BULVERDE — September is National Piano Month. Yamaha says the instrument dates back to the 1700’s, with its ancestor, the harpsichord, being played hundreds of years before then.
A Bulverde family is learning the instrument thanks to online lessons.
The sweet notes of “My Country Tis of Thee” fill the Smith’s home. 13-year-old Liesl is at the keys, performing for her three sisters.
Mom Celestia is a violin teacher who is happy her daughters get excited to play music. She says the art form has many benefits.
“It's a great way to teach work ethic and to teach appreciation, a kind of humanity [and] compassion… discipline and learning about different cultures and different music from different eras,” said Celestia Smith.
The Smiths discovered a web-based piano lesson program called the Hoffman Academy. Liesl says learning to play piano helps her improve on the violin as well.
“It's kind of helped me move a little faster on both instruments because it's helped me with sight reading a lot,” said Liesl.
Students work at their own pace. They can pause the video lesson at any time to go over what they just learned as many times as needed.
The video lessons are free.
A premium subscription is $18 dollars a month. Additional family members can be added at $9 per session with discounts available for yearly memberships. The premium accounts have access to music theory worksheets, learning games, audio tracks to simulate a band or orchestra environment and sheet music. The lessons are ready whenever the student has time to play.
“I do piano in the morning before school and sometimes I just don't have the time for it,” said Raquelle Smith, 14. “I like how it's split up in the video and the practice session. Sometimes I just have to do the video one day and the practice session the next day.”
Joseph Hoffman says the lessons are simple enough for a 7-year-old to understand -- but can be used by musicians of all ages. Some of his users are senior citizens. He thinks the online platform is especially successful for children.
“Kids love learning with technology. It’s kind of their language, it’s their domain, it feels relevant to them,” said Hoffman.
The program features a variety of song styles, including pop and theme songs, to keep children excited about learning a new piece.
The goal of Hoffman Academy is to make piano lessons accessible and affordable while being a positive, no pressure experience.
“You kind of get out of it what you put into it,” said Celestia Smith. “If you're really motivated, you can get top-notch training for a very affordable price. [In a] relatively short time, you can become proficient.”