Ever get frustrated that you're just moving from piece to piece without developing a better understanding of the underlying music? I've compiled some great Coursera resources that are helping me quite a bit.
While learning piano as an adult has been an enormously enriching part of my life, I have been frustrated that occasionally it felt like my teacher and I were just moving from piece to piece without developing a greater understanding of what I was playing, how I can replicate it, how to sit down and just play, practical theory, etc. Half an hour just isn't enough time for a lot of the stuff I wanted to know. I felt like I was learning pieces, but not necessarily the ability to really understand the music.
Over the last two months I put together and have been going through a curriculum of freely available resources that I think can be helpful for other folks in the same predicament as me. So here is what I've put together. Note: All of these items are free (except for one that I'll discuss later). Just select the Audit Course option.
Getting Started With Music Theory (Coursera): This has been a great foundational course that was somewhat remedial in places but helped me to gain a better understanding of a few things I had been lacking: Particularly: Key signatures, the structure of major and minor chords and how they're related to each other, and the quality of intervals. This was stuff that scared me before (oh no, a piece with 4 sharps!) but it really demystifies that whole process by explaining that the underlying structure of the music is identical between keys. Just because you're pressing different buttons doesn't mean the music is inherently more complicated. Occasionally, there are some confusing explanations of terms and such, and the quizzes are structured oddly. But outside of those very minor hiccups, I highly recommend it.
Developing Your Musicianship (Coursera): Incredible course, and the first in a series that you can pursue as a specialization. This does cover some of the same ground as the previous one, but a) it's good to reinforce your knowledge in a new context and b) it is heavily focused on practicalities. It's developed by the Berkeley School of Music which, as far as I know, is well known for its focus on careers in playing music that go beyond the one person in a million who actually performs piano following their degree in piano performance. So, this course and its sequels are heavy on ear training, hearing majors and minors, knowing what intervals sound like, and what you can do on the piano to replicate these sounds in the context of writing your own piece. I highly recommend this course and the ones that follow it. You'll be a much better amateur musician when it's done.
Write Like Mozart: An Introduction to Classical Composition (Coursera): Classical music, particularly from the galant and classical eras, sounds a certain way and you probably can't put your finger on why. Well, it turns out, most of the composers from that era were all operating from a more or less standard series of rules which gives the music its distinct sound and structure. If you're studying with a teacher, I'd bet you're learning the standard classical repertoire which is primarily from this era. This is an excellent but demanding course that may be best taken after some months of piano practice, or after the theory course/with a slightly more than basic-level understanding of theory. You do NOT need to be at an intermediate or high level to benefit from this course. You'll learn about voice leading, texture, inversions, melody-writing, and a whole bunch more. This course will give you a far far better understanding of why the stuff you are playing sounds the way it does, AND will give you the tools to compose something similar-sounding yourself. It's awesome.
Exploring Beethoven's Piano Sonatas (Coursera): I have not taken this course yet, but I think the grounding of the previously mentioned course will be extremely helpful here. Listening to piano music is a huge benefit to playing, and understanding what you are hearing enriches the listening part and the playing part. There are part two and part three sequel courses to this. I'm excited to get going
Classical Piano Improvisation (Patreon, $1 a month): This course, which is really an ongoing series of monthly lessons and guides, is possibly best for those who have been playing for a couple of years and have a grounding in the first three courses I listed here. But I think it also works beautifully as a sequel to the Write Like Mozart course. The teacher is renowned piano pedagogist and professor of piano at Cedarville University, Dr. John Mortensen. He's trying to revive classical improvisation among both teachers (so they can can teach it to their students) and directly to amateur and higher level students. This course is is also focused on the standardized rules of Baroque, Galant, and classical music, and actively teaches you how to improvise within the boundaries of those rules. This is an excellent course for better understanding why the music you're playing sounds the way it does, and in teaching you how to sit at a piano with a set of chord progressions and just play something that sounds great in the classical style. It's $1 a month, so not free, but just about as close as you can get. The 2 videos a month and the assignments give you more than enough to study and practice.
Ok, that's about all I can think of. I hope this is as helpful for others as it is for me.