Youtube music lessons: Do they work?

Youtube music lessons picture of a rock concert

Music lessons on Youtube can be seen as a viable option for music students

Some recent research has tackled the question of which is better for music lessons. Individual or group lessons? Individual lessons have been the main mode of learning in the western classical tradition for hundreds of years and there are many benefits for individual tuition for music students. The question is, which is a better mode of learning for music lessons—solo or group and can a video tutorial mode of learning such as Youtube work for learning an instrument?

Some students like the individual 1 to 1 lesson. It’s how I learnt to play an instrument and would be similar for many more music students. We now have the benefit of technology, Youtube, online lesson portals which we can access to learn how to play an instrument, learn music theory, and a whole host of other options are available to us now to via technological means to learn music or to play an instrument. However, does the use of technology in the one-to-one video tutorial situation really have the same benefits and outcomes as learning one-to-one in person or with another student?

New Research

There is emerging research which suggests that musical learning benefits from a shared musical experience which cannot be replicated or recreated sufficiently via a video tutorial mode of learning. It is suggested that when learning a musical instrument with another student, and cognitive resources are shared between the participants, allowing for improved learning outcomes.

Learning in general is still an individual process, even when using online tutorials and resources. However, these resources are based largely on the use of repetition and imitation as the main source of instruction. Even though the use of technology has made learning an instrument more accessible, it may not be the best strategy to use with novice music students.

In this new research project, novice music students took piano lessons and were grouped into pairs or individually for these lessons. They took several simple piano lessons presented via video tutorial in which they learnt to play several but simple melodies for one hand. In this setup, the video tutorials are the ‘expert’ teacher which is a plausible scenario considering the amount of information and tutorials now available online.

The grouping of the novice music students into pairs or individually is the first key element of this research. The second is how the information is presented to them in the tutorials. The information to learn the simple piano melodies was presented in three conditions: synchronisation, turn-taking, and imitation.

Three learning conditions

Synchronisation refers to acting in synchrony with another person. We do it when we dance or listen to music, or even when walking. It is a very human thing to do. It may help to improve musical learning via a shared experience.

Turn-taking refers to meaningful exchanges where rules and skills are negotiated ad reciprocally developed.

Imitation refers to copying and happens frequently during instrumental lessons. Through imitation, recursive learning can take place.

The results

The results found that musical skills were better acquired when novice music students worked and performed collaboratively with the video tutorials or when as solo student. Time spent playing was not associated with better or worse performance in each condition, but that results point to active playing time as more beneficial than total exposure time which partially includes active playing. Furthermore, the least inefficient condition for solo and group lessons was imitation. Better results were found learning conditions for synchronisation and turn-taking which led to better pitch and tempo accuracy.

Peer interaction in learning has been found to have many benefits including the ability to motivate, provide a feeling of fulfilment, ignite dopamine based rewards systems from the person-to-person interaction during learning. More research suggests that information from joint activities can be processed more efficiently resulting in improved accuracy, recall, and performance of a task (Smith & Semin, 2004). the age-old saying beings to ring true here: two heads are better than one.

Novice music students may benefit from the use of online resources as aids to learning when the learning takes place in interactive settings. Working with peer and friends can improve results as they participate and collaborate with each other’s learning. The possibilities for designing teaching and learning resources with this in mind provides opportunities for many, particularly those who do not have the access to resources for being able to have individual lessons. This type of learning may be well-suited to particular contemporary styles in which playing together is the norm, but could also be applied to western classical music.

I certainly don’t discourage the one-to-one lesson option and is a proven mode of learning for instrumental music. I think for certain students and at certain points in learning, an expert teacher is required. Providing online tutorials for learning an instrument is a big phenomenom on platforms like Youtube. If the tutorials utilise synchronisation and turn-taking as pedagogical strategies, I think there are enormous possibilities for instrumental learning in this mode of learning.

© iteachpiano 2021

Schiavio, A., Stupacher, J., Parncutt, R., & Timmers, R. (2020, Vol. 37 Issue 5 – 2020). Learning music from each other: Synchronization, turn-taking, or imitation? Music Perception, 37(5), 403–422.

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