Controversy

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Controversy About My Piano Teaching Approach

Hi, Tim Gross here, creator of this whole shebang…

About 5 years ago I uploaded a YouTube video explaining my approach to learning piano. In about 15 minutes, I gave a quick explanation of the “number system” approach I use to play music, how to play any Major/minor scale, any Major/minor chord, and the most common chord progression in popular music that allows you to play hundreds of songs by only knowing 3 chords.

It was my attempt to cut through all the fluff and unnecessary details, and give as much helpful training I could in the shortest amount of time. After I created the video I came up with the idea of calling it “Instant Piano Genius” because it so quickly gave a framework for how to play chords, scales, and songs just by remembering a few rules, without all the typical memorization and trouble.

Happily, to date it’s been watched well over 3 million times. (I know, right? Crazy!)

There are literally thousands of positive YouTube comments on it, but every once in awhile somebody comes along that really, really hates it! (Oooh, controversy, grab some popcorn!)

The things some people take exception with can be broken down into the following categories:

bubble-hard1) They hate that I say I’ll show them “shortcuts to help you play better, faster.”

Apparently, these people don’t seem to think there are any better or worse approaches to learn piano, that there aren’t good and bad piano teachers, or ways to focus more on the most important things and to not spend much time on the least important things.

No offense, but that’s just ridiculous.

I’d say that 90% of the time, I play piano using about 10% of what I know. So what I try to do is to focus on that 10%, since it provides about 90% of the benefit. It doesn’t mean it’s not a reasonable idea  to learn the other 90%, but don’t you want to start off focusing and practicing whatever will get you the best result the fastest?

2)bubble-rabble They say the name “Instant Piano Genius” sounds hypey, like it’s over promising something.

OK, I can see their point. When I created that first YouTube video, I thought “Instant Piano Genius” was a fun name for it, and what the first video showed really did live up to that name. At that point I didn’t have any serious intention of creating a piano training course, I just did it for fun and to try to be helpful.

If I’d planned from the beginning to create a piano training course, maybe I’d have called it “The Very Serious Piano Training Course”, or something equally somber or boring. But I didn’t. 🙂  Since then the name has been shortened to PianoGenius.com

bubble-wah3) They whine about me calling the note above the seventh note of the scale “8”.

(Try to picture me rolling my eyes.) To play a Major or minor scale, there are eight notes. (In the key of C-Major, they are all white notes, starting with the C note. As you count up the notes C(1), D(2), E(3), F(4), G(5), A(6), B(7), when you finish up on the C note that’s right above the B(7) note, I call it an “8” (because it’s the 8th and final note of the 8-note scale), it’s also a “1” because it’s a “C” note, just an octave higher.

Long story short, a couple of people have insisted that there’s no such thing as an “8” note, that it’s a “1”, and since they think I’m “wrong” about that supposed fact, I must be wrong about everything else I say too. Look, there are more advanced chords called “9” chords and “11” chords that use the notes above the “8” note, so if you can refer to the “9” note (which is the same as a “2” note, you can certainly call the note that’s an octave above the “1” note an “8” note.

stick_argument4) They get really picky about what things are called.

A) There’s a guy who just lost his mind because he disagreed with my calling the interval from C to D a “whole step” and the interval from C to C# a “half step.” He said that was wrong, that those intervals are called “whole tones” and “half tones”, and that anyone who called them “steps” couldn’t be trusted, heh.

Well it turns out that depending on what area of the world you live in, those are synonyms: ”

Whole Step” = “Tone” or “Whole Tone”, and “Half Step” = “Semi-Tone”.

So if I’m saying “half step” and you’re used to calling it a “semi-tone”, just know they’re the same thing. 🙂

Why Do They Get So Upset?

Side Note: Why are some people so hung up on unimportant details? I think it’s because after they’ve spent hundreds of hours struggling to do something one way, they feel very threatened when they’re told it may not have been the best way, so they lash out.

5) Another ranter took issue with my statement, “If you don’t learn the Number System, you’re wasting your time.” He said it was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard in his life.

I stand by my statement.  Some people say they don’t understand what the point of thinking of chords in terms of numbers is, since music charts show you chords, not numbers.

Let me try to explain using this analogy:

If chords and chord progressions were words, then the “number system” behind them would be the alphabet. If you were learning how to read words, I guess you wouldn’t really have to learn the alphabet, you could just memorize each word individually, and remember that “hat” is the thing you put on your head, while “cat” is the furry pet that purrs when you pet it…

But if you learned to read that way, you’d never realize that the “at” sound was created by the letters “a” and “t”, so when you later saw the word “fat” for the first time, you’d have no idea how to sound it out if you hadn’t learned the sound the “f” letter made, and the sound the “at” letters make next to each other.

In a similar way, if you knew the chords to “Twist & Shout” in the key of C were C, F, G, unless you knew the underlying “number system” that told you those were the 1, 4, 5 chords, you’d have no idea in the world how to play the song in the key of E.

Once you’re comfortable with the Number System, you effortlessly notice the relationship between chords you’re playing, so what you’re playing automatically makes sense instead of just being random notes and chords you have to try to memorize in order to remember how to play.

 5) I believe that practicing scales isn’t a very good use of your time.

There, I said it. Every traditional piano student is required to spend hours practicing scales. The funny thing is, you don’t actually play scales in songs, so why are they considered so important? Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good idea to train your fingers to do certain things, but it’s a better use of your time to train them to do things you’ll actually play in real life.

6) I don’t believe being able to read sheet music/notation is necessarily important for a lot of people.

Unless you want to be able to play classical music note for note and are willing to spend dozens and dozens of hours on each song learning them to be able to do that, it’s probably not a good use of your time to try to be able to read sheet music.

The “dream” people have is to be able to sight read music, meaning they want to be good enough to look at sheet music they’ve never seen before and play it perfectly up to speed the first time through. You want to know a secret? By my estimation, less than 1% of people who learn to play the piano ever get good enough to do that. Much less than 1%.

I took classical lessons for 7 years and never got close to being able to do that, and since then I’ve worked out a better, faster, more enjoyable way to play music using basic chord charts (not reading individual notes), understanding the Number System, and training my ear to hear what sounds right and to know what’s coming next.  I don’t really read music anymore at all.

I don’t care about official names/labels, or details that seem unimportant and that don’t help me play the piano better or enjoy myself more. I’ve never heard any pro musicians I’ve worked with haggle about terminology or argue “book learnin’ details”, they just want to get the job done.

If you agree with that approach, you should spend a little time checking on what else is here. I can tell you that the people who like it, love it.

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69 thoughts on “Controversy”

    1. Keep it up you are definitely on the right track. Your method makes it easy for playing and transposing. Thank you very much.

    2. I know from someone who was never trained in music what I have learned from you the joy of the piano. I soon hope I will be able to develop my skills.

  1. Anyone who set out to make a difference don’t care about what people say, living a live of impact is a wonderful thing and gift that’s one thing no one can take away from you, I. Love what you are doing so keep doing it, that’s why you are there to make a difference

  2. I am not very good but really like your counting system – anything that helps to play the piano can only be beneficial. Thanks.

  3. I am playing music. Just play the song that I want , not all the songs. Anything can help would be highly appreciated. Life is too short for learning the old way.

  4. Like the Taylor Swift song says…Shake it off!! Haters gonna hate, hate, hate! I think what you do is great and I wouldn’t worry about what all the “elitists” cry about!!!

  5. Hi! I think saying I had zero piano training before your videos and I’m a no English speaker so I played minor and major chord and I understood you amd better I played to a professional piano teacher I didn’t say the ”right names” I said ”half step” as you teached me. Just look around the world very many people don’t live adventures they simply survive it’s is very boring to me!! about piano I don’t wanna just observe music I feel I can be inside it with your help and I just stopped because dollar payment is too expensive for brazilian right now.

  6. I have no musical trading at all,but I have found that your system has given me a really good insight in to chord structure and I have used your system to create a couple of my best work. Checkout my Soundcloud, thehashcollective

  7. Thanks for shaking up this dinosaur way of piano teaching.
    When I was a kid I learned the traditional way. It killed the will out of me so I stopped after 2 years. I needed 3 years to recover and start playing again, just by my self.
    Your method shocked me. Now I have 4 kids. When I saw some of your videos I called them in because they had to see this. It is a very direct simple goal oriented way to learn, and kids(like I was) will not wait patiently for results!

  8. I agree with everything you have said, I am in my mid to late 60’s and don’t have 10 years to learn the piano, so your system fits my purpose exactly, I am learning to play accompaniment to non professional singers.

  9. People always feel insecure about the smallest issues. You are correct. One time 20 years ago, I went to SamAsh with a friend and he questioned the rep “why did they change the color of the display on the new workstation.” Of course he owned the older model. The point is we exist in a different time. This is the age of information. An album used to cost a million dollars to make 30 years ago, now all that’s needed is a CPU and a DAW. Within these tools you can program chords and scales within an arp. You can film a movie on your Android phone. These people get sauce because their Juliard prestige is compromised.

  10. I gave my key board to my grandson who listens to a piece and then goes to the keyboard and plays it almost perfectly. I think I will get myself another key board and sign up.
    Do you think an 86 year old can learn to play? Hold on to my info and I will be in touch as soon as I have a key board. Have a great day, Howard Stephens

  11. Your numbering system is quiet an easy way of learning. Please keep it up! Always remember all people Will never like you after offering the best.

  12. I do like your videos. Different people different approach. I don’t have time or access to attend a proper piano class. An instant short video of how to play a piano really make me happy back then.

  13. I agree with everything and I support your approach. When learning the numbering system, I saved so much time. I only wished I discovered this back when I was in high school.
    However, I would also like to learn to read music notes. I hope you can share a video that can teach individuals on reading music sheets, if there any.

  14. For a grandmother who has taught 2 grandchildren to read before they ever started school i can agree with your theory. It starts with the alphabet I like you compare the number systems importance to music as the alphabet is to reading.

  15. I agree with everything you’re saying. Poo poo to the naysayers that are bagging your web site and your system. They can all go to… hell yea, I like your system.

  16. Your number system is called the Nashville system. It make transposing to another key a rather simple thing to do. I was taught half step and whole step. I cringe when I hear a person say semitones. Your system is liberal like a Democrat. People who use the traditional way to play “Dead Peoples Music,” are like Republicans. They are in a bubble, and you can’t change their minds. Keep doing what you are doing. It is a far superior system than what is being taught If a person wants to express themselves with the piano emotionally. People who want to play Dead Peoples music should use the traditional method. I know most of what you are teaching. My problem is with rhythm and flow. Thanks for doing what you do.

  17. Its your video that really gave me QN insight into the tricks of playing piano in the Ist palce.. Keep inspiring people… I love your work. Cheerrss

  18. I tottally agree with your system. This is the way that I have learned to play keyboard with so much ease from scratch to wherever I am now. Cool system.

    Keep it up.

    Cheers,
    Gary

  19. As a coplete Nubie I was able to start playing the piano form just a few short videos that you provided to me. I’m a believer. I just want to play and enjoy the music. Your system works adn it is really fun and easy to learn. Keepp up the great work.

  20. Hi think it’s very important to train the ear as well as learn standard notation. Only came to that understanding recently. Learning classical or jazz or different styles only improves your overall musicality. Playing / performing music using any and all shortcuts makes perfect sense to me. Sometimes you learn the music first and the theory can follow then other times it works better visa versa . I like using numbers as long as the sequences are not too long or it gets confusing. Help with finger placement is my big second as they can get tied in knots or I run out of fingers – also an octave is a very uncomfortable stretch so I tend to leave out notes if I can.

  21. The comments from those people is the same as how you say tomato. It depends on how you learn and what terminology you were taught. There is NOTHING wrong with your method. Your method works for those who like your approach.

  22. Your method of teaching is interesting and easy and encouraging for a beginner with no knowledge of notes and sheet reading and keyboard skills to get up and to learn a piano. Thank you.

  23. I want to thank you for all the free videos. I’ve benefited and now able to play slow or average speed 4/4 progression on major chords. I am a self taught guitarist without sight reading background, now serving as keyboard player /guitarist in one of our church missions outreach children ministry. Still finding it difficult to master fast songs. Being a homemaker, time and cost is taken into consideration. I will try my best. Thanks again.

  24. I purchased this system about a year ago. I inherited a huge Conn 650 3 keyboard organ with pipe speakers and 6 Leslie speakers. I always LOVED the organ but have no real talent to speak of and when I was 10 lasted 3 weeks with piano lessons. I could play Chopsticks. Thats about it. I purchased this system and before I got it my wife said what are we going to do with that damn albatross you now have in our 200 sq. foot living room with it taking up about 60sq. feet. Within an hour I was playing music. Actually playing organ hymns “right out of the box”. My wife was amazed, I was amazed even more. Granted I am only using about 5% of the organ features but I can play songs I LOVE and sound like I know what Im doing. I used to have a Magnus Chord Organ when I was a kid and this music is similar to that system in that it lets you actually play music right way. That company is long gone. This system by numbers lets you play just by numbers but you can also see the actual music so you can learn is much or as little about the notes and music as you choose. Music is about loving it and loving making wonderful sound and this system just lets you do it plain and simple. I LOVE IT. Nothing better and the only way to utilize an instrument like the one I have and really love it and appreciate what it can do.

  25. I tried your method and it was very helpful to me. When I went for my next session, my instructor was very impressed. He thought I did hours on top of hours of practice, but I didn’t. Your method helped me a lot and I understood it more easily. Continue with your method please. I do enjoy the way you teach. Thank you. Normally I don’t leave replies, but I have to on this one.I’m learning more from you.
    Thank You

  26. I can now understand how to play the piano, was that not the point?, all I have to do now is practice so for that I thank you very very much.

  27. My take on your method of teaching is those that have learned and can teach a more simplified method as to where those that really want to learn piano can have a definite advantage at faster progress makes since. There have been to many that look at it as a way to make money off students without ever giving them any short cut methods of learning quicker and when an individual such as yourself show shorter and faster methods of learning an instrument, they become targets of ridicule and insult. I like when someone brings a new and refreshing methods with no holes barred attitude to instruction because they don’t loose anything but help people to learn something that might not be possible due to cost and the lack of finances. I consider those that take a chance in giving someone an ability to pick up an instrument and learn to play it faster an innovator of progress for the students they are preparing. So I would challenge anyone that thinks your way is nonsense, to take and put one of their students against one that you have trained in a similar amount of time so people can see the difference from the amount of time you have prepared someone and a teacher that uses their students as a cash flow through life without it benefiting the student and becoming boring and they lose interest. You have then proved your point and their nonsense is broken.

    Keep on, keepin on with many proven techniques helping your students prevail in their quests at excellence in learns piano. Thanks for allowing me to post my convictions on your method of instruction.

  28. Personally I benefited so much from the very first time I watched your fingering on the piano. Nothing wrong with the skills you are impacting on people on piano because they sound smart and play most of the songs corectly

  29. There is absolutely nothing wrong with your methodology. There are lot of good piano players who are note readers but cannot play by ear. Howevever I would like to train myself as an ear player.

    1. Well said, Anson! It is said that most musicians are selfish and don’t want others to know because they are afraid of competition. Keep up the good work, Tim.

  30. You are doing a great Job , Tim. Don’t give a damn to what haters have to say …. you know its a very famous Hindi Film Dialogue ‘Something ppl will always say (good or bad).. ‘coz thats what they can do easliy’.. I went through your videos and believe me my friends who are trained in Keyboard were astonished to notice when I could play all the Major and Minor chords infront of them after sending hardly 30 mins on your video. They said you have really devised a lovely technique.That really helped me and I very glad that your techniques are becoming popular … why waste time in learning something which can be learnt easily and faster.. Keep Doing the good work dear.. God Bless
    Thanks and Regards,
    Saurabh Chauhan
    INDIA

  31. Tim your system is wonderful. I don’t care what u call anything as long as it makes it quicker & easier to play & understand, which is does so just ignore the nay Sayers & continue 2 keep on teaching 2 those of us who want 2 learn your way.
    Thanks 4 continuing doing this & @ a reasonable price 2.

    Cheers

  32. I feel like that makes complete sense to me, got no prior experience before your tutorials and I think your way of teaching is awesome. Keep it up please!

  33. Back in the day – the 80s, to be precise – there was a guy named Bob Ross. Some of you may know of him. He was an artist whose ½ hour shows saw him take a blank canvas and turn it into a thing of beauty. Seemingly effortlessly. I tried it, and it turns out that if you follow his techniques and his instruction, you too can create something darn impressive! However, he gets slated by a vocal contingent within the ‘arts community’, who paint him as a fraud or a charlatan, when he is far from either. He came across as a peaceful, kind-hearted man, who wanted to spread his love of painting to those who chose to watch and learn.

    Tim, I view you and Bob as the same – talented guys, looking to share their expertise in the fields in which they excel.

    As a novice, looking at a blank canvas with no direction is VERY daunting. Equally, sitting at a piano with no clue as to what to do will lead to disheartenment and eventual abandonment.

    Keep doing what you’re doing Tim! Ignore the haters and naysayers. They are merely precious, egotistical idiots who view sanctity over widespread appeal. We all love you!!

  34. To be honest I didn,t read all the article above but I remember taking your 10 free lessons and yes they helped me in my quest to learn to play the piano.

  35. This system makes sense. It will quickly get a novice playing the piano. This system makes perfect sense. Give it a shot, you wont be disappointed.

  36. I have ben in the music game for over 25 years (as a drummer I hasten to add) and have come across many people who value their own opinion over everyone elses. Personally, as an old guy who wanted to learn piano/keyboards without many years of lessons, and one who has heard fellow band members talk of numbers instead of notes/chords for years, I find your teaching method and strategy brilliant. It is exactly the language of gigging and recording musicians. You will never have purists agree with you .. but then again, just ask them how many gigs and recordings they have under their belt .. in a lot of cases, that should silence your critics.
    Keep up the good work .. I love your videos and have learned a lot from them … just need to work on the claw hand shape (drummers are not natural contortionists lol!).
    Please keep up the good work for we who appreciate your efforts.

  37. Finding the patterns in anything Simplicity is always best. Folks who’d rather do things the harder way, can’t be trusted. Lol.

    There’s a reason why “pattern recognition” is big area of study. Patterns are our friends.

  38. This is very nice
    and not everyone is willing to share like this ..
    do not care about what they say .
    You are my hero and my teacher

  39. Everyone have right to their own opinion, but as for me, all i can say is……God bless you real good cos i’ve learned a lot more than i used to know and i know that many has too. So, don’ be bothered by critics but continue to do your thing.

  40. You are a great teacher and i don’t agree with the fact that you are teaching piano the wrong way! You are doing your job absolutely right! The controversies listed above just arise because not everyone is taught the keyboard (piano) the same way! Every teacher has their own way of teaching. So don’t worry about all these stuff. Keep it up Tim Sir, you

  41. Your method of teaching piano flies in the face of the traditionalists. Don’t forget; keyboard (organ, piano, harpsichord, etc) has become an art, much like painting and sculpture. Those who had trouble were definitely not worthy of the art. My mother would have been outraged to see me doing something like this. But I really appreciate it. I didn’t learn a darn thing from playing scales. I’ve only started, but I’ve been able to learn chords already without looking at a sheet of music. I’m learning a little more slowly, but hey; better late than never.
    Thanks for not being afraid to upset the apple cart of the traditionalists.
    ps: When I was a teenager I really wanted to do what you do for a living. I’m 51 and am starting over. Hey, you just never know. Better late than never.
    Thank you for sharing your talents for those of us who’d like to learn.

  42. your explanation is clear and straight to the point..I have improved my skills tremendously since I accessed your site

  43. After almost 4 years of working through your website and tutorials, age 43 at the time, no real music experience, learning piano. (by the way that’s almost unheard of because don’t you have to be age 5 for optimum results traditionally?) I can sit down at any piano and just play. People have said I can play fluidly without hesitation and make it sound nice, and have fun doing it. Life is short, shortcuts to learning are great, more fun to me. Result: you learn something, that’s what it’s all about. If people want to be hung up, let them bang their heads against a brick wall while the rest of us have FUN!

  44. I’ve come back to your course after trying traditional stuff. My dilemma was reading the notes and some of the online teachers, although they have exuberant and heartfelt voices were part of the package that I found difficult to follow. And there were still others that spent so much time playing the piece and not getting into the meat. I can read music only to a point as below and above staff notes I would have to slow down to a snails pace to figure out what the note was. It takes a lot of the joy out of playing. This is the first course that I taken where the chord inversions made sense to me because you taught very early on how close these inversions could actually be. Thank you. I look forward to learning more. You’re a very busy man and I for one you have decided to pass on your knowledge. Thanks again.

    1. That’s great to hear, Fiona. I agree that trying to play something note for note does take the joy out of playing. It takes massive effort to achieve relatively little, while the alternative ways I focus on are, in my opinion, more enjoyable and less frustrating. 🙂

  45. I agree with you 1000%. I had piano lessons as a young child and to no avail. I later took lessons and once again it was scales even after I made ir perfectly clear I just wanted to have play some songs I enjoyed listening to all my life. But to no avail another 5 years wasted until I found your web site and after careful consideration I jumped on board and what a revelation. I have learned more in the few months with your techniques than I could have ever imagined. I am now playing songs I enjoy and learning to do more with this information. I always felt I could play the piano and now I know, it’s all about the teacher and techniques. You are the best and continue what you are doing. For the complainers they don’t want to get. You got it, I get it and It works.

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