Pianoforall—as in teaching piano for all students—is a popular program that teaches people to play piano by ear as opposed to taking the more technical approach of learning to read music.
It is not a new program. Developed by professional pianist Robin Hall, the Pianoforall course was first introduced in 2006. It received a major update and modernization in 2013 and again in 2020. During those 15 years, Pianoforall has been sold to hundreds of thousands of students throughout the world.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to somewhat of a renaissance for Pianoforall. As many communities were in lockdown in 2020 and even 2021, more people than ever were turning to the Internet to socialize, play games and even pick up a new skill, such as learning to the play the piano.
Pianoforall sales are on fire. The hype surrounding this piano learning program is greater now than it has ever been, and that makes this an excellent time to take a closer look and see what all the fuss is about.
You will need a physical piano or keyboard. A virtual piano simply will not cut it unless you have some elaborate setup. Ideally, you want an 88-key instrument. However, digital 61-key instruments—and to a lesser extent 76-key instruments—are more prevalent and affordable, so many students begin there.
You absolutely can learn to play piano on a 61-key keyboard. There will be some limitations. The 61 keys allow for less octaves, which means that you will not be able to play all songs with exactness.
Something else to consider is whether your instrument has weighted keys. Most piano instructors agree that fully weighted keys help students learn faster and with a more nuanced understanding. But weighted keys are more expensive. Semi-weighted keys are better than no weighting at all, and if you cannot fit it into your budget, unweighted keys are absolutely better than nothing at all.
You will also need means to read the Pianoforall e-books and watch the Pianoforall videos. Chances are that if you are reading this review, you are in good shape. You can use a desktop computer, laptop, tablet and even a smartphone with operating systems like Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS.
Robin Hall is an artist and perhaps best known as a cartoonist. He is also a pianist and initially made his career selling his artwork and music often on a contract basis. Hall supplemented that career as a private instructor teaching people how to play piano and how to shape their natural artistic skills into proficiencies that could be plied in the real world as a professional cartoonist.
Whether it is better to learn by ear or sheet music is an old debate, but Hall is certainly of the former mind. As his career progressed, he began selling books, such as The Cartoonist’s Workbook. It blends art, instructional text, storytelling and humor in order to transfer concepts to his readers, and it works. It was at this point that he realized that these ideas could be transferred to teaching piano. He began applying these techniques with great success and then formulated them into the Pianoforall program.
The core of the Pianoforall curriculum is nine e-books that contain a combined 600 pages. Each book presents a course with a theme, such as Jazz, and the books are set up so that you progress through them sequentially. Each book builds on the skills that you acquired during the previous course.
The program also includes more than 200 video lessons, and these instructional videos are presented inline within the e-books. This approach allows Hall to present a concept from multiple perspectives, and it lets you hear and see the music that the course wants you to mimic at that particular stage.
In addition, Pianoforall provides more than 500 audio tunes and exercises. These exercises are particularly helpful for auditory learners and reinforce what the course has just taught you. With each exercise, you can spend as much or as little time as you need until you have grasped the concept.
In the following sections, we will run through the nine core e-books plus one of the bonus books:
The goal for the first four books is to build a solid foundation. The first book assumes nothing and teaches the basics about the piano or keyboard that you will need to know as you move forward. This includes ensuring that you understand what chords and rhythms are.
After introducing you to notes, the program has you playing three-note cords. A theme throughout this book is that it is more important to play and hear your music than to understand the underlying theory. It does, however, introduce you to some of that theory, including rhythm notation.
A notable difference between Pianoforall and other piano guides is that it does not spend much time with rhythm exercises and naming notes. It aims to provide you the basics you need to play and then moves you along quickly. It then spends the rest of the time presenting you with rhythms from popular music that you probably know well or have at least heard and helping you to recreate them.
By the conclusion of the first book, you will have learned 10 rhythms and 11 basic chords, will have learned to play the Amazing Broken Chord Ballad—an iconic piano teaching tool—and will be able to play the chords and rhythms of a handful of popular songs that just about everybody knows.
The second book builds on that knowledge by teaching you blues rhythms. The blues emphasize a lot of left-hand rhythms, and a core goal of this book is to instill in you the habit of practicing your left-hand rhythms until you can play them without thinking about them. The right-hand rhythms will come easier.
This book is shorter than the first, but by the end, you will know how to play five iconic blues rhythms. You will also be able to play twelve-bar blues, which is prominent in popular music, in any key.
Book three is the most technical thus far, and the aim here is to teach you the chords and inversions for each key. This is somewhat of an information dump albeit a necessary one. It does provide some mnemonic devices that piano teachers have been using for centuries to help their students.
The third book then provides you with practice progressions to help reinforce what you just learned. It also introduces you the circle of fifths—also called the cycle of fifths and the circle/cycle of fourths. This provides an essential understanding of the structure of music and the relationship between keys.
Advanced chords can seem difficult, and the goal here is to provide you perspectives that make them seem much simpler. It starts with a technique Hall calls a magic formula, and it helps you to play chords from the chord symbols found in songbooks. It will introduce you to a piece inspired by Barry Manilow before challenging you to create your own composition based on the same inspiration.
From there, the course progresses to clustered chords and diminished chords, and it contains numerous practice progressions in order to help you get them down. Once you have them, it teaches you about the style of the Beatles and provides you a list of Beatles songs that you now have the skills to play.
The fifth book is rather engaging. It teaches you to play ballad-style music through a step-by-step technique to create your own composition. The focus here is on teaching you to improvise and, perhaps more importantly, demonstrating to you that already possess the creativity to do that right now.
With that under your belt, the book transitions back to ballads known the world over, such as Auld Lang Syne, and it actually provides you sheet music for about five such songs. By the end of the course, you will finally have some full solo piano pieces that you can play, including well-known Christmas carols.
This is perhaps one of the more challenging legs of the course but also quite educational. It teaches you blues scale and chords and other nuances associated with the blues. The program then progresses to jazz, which can be complex, but that complexity is mostly avoided through this particular approach.
Through the lessons, the student learns to play jazz in four different keys, and there are numerous progressions here that are fun and engaging. Book six also provides numerous tips for improvisation and encourages you to improvise as you learn. As this course concludes, it teaches you about quartal harmony and provides the student a rather in-depth understanding of seventh chords.
Book seven is fun because it returns to book two and continues from there. You may have forgotten about what you learned back then, but this book reinforces it and shows you how far you have actually come. It also incorporates the advanced chord knowledge that you have recently acquired.
You also learn about slides, tremolo and other blues devices. The program then continues on to stride piano—both real and fake, which are differentiated by how far your hand travels. This all culminates in the student playing The Entertainer, which is widely considered one of the more difficult jazz arrangements.
This is the first point in the curriculum that you actually focus on sheet music, and it begins with a recap of what you have already learned earlier in the course about musical notation. It also provides strategies and tips on how to practice with sheet music in order to get better with it.
Book eight may be one of the more polarizing aspects of Pianoforall because it does not teach you to read sheet music in a traditional manner. It prefers what is essentially a shorthand technique that has you cuing in on chords and motifs that are familiar to you and spotting flat and sharp notes.
The course then progresses into full classic piano pieces from many big names, including Beethoven. It also provides all the material you need to continue practicing reading sheet music, pedaling, tone and so forth, and it lets the student decide how much time he or she wants to spend on these particular skills.
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This final book teaches you about arpeggios, scales and triads. In a traditional online piano course, these would be among the first things you learn. Here, they are among the last, and it is interesting approach to make you aware of these basics after you have already developed so many different piano skills.
The name of the book references the fact that you will want to integrate these techniques into your regular practice in order to refine your skills. It contains mnemonics that you can use just starting out and provides numerous practice routines that it recommends you learn by rote. Once you do, you will have deep understanding of melodic patterns, key signatures, seventh chords, triads and so forth.
This bonus book is not about playing piano in particular but about creativity in general. It discusses how you can take what makes you and integrate it into your music and the other aspects of your life.
As mentioned earlier, the video lessons are integrated into the text-based lessons, but we wanted to touch on what they entail. Most videos show two to three keyboards side by side in a horizontal arrangement.
The bottommost keyboard shows Hall’s hands as he plays the keyboard. The second keyboard has its keys colored in order to represent which keys are being pressed in the bottom video, and when necessary, the third keyboard is used to illustrate progressions, transitions and the like.
Here we provide a look at what we like about Pianoforall and what we did not in a nutshell:
A common question we encountered online among people considering the Piano for all teaching course is whether or not the program was right for them as an individual. If you are a complete beginner, then the answer to that question is yes. The course is amazing and fun and absolutely effective. If you are an intermediate to advanced player, then the answer is probably no.
Something else to consider is that this curriculum deemphasizes classical piano and instead emphasizes rock n roll, blues, jazz and so forth in order to make it fun and engaging. But fun is a matter of perspective, and if you want a more traditional approach to learning the piano, then Pianoforall is probably not your best option.
This question is asked a lot and is difficult to answer. Consider that the average piano student needs about six months to achieve an intermediate skill level. Some Pianoforall reviews have referred to the program as a 30-hour course. Other suggest that it requires about 20 two-hour sessions, which would mean 80 days if you spend about 30 minutes a day. But all of this really depends.
Our student for the purposes of this review completed the curriculum over a period of nine weeks and became quite skillful. However, that person was practicing two hours a day and often six days a week and no less than five. It is important to stress that Pianoforall is not a magic formula. But if you put the work in, you will almost certainly become an intermediate student in under six months.
The Pianoforall reviews are overwhelmingly positive, and this was true in 2006, after the revision in 2013 and after the second revision in 2020. The Pianoforall results are undeniable. Thousands of people who have put the work in have learned to play the piano well using this program. We could not find a dissatisfied student among people who were actually new to piano and eager to learn.
Does Pianoforall work? Yes! The focal point for our review was a team member who had never played the piano and who is not even musically inclined. Our test subject participated in the program over nine weeks—one book per week—and without any assistance from the actual pianists on the team.
Following the ninth week, we gave our test subject an in-person exam based on the Pianoforall song list. We then presented her with several videos of songs that are popular and famous but were not included in the curriculum and asked her to mimic them. She was able to do that at a level that surprised us.
Bottom line is that if you want to learn piano, the Pianoforall download is a fun, effective and relatively inexpensive way to do that. There are, of course, some caveats. Robin Hall’s approach is not traditional and that premise will alienate some teachers and students alike depending on their perspectives.
It also worth mentioning that due to the nontraditional approach, you will likely graduate this program with some blind spots. That means that if you take on a more traditional intermediate course after completing Piano for all, there may be some growing pains. From a professional piano teaching perspective, we do not believe this to be a big problem, but it is worth being aware of the issue.
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