Being a self-taught pianist

A relatively new phenomenon has been emerging in the music sector for several years now: learning to play the piano without music theory, independently and alone. In line with the growing trend towards self-training, facilitated by the production of digital tools, the concept is gaining an increasing following. It offers a new, seductive but energy-consuming path for those wishing to develop their artistic sense outside traditional shackles. Indeed, the learner who chooses this path must be patient and work hard to achieve a concrete result. This doesn’t seem to be holding back the ambition of newcomers, however, as we’re witnessing an upsurge in the concept in many countries. No doubt this new trend has its roots in a certain lack of interest in traditional music education.

Difficulties faced by music schools

Music schools have been experiencing difficulties for a number of years, and students’ perceptions of how they operate reveal shortcomings that digital technology is capable of remedying.

For example, 45% of students feel that conservatories are too professionally oriented, making learning too hard. In addition to the problem of teaching methods, students’ musical tastes are also a key factor.

It’s nothing new that most music schools teach classical works first and foremost, which tends to be completely out of sync with the musical tastes of their students, who are often young and in search of new music. The figures are significant in this respect: 53% of musicians drop out of conservatories between the ages of 15 and 24 because what they learn at music school doesn’t match their musical universe.

This, combined with the fact that it takes most students at least 3 years of theoretical study to get a good grasp of music theory, means that it’s hardly surprising that students are quickly demotivated by traditional learning methods. Finally, a third problem emerges: the democratization of music learning. On average, admission to a music school costs €800 per year, a colossal sum when compared with the French minimum wage (€1498 gross/month).

This raises legitimate questions about the sociological profile of music school students. Studies on the subject have shown that 70% of them belong to the wealthy and middle classes. We can easily deduce from this that musical learning suffers cruelly from easy access for households in financial difficulty, which nevertheless represent over 20% of French households.

The Internet and its new learning methods

These various observations lead us to turn our attention to technological innovations, and more specifically to the digital solutions on offer today. The digital explosion has had an impact on all our habits. Among them, new forms of learning are undergoing unprecedented transformation. From professional training to hobby-related courses, digital technology has fostered the emergence of a new phenomenon: self-training. The music learning sector is part of this new approach.

The piano, an instrument played by over 60% of musicians, is an integral part of this new approach. Web 2.0 has left more room for the voice of the “lambda” user, and it’s against this backdrop that video tutorials for learning to play the piano are springing up at lightning speed. At home, people take videos of themselves playing a specific piece of music step by step, after which they import their tutorial onto video platforms such as Youtube.

In this way, the tutorial is available to all users who frequent the site. Through a mimetic process, users must then reproduce the notes played by the video’s author on a given sequence, repeat it until they have mastered it, then move on to the next sequence. This method of learning, which may seem laborious, actually proves effective as the brain becomes accustomed to it. After learning a few tunes in this way, the player assimilates the next ones much more quickly. The practice is proving a great success with Internet users who are disinterested in or demotivated by music schools. This is reflected in the many views of these tutorials on Youtube, which frequently reach hundreds of millions.

The popularity of the concept on Youtube has prompted a number of companies to get involved in learning to play the piano without music theory, by developing software designed to make the player’s experience more comfortable. These tools abound on the Internet and are gaining an ever-growing following.

Mourad Tsimpou: representative of a growing phenomenon

It wasn’t until the very recent video of young Marseillais Mourad Tsimpou, in which he played Chopin’s Fantaisie Impromptue on the piano, that the trend received widespread media coverage.

This youngster from Marseilles’s inner suburbs is a good example of the new ways in which people are learning to play the piano, and how they are performing.

Learning the piano by ear and without sheet music, Mourad Tsimpou is the perfect example of the new generation’s attraction to this new concept. In the years to come, the fame of his story may even accelerate the growth of the phenomenon.

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