If you’re in the market for an online piano method, you’ve likely come across Pianoforall.
With over 250,000 students, Pianoforall is a popular online piano course that uses a chord-based, “play first, ask questions later” approach that gets you sounding like a pro right away.
Creator Robin Hall says that his e-book course will teach you to “play piano by ear, improvise, create compositions, and then eventually read piano sheet music,” with each “bite-sized” lesson planned to move you from one skill to the next in a short period of time in a logical way.
So, how does Pianoforall work? Can it live up to its claims? Keep reading – I’ll cover everything you need to know to decide whether or not Pianoforall is the course for you.
“Piano for all” is quite flexible in terms of what you’ll need to use the course, but a piano or keyboard is obviously non-negotiable.
It’s much better to get a 61-key keyboard and start practicing than to not have a keyboard at all.
However, I’d still recommend upgrading to an 88-key digital piano with fully weighted keys as soon as possible if you’re serious about learning the piano.
In terms of tech, you’ll need to download the e-books onto your Mac, PC, iPhone, iPad, or Android. They’re in the .epub format, which contains the text and videos, so you’ll need something capable of opening and reading those.
This downloadable format does give the option of working offline, which is great, but unfamiliar users may find the .epub format fiddly.
The Pianoforall website has detailed instructions and links for the downloads, as well as a thorough troubleshooting section for when the set-up isn’t going smoothly.
The current price of the course is $49, marked down from $79. For this one-off purchase you’ll receive:
Nine e-books plus one bonus book – These comprehensive e-books take you through various styles of piano music with chords, tunes, and exercises, teaching you just enough theory for each lesson. I’ll go into detail on each book below.
24.5 hours of video lessons – Embedded in the e-book itself, these videos reinforce skills with explained keyboard demonstrations by Robin Hall.
He plays the lesson on a lower keyboard while an animated keyboard above shows you which notes he is playing, making it clear which notes you should play, what your hands should look like, and how it should sound.
Hundreds of audio tunes and exercises – These are beside each exercise to show you quickly what it should sound like. Auditory learners especially will benefit from hearing each exercise before attempting it.
Each e-book covers a different aspect of piano playing and builds on one another so that you are putting the skills you’ve learned into practice. Except for Book Nine, which can be used at any time, you should read the books in order.
Pianoforall recommends spending 20-30 minutes at a time with the course, so how fast you complete each section will depend on how fast you read, and how fast you grasp the concepts!
The books also feature ‘Student Q&A’ sections, answering common questions students may have, and ‘checkpoints’ – a list of skills and knowledge Robin advises feeling confident on before moving to the next section. This is a handy way to track progress.
Book One: Party Time – Rhythm Style Piano
The first book is an introduction to both the program and the keyboard.
It begins by stating the primary principle of Pianoforall – that it’s important to lay a foundation of chords and rhythms before building improv, melody composition, and sight-reading skills beyond that.
It also gives some tips on piano posture, equipment, and stressing the importance of practice and repetition – including some tips on the sustain pedal, which is a nice and oft-overlooked touch.
It introduces you to the notes on the keyboard and then jumps immediately into playing some basic three-note chords, reminding you that, like learning guitar, it’s more important to play than to worry about the theory at this early stage.
Book One also introduces musical notation, including rests and basic rhythm.
While most traditional curriculums spend a while on note-naming and rhythm exercises, this section moves quickly, which will be a problem for some who may need to keep revisiting it.
The rest of the book progresses by teaching you a family of chords and introducing various rhythms associated with popular music, which you can use with the chords to play a song.
All in all, you’ll learn ten rhythms and eleven basic chords in Book One.
The rhythms also include other time signatures, such as 6/8 and 12/8, more ‘shuffling’ feels. You largely stay in the key of C, though other chords and keys are included too. The song examples are a lot of traditional songs and older 50s/60s/70s standards, which may frustrate younger learners.
The chords are taught with the assumption that you will be reading chord symbols in songbooks, like guitar players do, and shows you what to play when you encounter seventh chord or slash chord symbols.
This is a smart acknowledgement, as even many piano players have ended up on guitar chord sites trying to work out a song!
By the end of the book, you should be able to play the chords and rhythms of several popular songs while you and/or a friend sing the melody, and you may even feel brave enough to improvise a bit!
You should also be able to play the short and lovely “Amazing Broken Chord Ballad.”, introduced as one of the ‘melodic interludes’ to break up the learning.
There’s a huge amount of material in Book 1 which will take some learners up to a year – this could be intimidating for some, but it does provide a comprehensive introduction to chords and rhythm, and hopefully makes the rest of the course much easier for you!
Book Two: Blues & Rock n Roll
Book Two builds on your knowledge by teaching you blues rhythms to use with the chords you already know.
It emphasizes the concept that you should practice left hand rhythms much more than the right hand, until you can play them in your sleep.
This book is brief compared to the first one, but it still teachers seven blues rhythms and how to play a twelve-bar blues in any key.
Book Three: Incredible Inversions
Book Three is another updated part – after feedback from his students that they were struggling to understand inversions, Hall dedicates a lot of time to it here.
He introduces the concept of chord inversions, then integrates them into previously introduced songs from Books One and Two.
If you get the hang of inversions quickly, you may not need this whole book, but it’s good for those who need the practice.
You’ll also encounter the “cycle of fifths” (commonly called the “circle of fifths”), a concept meant to encourage you to practice all of the keys, teach you the relationship between them, and help you understand the general structure of music.
Book Four: Chord Magic
Book Four is very heavy on chords, teaching you chord theory and almost every single major and minor chord there is!
It consolidates the lesson via making you play previously covered songs in different keys.
It’s a good lesson for those particularly interested in transposing songs – perhaps guitarists – but many might find this section draining.
Book Five: Advanced Chords
This book continues to teach you how to play chords from chord symbols found in songbooks, starting with a “magic formula” for bluffing a few more advanced chords.
A Barry Manilow-inspired piece called “Manilow Mood” will have you learning new musical devices before you attempt to write a Manilow-style composition of your own.
It helps consolidate the learning, though younger students may be thinking, ‘who?’
Diminished chords and cluster chords come next, with a lot of practice progressions.
Diminished chords and cluster chords come next, and the book finishes strong with a lesson on Beatles styling and a long list of Beatles songs, which you can play with the rhythms and chords you know.
Book Six, Seven, Eight, Nine: Styles
Books Six through Nine focus on different styles, respectively: Ballad, Jazz, Advanced Blues and Classical Piano. There’s useful tips to be found in each, but you may prefer to focus on your preferred genres.
Book Six approaches ballad-style playing by introducing a step-by-step method for creating your own ballad-style songs.
This book is all about learning how to improvise, giving ideas for the melody, left-hand pattern, and chord progressions.
The book includes sheet music for some beautiful ballads, which you’ll likely enjoy playing – these are the first full-length pieces in the course that can really stand on their own as solo piano pieces.
Book Seven is content-heavy, but you’ll come out with a great jazz and blues foundation. It starts by teaching you how to get a “bluesy” sound using the blues scale, blues chords, and other tricks, before moving on to jazz.
Rather than learn to read complex jazz rhythms, you’re encouraged to learn the rhythms by listening to and copying the audio clips – definitely a more natural approach.
The book gives you lots of tips and tricks for jazz improvisation, and serves up many cool practice progressions.
Book Eight builds on Book Two by adding your advanced chord knowledge and fun new right-hand chord riffs to the blues rhythms that you learned.
The second part of this book teaches you about stride piano — both fake and real, the difference being the length of the “stride” your hand is taking.
You get to apply your knowledge with “the song you’ve been waiting for” – “The Entertainer” ending the section on a high note (pun intended)!
Since Book Nine largely relies on sheet music, it begins with a recap of musical notation and a quick lesson on key signatures, new symbols, and musical language.
Hall teaches you to sight read music “the Pianoforall way,” which means watching out for familiar chords and motifs, and that the notes that are sharp or flat due to the key signature are given in red for easy spotting.
You’ll then get into playing classical piano pieces, including big names like Beethoven, Bach, and Chopin.
If you have a goal of playing more pieces from sheet music after the Pianoforall course, I recommend spending quite a bit of time on this section, practicing your skills in reading music, pedaling, and tone.
Book Ten: Speed Learning
Hall was clever with the name of this book, which is all about scales, triads, and arpeggios.
If my piano teacher had referred to this area as “speed learning,” maybe I would have been more eager to practice!
Incorporating these elements into your regular practice is an important way to improve your playing.
The book gives you an example ‘practice routine’ in C major, then reiterates it in many other keys as well.
The routine includes traditional classical scales as well as blues and jazz workouts, which is thoughtful.
Now let’s sum up some of the pros and cons of the “Piano for all” teaching course.
Pianoforall is geared to complete beginners. However, its style of teaching is so different from most traditional piano programs that even those who have some basic classical piano knowledge may find it useful for learning how to play by ear and improvise.
Given Pianoforall’s emphasis on blues, jazz, rock n roll, and other styles of popular music, it’s safe to say that this course is not meant for those whose primary goal is to play classical music instead.
While Book Eight does teach students to sight read some short classical pieces, this course will give you a foundation on which to increase your knowledge of playing classically rather than merely teach you itself.
Though the content is different, Pianoforall’s head-first, dive-right-in approach to playing the piano is one that is usually found in courses for adult learners, such as Faber’s Adult Piano Adventures series.
Adults are determined to learn, and they’re usually not content to play simple children’s tunes for the first few months. For this reason, Pianoforall is good for adults and teenagers alike who want to make real music ASAP.
The songs chosen for this course are also aimed at adult learners.
While they’re great tunes familiar to many – and certainly better than “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” – let’s just say that older generations might get more excited about the selection than younger ones.
Pianoforall makes big promises, but for the motivated student, it just might be able to deliver. As long as you understand what the course will and won’t teach you, Pianoforall can help you reach your piano goals.
This course does not prepare students for advanced classical music, but you will come out with many skills that are useful for playing in bands, taking requests, and sitting down at the piano and being able to just play.
In addition, your skills will give you a great foundation for exploring the kinds of music that you want to play.
The value of understanding chords, progressions, keys, and the structure of music cannot be understated for any style of music.
Hall likens his course to learning the alphabet so that you can write whatever sentences you want. It’s an apt analogy.
Piano for all truly builds your skills from the bottom up, giving you the building blocks necessary not only to play other people’s music, but also to play your own.
It’s a unique approach that often feels like putting the cart before the horse – but it works.