How 1ON1 Piano came about: my “wow” moment and journey

By Paul Adams, Creator of 1ON1 Piano

I am a pianist, a piano teacher, and an entrepreneur, and I have spent the past six years working on a technology that revolutionizes online piano teaching and performance. This is the second in a series of posts I am writing that detail my passion, and my vision for the future of piano teaching. 1ON1 Piano is a platform for teaching piano online using piano-to-piano technology, and is available for download now on iOS, Android, and MacOS. 

Online in the 2010s…

Like most piano teachers in the 2010s, I wasn’t very interested in teaching online. After all, I loved music with all its tone, harmony, and phrasing, and I wanted to share those pillars of music with my students, not just compressed pitches. I simply couldn’t do that online with the apps that were available. But then I discovered something that DID let me share the substance of music online: piano-to-piano. That discovery started for me in 2015 when the piano department where I was a grad student found out that I had computer and mechanical skills. 

Piano-to-Piano between Lawrence and Kansas City

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had a compulsion to take things apart and figure out how they work. One of my professors noticed this when I was in grad school for piano performance at the University of Kansas. He was starting a pilot program called Pianos Without Borders that used a new technology to give online lessons to students in an underserved part of Kansas City. He called it piano-to-piano technology, and it connected hybrid acoustic pianos to each other online in real time. This meant that when we played the piano at the University of Kansas, the piano in Kansas City would accurately reproduce everything we played in real time. I was fascinated by the technology, and like everything else, I had to know how it worked. Since I also taught using the system, I soon realized that piano-to-piano was not a party trick. The sound was excellent – as good as if I was right there with the student. I really could share the same nuances online that I could in person.

It was Better for Students too!

The quality of sound from piano-to-piano really influenced the success of the students too. We would teach beginners using piano-to-piano for a semester, and by the end of the semester, they could play convincingly in a recital. It’s pretty hard to successfully start beginners online, but we did it repeatedly. Piano-to-piano helped us accomplish that for several reasons. Firstly, when the teacher’s piano playing sounds good, students like it and want to play piano themselves. Secondly, as teachers, we were able to demonstrate nuance from the beginning, and that showed up in the students playing naturally, so students found that they liked the way they sounded. Thirdly, since we were using hybrid pianos, the keys were moving up and down, and so demonstrating exactly what notes to play when was extremely easy.

In some ways, it was more effective than an in-person lesson. When we connected, we could aim the camera at our hands, and show them exactly what they needed to see, so there was little doubt about what they were supposed to play. One of my favorite students was Miguel, and the smile he greeted me with every week was something I’ve never forgotten.

I was convinced — I had to figure out how to make piano-to-piano available to everyone

Watching this online technology work so effectively was my “wow” moment. I was convinced that piano-to-piano was the way piano had to be taught online, but I had also been there making things work and providing tech support for teachers too. Piano-to-piano was too good to ignore, and I couldn’t stop thinking about how I could make piano-to-piano technology user friendly, and available on the phones and tablets that people use most commonly. So I started a company in 2016, and stayed up late nights with a friend working on a Chrome web app, then an app for Windows machines to serve as a test bed for the technology. For the next 4 years, I learned through iterations what it took to make audio, video, and piano-to-piano work well together. We worked hard to make an online piano lessons app that brought online piano lessons to life through piano-to-piano.

Enter the 2020 Pandemic

With the onset of the pandemic in 2020, I realized that whether we wanted to or not, we were going to have to teach online, so I made the plunge and started development of 1ON1 Piano for the devices that people use the most: MacOS, iOS for apple phones and tablets, and Android for Google phones and tablets. And that app is here in 1ON1 Piano, which uses piano-to-piano technology, and is designed specifically for teaching piano online.

Eating Our Own Dog Food

There’s a legend that the president of a large dog food company used to eat a can of dog food at the shareholder meetings. Since then, it has become a saying that describes using your own product. At 1ON1 Piano, I have the privilege to eat my own dog food. In fact, that’s been one of the best parts of developing 1ON1 Piano for me. After I teach a lesson, I often run over to my notes app and write down things I want to improve in the app, along with ideas that might help me teach more effectively. It’s a big privilege as a teacher to get to make an app that really suits your needs. I teach regularly with 1ON1 Piano in Africa. My student there has a digital piano, and I can teach chord voicing and articulation very effectively because she can hear exactly what I play. When I play for colleagues in China, they can hear the inner voicing that I bring out in the G-minor Rachmaninoff prelude on their Disklavier even though I am 7000 miles away! 

And we don’t just focus on piano-to-piano improvements. For instanced I realized that I can teach more effectively if I have ready access to camera switching, so I designed 1ON1 Piano with one camera switch button that is always present during a session. I also discovered that switching between viewing scores and the teacher interaction on mobile device screens is best handled by a simple swipe between windows rather than picture-in-picture, so I made the app easily swipe between the curriculum view and session views. Because the software team is based in my home state, we communicate clearly and are able to identify technical solutions and user needs quickly and effectively. We are constantly going back and forth adding and improving features.

Want More?

In the next blog, I’ll share our recommendations of hardware for setting up your own studio using piano-to-piano at an affordable price. If you have questions about whether 1ON1 Piano will work for you, check out our FAQs Here, or send us a message here.

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