Making musicians: COVID-19 pandemic leads to more piano lessons, new ways to learn music

Coronavirus

ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — As the coronavirus pandemic shuts down many activities and events, many people are finding new hobbies. A popular one is learning how to play the piano.

Apex Piano Showroom in Roanoke is seeing a boom in new musicians who want to start taking piano lessons or pick them back up after taking a break.

Steve Gross owns the piano store. He says the pandemic pushed the piano industry to jump 60%.

Instructors at Apex Piano Showroom are teaching between 40 and 50 lessons a week, most of them virtually.

“A virtual lesson gives people the opportunity to not have the pressure of the formality of it,” Gross said. “Teachers are being very careful of is making sure they are paying attention to technique so kids won’t learn those bad habits.”

According to Gross, playing the piano is bringing families together and allowing them to learn a new skill simultaneously.

“We’re seeing a lot of parents and kids taking lessons together,” he said. And even though they’d start on internet-style lessons like YouTube and learn a bunch of bad habits, and then realize they need a teacher to unteach those bad habits and get them moving in the right direction. What we are seeing is it eliminates the boredom.”

Gross says there are plans to resume socially-distanced music lessons in the beginning of 2021.

“Group lessons are other {options} we’re finding beneficial, too because we can put up to 10 pianos in one of our group rooms, ” he said. “Have the teacher at the front of the room and separate the pianos far enough to where the teacher, with headphones and students with headphones, can go in and listen to each individual player one at a time.”

One of the challenges the pandemic has created is finding innovative ways to teach music instead of relying on a “hands-on” approach.

However, several teachers have embraced developing new ways to teach, Gross says.

“Some very traditional teachers that otherwise would have not considered changing anything about how they’ve taught for the last 30 or 40 years, have all embraced the technology, not only from the internet side of things, but from the instrument side of things,” he said.

Virginia Tech students have also had to adapt at new ways to grow in musicianship. Percussionists adjusted to sharpening their skills in unexpected places.

Annie Stevens is an assistant percussion professor and held many of her classes outdoors during the fall semester to ensure proper social distancing.

“Music is so important to our culture,” she said. “My students still have this great drive to learn more about their instruments.”

Stevens was forced to teach fewer students during the fall for one class or lesson, essentially cutting her typical class size in half. In addition, she had to give more instructions verbally and do more visual demonstrations than she was used to.

“Normally what I would have done is gone over, poked their fingers, or got their grips on the sticks exactly correct,” Stevens said. “Now, it’s just holding mine up from afar or maybe on Zoom for some of the lessons, and trying to give these vivid descriptions.”

Her fear was students developing bad habits that could be difficult to change.

“If they start doing something incorrectly from the very beginning and I miss it, that can lead to a lot bad habits in the future,” Stevens said.

According to Stevens, during the 2021 spring semester, she expects to be able to conduct more classes inside music halls, but still practicing social distancing.

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