Overview: Pianoforall Review
Our Rating: (out of 5)
- Quickly gets down to making music through grooves and rhythms
- Excellent alternative approach for those who are fed up with traditional piano learning methods
- Short, effective lessons. Doesn’t waste a word on the page or a minute in the videos.
- Includes helpful visual and audio aids and shortcuts to speed up the learning process
- Excellent course for improvisation
- Great price
- Weaker on sight reading and technique
- 18 ebooks
- 300 videos
- Hundreds of audio examples for each lesson
- Free updates, and support
A beautifully thought-out course that wastes no time. Impossible not to recommend, especially at this price.
Pianoforall is a popular online piano course used by 450,000 students worldwide. Divided into 10 books (18 really, including all the parts) with over 300 videos and hundreds of audio examples, the course claims to be the way that ‘self-taught musicians learned the piano’.
Curious about the hype, we gave the course a thorough shake. Can it be as effective as it claims to be? Is it worth it?
See here for all of our reviews of online piano courses and other online music learning.
We have updated this review to reflect some major updates implemented at the end of 2022.
How does Pianoforall work?
The Pianoforall course is taught through 10 ebooks with embedded videos and audio examples. This means:
- It works on any device (On Mac and IOS (iPad, iPhone), you can use the preinstalled ‘Books’ app. On PC and Android, it can be accessed through the free ebook reader ‘Kotobee Reader’.)
- It works offline. After you download the ebooks, that’s it.
- You only pay once.
- Free updates are included.
Who is this course for?
- Adult and teenage learners who would like to learn to play pop and jazz
- Students fed up with traditional piano learning methods
- Those interested in learning how to improvise
- Students who like to learn by ear. (Audio examples of each exercise and song are almost always available)
Who is this course NOT for?
- Those looking for a comprehensive piano learning course with solid fundamentals in sight reading and technique.
- Students interested in learning classical music beyond the beginner/early intermediate level.
How the Course Works
Pianoforall is a topsy-turvy approach to piano learning. The course is designed and taught by Robin Hall. Traditional methods usually begin with sight reading melodies and progress later to learning about chords and harmony. Pianoforall does the reverse.
First and foremost, the course teaches the fundamentals of playing rhythms and grooves with chords on the piano. In this way, it is very similar to the way most people learn the guitar.
It’s also very visual. You see the patterns on a keyboard in every exercise, video, and diagram. In this way, it feels very similar to the way one learns shapes on a fretboard with the guitar.
Based on our trials and student feedback, within a few days of practicing about a half hour a day, you can play some convincing rhythm piano.
What’s new in 2023?
Robin Hall has made it an ongoing effort to improve the experience of Pianoforall. In response to student feedback, at the end of 2022, the course was given a large update adding and improving in the following areas:
- Generally more songs with updated, more contemporary repertoire included.
- Extra Song Examples at the ends of Chapters now with visual and audio aides.
- Where previously, these sections only had Extra Song Examples’ chapters at the end of sections only provided the title and first chord, they now include visual aides and audio examples with the entire basic progression. In my opinion, this is the greatest improvement, giving students loads of songs to choose from using the new tools from that chapter.
- Student Q & A sections
- At the ends of sections, Robin Hall sometimes addresses concerns like “When I play the twist rhythm, my wrists sometimes hurt. What can I do about this?”
- More emphasis on posture and technique
- More diagrams and explanations
- Improved audio and video quality
Students can expect regular, free updates to the course going forward.
The Best Bits
Learn to make Music, Waste no Time
Perhaps the greatest strength of this course is how it wastes no time and just gets down to making music.
The course begins by using a few chords to make grooves and rhythms. Especially for adult and teen learners, this is an encouraging start. Rather than learning the grammar of the musical language, you’re getting a feel for music-making right away.
By the end of the first Book 1, part 2, you should be able to play a convincing pop-style piano on most songs. When you finish Book 3: Incredible Inversions, you’re playing things that actually sound kind of interesting.
Compare that to traditional approaches to the piano where it often takes at least a year or so to get to a point where what you’re playing is at all musical. Overall, the efficiency of this course is one of its most impressive attributes.
Learn to Fake it Till you Make It
Similar to the way the Pianoforall course begins, the middle books also have a lot of tricks to keep you on the pulse of music making. Hall understands that students often become overwhelmed when they encounter difficult material.
So he suggests you just fake it first, and he gives you some great fake methods. For example, in Book 5 he provides a ‘magic formula’ for bluffing 9th, 11th, and sus4 chords. He gives a single keyboard shape for all three variants combining the 7th, 9th, and 4th (or 11th).
Hall then adds, ‘Remember it’s a bluff, so use your ear. Adjust accordingly if it doesn’t sound right.’
In this way, the course bulldozes the roadblocks to music-making that often come up, particularly when learning the piano.
Learning by Listening has Real Advantages
With the Blues, Jazz, and Pop rhythms and grooves, it just makes sense to teach these by ear. Things like a Boogie Shuffle are usually written with straight triplets often with a footnote saying something to the effect of ‘It shouldn’t sound so stiff. You should swing the rhythm to get the right feel.’
So this course’s approach to learning these styles just makes a whole lot more sense than trying to interpret the approximation of sheet music. Every section begins with a video of Hall playing these grooves, and the individual examples always have audio examples next to them.
Loads of Handy Shortcuts
The course offers handy shortcuts everywhere possible, which help you absorb a lot of information that might otherwise elude your interest.
For example, in Book 4, the course is introducing all 24 basic major and minor triads. Hall explains that with all the triads on the piano, except the B chords, the root note and the 5th are the same color piano key(white or black). For the B chords, all the triads have opposite colors for the root and 5th.
The Course Develops your Ear
Traditional approaches to the piano focussed on sight reading and technique sometimes take a while before they introduce ideas that develop musicianship through ear training.
Throughout this course, you are introduced to musical patterns and ideas on the piano and then asked to go listen to songs to figure them out.
For example, when the course covers Beatles stylings in Book 5, Hall says, ‘Try this style for Lady Madonna, then go listen to it and work out the real song.’
Every Rose has its Thorn
It’s difficult to find faults in this course. The goals of the course are to get teach you the piano in an efficient, interesting way, and in our opinion, it follows through on that promise.
Of course, by swapping the usual order of things in piano learning, technique and sight reading are given a lower priority.
You can’t have your cake and eat it. A student is likely to come out of this course weaker in technique and sight reading when compared with traditional methods. Piano for All doesn’t cover everything, but what it does teach, it teaches well.
Overview of the Pianoforall Course
Book 1: Rhythm Style
The first book of the course is now divided into 6 parts! First, you are introduced to the keyboard, notes, and rhythms (and newly added sections on posture and technique).
At first, this feels just like the beginning of traditional approaches to piano learning. But quickly, the focus pivots hard to chords and rhythm.
The foundation for the course is introduced right away: you learn 13 classic rhythms and 11 basic chords used in most popular songs. These chords form is the harmonic basis for most songs.
The approach is exactly like playing rock and pop on a guitar: you learn to read chord symbols from songbooks.
Book 2: Basic Blues
Book two uses the same chords you learned in Book 1 applied to five blues rhythms. In the forward, Hall insists that the best way to learn the blues is first learning the left-hand parts ‘in your sleep’. Then you can add the tricky right-hand licks and riffs in Book 8.
In the end, you should be able to play a 12-bar blues in three different keys. (C, G, and F)
Book 3: Incredible Inversions
Divided into two parts, this book goes further with the same rhythms you learned in Book 1.
There is a focus on inversions with great shortcuts for learning and practicing them. Most of the books is focused on getting the rhythms from Book 1 in your bones with loads of songs. Only this time, it feels less awkward because the chords are no longer all in root position.
Hall offers up some workout routines, ending with the circle of 5ths to get your hands introduced to moving through different harmonies and key signatures.
Book 4: Chord Magic
In Book 4, also in two parts, you are introduced to 14 more basic chords so that by the end of this book, you are familiar with all 24 basic major and minor triads.
These two parts slowly work you through different keys and their common progressions with loads of songs to give you a feel for these new positions.
By the end of Book 4, you will be able to play songs using all the key signatures on the piano! The circle of fifths exercises at the end work you through all the harmonies.
Book 5: Advanced Chords
In this book, you move beyond triads and 7th chords into 9th, 11th, and sus 4 chords. Hall teaches you how to ‘fake’ these chords with a single keyboard shape for all three.
There are chapters on the styles of Barry Manilow and the Beatles, reviewing the common patterns and devices used in these songs. And for all you have learned, there are loads of practice progressions from popular songs to solidify the concepts.
Book 6: Ballad Style
In the intro to this book, Hall states, “The easiest way to learn ballad style is to improvise first before you learn actual songs. When you learn actual songs, you need to learn a sequence of notes. When you work just with chords, patterns, and special scales you have more leeway.”
Ballad Style gets into real improvisation with left and right hands working together. Because ballads have slower tempos, you can get the concepts in your hands without too much effort.
You learn how to roll chords (root, 5th, root) in the left hand and play around with a pentatonic scale with the right hand. Hall encourages you to use the instrument percussively to vary the rhythm.
You are encouraged to be musical with your improvisation with lessons on theme and variation and phrasing. This all culminates with learning the song Auld Lang Syne, applying all the patterns you learned in the improvisation to an actual song.
This is the first book in the course that has you learning solo piano pieces with right-hand melody and left-hand chords. With the basis of improvisation established first, however, the student now has a good understanding of how these songs are composed.
Finally, this book prepares you for what is to come with some left-hand stride, a jazz 12-bar blues, and a jazz bass run.
Book 7: Jazz Style
Now, the course moves to two books of lessons on Jazz. Hall starts by teaching some blues improvisations with the pentatonic scale, blues scale, and blues chords.
At the end of part 1, you’ll be able to improvise blues and basic jazz in four different keys. You also get into left-hand inversions commonly used in show tunes and jazz, jazz versions of Christmas classics, more stride patterns, and improvisation exercises.
You are always provided with audio examples and visual tricks that help to simplify some of these not-so-simple harmonies
In part 2, you move ahead working with more jazzy Christmas classics applying the concepts of quartal harmony and two-handed comping.
By the end of this part, you’ll have been introduced to some Bill Evans tricks, the four types of 7th chords, and the blues scale in detail.
Book 8: Advanced Blues
In Book 8, you apply right-hand riffs such as shuffle rhythms, tremolos, slides, and turnarounds to the left-hand patterns you ‘learned in your sleep’ in book 2.
Hall also teaches you how to fake left-hand stride piano so that you don’t need to stretch your hand till it hurts.
The book culminates by learning the Ragtime classic The Entertainer and applying your new skills.
Book 9: Classical Piano
This book changes the focus back to sheet music, reading, key signatures, notes, and rhythms.
Hall has his unique way of sight reading by looking out for familiar patterns which happen to be the patterns of chords and motives that you’ve been learning in the other books up to now.
For example, in the ballad style, you learn to roll chords (root-5th-root) in the left hand. If this pattern appears in a classical piece, he points it out as “a minor ballad”.
This book includes classical pieces by Bach, Brahms, Beethoven and Chopin, Mozart, Rameau, Satie, Johann Strauss, Verdi, and more.
Book 10: Speed Learning
This is a book of workout routines – scales, triads, arpeggios – the standard boring drills that are necessary for learning the piano. (Maybe some people like them) But Hall does find ways to make them interesting.
The course teaches you to look out for patterns that will speed up the process of absorbing information. Hall has some great ideas on how you might notice visual patterns on the keyboard quickly rather than slowly memorizing by doing.
Alternatives to Pianoforall
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The best online course for children. The curriculum is specifically designed for kids with games and engaging lessons.
Herbie Hancock Teaches Jazz Piano
A course about listening and improvising on the piano taught by jazz legend, Herbie Hancock. For those with some experience looking for new inspiration. Subscription based with access to the entire Masterclass library.
Check out our Best Way to Learn Piano for a deeper dive on your options for piano learning today.
Personally, this is the course I wish I would have found ages ago when I was first learning the piano. Learning scales and fingering and sight reading always felt more painful than fun. And I marveled at self-taught types who could improvise and figure songs out by ear.
This course takes the mystery out of what the self-taught types are doing. It’s like Hall is showing us all the secrets that you can never find in books.
With a one-time cost of $39, it’s a no-brainer. Get it. Learn it. You won’t regret it.
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