Facilitating Long Distance Piano Learning (Final Project)

Background
I began learning piano in 7th grade under a local teacher who would come to my house every week for lessons. I was a classical pianist and took the ABRSM piano exams every year, but I would also play whatever songs I wanted (Muse, Green Day, etc.) I stopped taking lessons around August 2015, which is when I moved to Amherst for college.

Why Self-learning Didn’t Work
After learning piano for the past 6 years with a wonderful instructor, I was not ready to give up my lessons when I came to college. I packed a few of my books because I knew I could play the piano at Roots. I was determined to not forget my songs by playing at least once a week. Unfortunately, I get self-conscious about my playing and find it difficult to play in front of crowds and distractions, and every time I’ve been at Roots, I’ve had to play in front of a crowd. Additionally, my busy schedule made it hard for me to play regularly. I needed a teacher who could keep me motivated about playing.

The importance of 1:1 lessons:
In my opinion, online piano lessons aren’t as effective. For the best learning experience, the piano teacher and the student need to be sitting together at a piano, so the teacher can demonstrate proper posture, playing techniques, and correct the student’s errors in real time. Most online services are expensive and don’t offer the real time experience that comes with traditional lessons. Where a lot of instructional videos seem to fail is that the audience is watching instruction from an outside perspective only. Although the pre-recorded lessons are flexible enough for one with a busy schedule, one has to be very self-motivated to follow along (as it takes a lot of time and effort to learn how to play). Younger learners or players with learning disabilities need the one-on-one instruction to keep up.

Project Goals:
It is very difficult to continue learning an instrument long-distance, and there are no virtual methods here today that compare to traditional instruction. With the Google Glass and the Structure sensor, I wanted to combine the flexibility of the online piano lessons yet somehow simulate the real-time benefits of a traditional piano lesson. The ultimate goal of this project is to give the full experience of a face-to-face piano lesson in a long-distance setting, so these tools are just meant to mimic the real environment to the best of their ability.

Google Glass Goals:

  • With the video feature, I can create videos from first person’s perspective of fingers on the keys (to give the effect that the viewer is the one in front of the piano).
  • Google Hangouts: Additionally, the hangout/live stream feature will help me simulate a traditional piano lesson in which the teacher and student can interact in real-time.
  • Apparently the hangouts can be recorded, so after the lesson, the video can be uploaded online so a student can go and access the lesson later if they need to.

Structure Sensor:

  • Model hand positions, full-body posture, and similar aspects that the Google Glasses cannot show as properly.
  • Show the keys from a bird’s eye perspective, and can label areas of the keyboard and show the different notes

Link to Google Glasses Videos: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yv1miYL0shg

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2NK2l_oECq0

Link to Structure Sensor 3-D Models:

Piano Keys: https://skfb.ly/NoMU

Feet/Lower Body: https://skfb.ly/NpR9

Upper Body: https://skfb.ly/NoNN

Limitations:

Unfortunately, in the timeframe we were given to use the tools, I was unable to download the google hangouts app onto the Glass and I had trouble connecting to eduroam. Instead, I just shot videos that gave an idea of the first-person perspective of the piano player. However, the screen of the Glass is very small and I kept instinctively trying to focus on the small screen instead of my playing. It made it really hard to concentrate on the keys and I had to keep squinting to read what was on the Glass, and in a real situation, the Glass would be a distraction to actual piano playing (as you need all your focus to be on the keys or the sheet music in front of you). I also found myself being very stiff in an attempt to steady the lens and make sure it was pointing directly at the keys so that I wasn’t focusing as much on my teaching. That is an example of poor piano posture. Additionally, the small screen gave me a headache after wearing it for some time and made my vision slightly blurry. When I get really into playing, my body tends to move with the music, which resulted in the videos being slightly shaky. It was annoying that I could only record 10-second long videos, and if I wanted to extend the time, I would have to tap the side of the glass. I cannot do that when I have both hands on the piano! Instead, I learned I could just tap the glasses before I started playing to extend the video. My piano teacher wears glasses, and it is hard to wear the google glasses over regular glasses. You can buy corrective frames for the Glass, but it is even more expensive and I’m not sure how practical the cost is.

The Structure Sensor was less frustrating to use, but it did not give me the results I wanted. The piano room I was playing in was extremely small, and it was hard to move around to get a thorough scan of the piano and my body. That is why the scans look incomplete and have chunks missing in them. Additionally, when I emailed myself the scans, they were at a really low resolution, but I put them through SketchFab and was able to clean them up. Because it was hard to get 360 degree scans, the Structure Sensor’s was not as effective in providing a more thorough demonstration of proper piano posture. For comparison, I took normal photos of my piano posture and of the keys, and these pictures were much clearer to understand.

Reflection:

I will use a bigger piano practice room to get a clearer scan. The live stream feature would set apart my concept from every other online piano lesson, so I want to definitely retry this with the  out the Hangouts feature. I am not yet sure if both parties would be on the Google Glass, or if the student can just be on their laptop/phone to watch the lesson. It would probably be more useful if the student is also wearing google glasses so the teacher has a view of their hands, but at the same time, the teacher is unable to see the student’s face and that detracts from the overall teaching experience. Additionally, it is impractical for everyone to have a Google Glass and to be expected to know how to use it. I want to look more into how the Google Glass can be used to aid younger children/individuals w/ learning disabilities. I did not realize how obstructive and distracting the Glass was, and younger students could easily get distracted by such wearable technology. In-person lessons are probably better for them.

Conclusions:

Although the concept sounds good, the execution at this level is not feasible. The structure sensor may not be an effective tool for tutorial videos as the Google Glass is. This project could potentially have a profound impact in the piano community. The reason many people don’t bother learning an instrument is because they lack the time and patience that comes with committing to lessons, and this concept sounds appealing to individuals who want some form of instruction but whose busy schedules require flexible lessons. Especially after the advent of YouTube, people are able to find piano tutorials online and learn on their own. I think this current model is more geared to individuals who want to learn something small (like how to play a certain song) rather than begin formal piano instruction. Additionally, most online lessons expect some basic piano knowledge as they dive right in without explaining notes, playing styles, etc.  However, for beginner students, it is recommended they have an instructor who can demonstrate positions and the basics and be physically present to correct the students’ mistakes. At this point, this technology is more useful for students like me; ones who have previously learned piano traditionally but now for some reason are unable to, rather than those completely new to piano.

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