Why Instant Self-Learning Music Teaching Apps Just Won’t Work

Here’s an app that you can use to aid your teaching.

Why Instant Self-Learning Music Teaching Apps Just Won’t Work

Editor’s Note: This post is a sponsored article, meaning the author has paid to have it featured on topmusic.co. Although it has been paid for, it still had to go through the normal editorial procedures, and so it still follows our model for thought-provoking content to help inspire piano teachers. 

Technology to Aid, or Technology to Hinder?

There are two types of technologies in today’s piano education ecosystem. Most technologies are created to empower teachers and provide tools to extend the teacher’s talent and skills.

The other type is aimed at replacing teachers and automating piano teaching as a whole.

We work at Tonara, and we believe we are part of the first group.

We develop tools to empower music teachers and extend their talent. When considering a way to explain why technologies create value to students, parents and teachers, we came across a very unique mother who explained it the best way we heard in a long time.

Her story demonstrates the importance of the teacher and why no self-learning instant music app can replace teachers.

This is her story:

WE are a musical family. My husband plays bass guitar… I love to sing… and our daughter is in her third year of studying piano. When she first informed us of her desire to play the piano, we agreed very quickly; I mean who wouldn’t? After all, as a child, I had also studied piano. Of course, back then, the teacher came to our house every week, and we already had a piano in the living room, since my mom played as well.

It was only as we began sorting out all the necessary details that we started to see this was not going to be like when I was growing up. Firstly, we had no piano of our own, and we were not going to buy one until we saw what direction this was going to take – lifelong love affair or fleeting romance. So, we decided to rent. Monthly. And take on the insurance policy as well.

Next, living in a small village in the middle of nowhere, we soon discovered that the nearest piano teacher was a 25-minute drive away through potholed streets and winding, one-laned inner-city roads. That meant that the round trip drive plus lesson totaled an average of one and a half hours, each week. In fact, more than once, over the past three years, we’ve taken to wondering whether we shouldn’t have made more of a case for studying the flute. Compact, inexpensive to purchase, and – wouldn’t you know – our next-door neighbor (yes, literally next door) is a flute teacher who teaches right out her living room.

But, our daughter wanted the piano, so we said yes. And now it’s three years later and she still wants it, and we’re still saying yes. After all, when muses are involved, don’t considerations like cost and the need to take a second mortgage out on your house just seem petty?

The truth is that, after three years of sitting through those one-on-one lessons, seeing the relationship between my daughter and her teacher develop, and having a front-row seat to what I can only describe as the magical art of transference, I wouldn’t change a thing. I don’t regret a single penny spent, nor the hellish drives through pelting sleet, nor the hours of my own work lost in the service of being a glorified chauffeur. Because what happens during those lessons is… extraordinary, priceless, and beyond anything that could ever come from studying through an app on a tablet or phone.

Why Self-Teaching Music Apps Don’t Work

There are many reasons why instant self-learning music apps are bad for music students.

I’m sure there are many families out there considering how much stress could be alleviated from their lives through instant self-learning music apps.

They are so much cheaper, and easier, and take less time, and they work around your schedule. So many reasons, I can see how they might find tempting.

I’d like to provide just a few examples of how those apps cannot duplicate the value of an in-person lesson with an actual live teacher, but also how they run the risk of doing irreversible damage to their child’s body, love of music, and future possibility as a pianist.

Here are just three of the many reasons why you should never use a instant self-learning music app.

Set assignments and tasks with Tonara.

They risk permanent wrist damage

Pianists, like any musician, develop technique over time, and that technique has one main goal: to enable the musician to play the correct note.

So rather than focus on how one is getting the note out, the pianist does whatever he or she needs to do to get it right. And once that happens, they will simply repeat what they’ve done, over and over, ingraining it as a habit throughout their entire system – whether it’s healthy or not, harmful or not, efficient or not.

I cannot count the cumulative hours my daughter’s teacher has spent in working with her on how to correctly hold the different parts of her body while playing: fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulders, head, neck, spine… too much tension, not enough tension, cup of the hands, relax here, lift there.

It all works together, in synergy, and if one part is out of place, it affects the whole. Movements or alignments that are potentially dangerous do not necessarily feel wrong or bad or painful at first; in fact, the results may not appear for years.

When they do, however, they may be impossible to correct, and the damage beyond repair. Now how will your child get the physical alignment he or she needs, from an app?

They don’t expand students’ horizons

Instant self-learning music apps teach children to play the songs they want to play.

That’s like giving your kid the credit card, sending them into the supermarket, and asking them to go buy the week’s groceries, whatever they want, just the food they really like.

If I did that with my daughter, she’d come home with 99% white food (white bread, white sugar, white pasta, butter, cheese, ice cream). The remaining 1% would be a frozen pizza, cookies and raspberry gelatin. That’s why I don’t let her decide the food menu.

It’s actually part of my job, as her parent, to make sure that she gets a good dose of nutrition alongside whatever junk she’s allowed. It’s my job to make sure that her diet is well-rounded, and includes foods in all the colors, from all the food groups.

And that’s exactly what her piano teacher does. She has ensured that my daughter plays Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach. That she knows – and now loves – French ditties and old Irish folk tunes.

She also plays exercises that don’t really have names or composers you would remember, but I’m told are crucial stepping stones for the next stages of her musical development. Then you’ve also got chords and improvisation too.

Moreover, her teacher knows what to give her when, based on what she’s heard in the last lesson. It’s a tailor-made training course developed specifically for her. What app can do that?

They don’t give emotional support

One of the most important elements in learning music is the emotional bond created between teacher and student.

The child feels that someone else is standing there, in their corner. Someone who has been down this road, knows what it takes, and believes in their ability to get there.

My daughter talks a lot in some of her lessons, and her teacher gets that, and knows when to listen and how to respond in a way that offers back exactly what’s needed. Confirmation, a story of her own, a life lesson.

She responds, and then gently guides my daughter back to the instrument. Sometimes my daughter gets frustrated when she is attempting something new and demanding, and success is elusive. I see how her teacher reassures her, guides her, pushes her gently when she knows she can try harder, or reminds her how far she’s already come, and that some things simply take time.

I see the trust, the warmth, the love between them, and wonder… how anyone could ever imagine replacing that human connection with an app.

What is Tonara?

Unlike those self-teaching music apps, we’ve decided to invest in Tonara.

My daughter’s teacher is able to send her assignments of pieces she should practice at home before the next lesson, keep track of her progress, and also offer her extra support. As parents, we find it a great tool for us to trust that our daughter is practicing in-between her lessons with her teacher’s guidance.

As for my daughter, she loves to practice through the app, because as she practices more she earns more points, unlocks higher XP levels and stickers, and also gets to see her name on her teacher’s studio leaderboard and the global leaderboard.

For our family and our teacher, Tonara is the perfect solution for all of us. I strongly recommend that all piano teachers, parents, and students check it out as you won’t be disappointed!

This is the part where we tell you to check Tonara out for free! You can go to Tonara’s website to learn more. Or go directly to the App Store or Google Play to download the app.


Tonara is a leading music practice app that helps private and school music teachers manage their studio and motivate their students to practice more in between lessons. We are committed to a true quality music education experience. We believe that there is no success without investment, training, and learning.
Tonara was created by a team of music teachers, app developers, and musicians. Our core belief is that apps don't teach music; they only empower the teachers that do!

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