find your way around the keyboard and (in Session 2) to learn the basics of reading music, and progress from there.
One thing I especially like is how you get playing along with the CDs from the very first session. You’ll just be playing a simple chord sequence to begin with, but it sounds good, and as a beginner it’s very motivating to be able to play something that sounds like music right from the outset, rather than spending days or even weeks just learning notes and theory before playing your first ‘real’ piece. Of course the theory is here too, and it’s introduced in bite-size chunks and explained in a clear, straightforward way, so if you don’t know anything about reading notation, harmony etc., don’t worry – you soon will!
5. Summary – What I Liked and Disliked
I’ll be fleshing this out in more detail when I’ve finished the course, but so far, here’s what I like and don’t like so much about Learn and Master Piano:
- Quality instructor – as noted earlier, Will Barrow knows his stuff, and is not just a professional pianist, but a great teacher too (these skills don’t always go together!). If you want to give yourself the best start, it’s important to learn from someone who knows what they’re talking about, especially as anyone can set themselves up as an expert online.
- Clear & easy to follow – these videos (and the book) are easy to navigate and understand, and do a good job of introducing new concepts and clarifying areas that might cause confusion.
- Quality materials – the physical quality of the materials is excellent.
Good service – I’ve only had to ask a couple of questions of the Learn and Master support staff so far (regarding my tracking number), but I received very fast and friendly replies to my emails.
- Great value – overall, I think this course is very good value for money, and if you buy during a sale period and get a discount like I did, it’s even better! But even at the full price, you’re getting about a year of quality lessons for the price of maybe a couple of months’ worth of lessons with a private teacher. Obviously private lessons have their advantages, but if they’re not an option for you for whatever reason, this is a great and cost-effective alternative.
There were a few things that I thought could have been improved, although these aren’t major complaints for me – just little niggles.
- No downloadable version – this is a physical format-only course, and it would have been nice if there was a downloadable version too, so I could have gotten started right away. It’s also a bit more convenient sometimes to have the video and audio files on my computer rather than swapping discs around. On the other hand, a physical book is more user-friendly than a PDF.
- Video-heavy – this is primarily a video-based course, which gives you the advantage of being able to see exactly what you should be doing with your hands – it’s the next best thing to having a teacher there in the room with you. Plus you can repeat tricky sections as often as you need. Video does have some disadvantages however, such as it being a bit of a pain to find specific sections if you want to refer back to them. It can also be a bit frustrating to spend half an hour watching a video when I could have read that information in five minutes. Video may also not be the best option for those who don’t understand English with reasonable fluency.
- DVD arrangement – this is a minor issue, but I found it a bit annoying how the workshops are on different DVDs to the instruction sessions. It just meant that extra bit of faffing around changing DVDs, and I think it would have made more sense to have the workshops immediately after their corresponding sessions, on the same discs.
- Forum isn’t especially busy – one selling point of the Learn and Master courses is the forums that are available for students of each course. These are good forums, with friendly people, and it’s helpful to be able to connect with others doing the same course (and the instructors post there too). However, I noticed that some of the course forums are busier than others, and unfortunately the piano forum is one of the quieter ones. So if you were to go there to post a question, you might not necessarily get a quick response.
These observations are specific to this course, but the usual advantages and disadvantages of teaching yourself to play an instrument (as opposed to taking lessons in person with a teacher) also apply, and it’s good to be aware of these before taking the plunge – read more here.
6. Conclusion – Should You Buy Learn & Master Piano?
As I mentioned earlier, I’m still in the process of working through this course, so I can’t give a final opinion just yet. However, I can say that I’m definitely impressed with what I’ve seen so far. So if you want to learn piano at home and are looking for a video-based course that covers various musical styles, you might like to head over to Learn and Master Piano to learn more. In any case, it’s guaranteed for 60 days, so you can try it risk-free.
Click here to visit Learn & Master Piano