UPDATE JUNE 2022: VIP Peilian is no longer in business. This is one of the risks with online businesses which sprout up from China. It was great for us, but clearly the business wasn’t great. It’s a shame there are many great music teachers now who have lost their livelihoods and not been paid for months, and many families will have lost much in prepaid packages. There is however a lovely US-based service who has helped to re-employ some of these teachers. If you’re looking for online violin or piano classes taught in Mandarin Chinese, I would recommend you look at Bilin Academy.
[Below post is from 2020, and sadly this business is no longer in business]
The concept is so simple – an online music education platform, offering to help your child practice their instrument, with a live teacher (based in China) who listens and provides encouragement, at a fraction of the price of the typical music lessons. That is the promise of VIP Peilian, and it has a smoothly executed app which enables booking of classes at 2 hours notice, and trained coaches to give real-time feedback, using a special lens for the iPad/tablet so the teacher can better see the instrument and fingering.
I’m especially fond of the concept of VIP Peilian because I’m always looking for more ways to increase the spoken Mandarin around our house, without taking formal Chinese tuition: learning piano from a mainland Chinese speaker certainly ticks many boxes for us!
What is VIP Peilian?
VIP Peilian is aimed at children aged 5-16, already learning a musical instrument. It’s said to be the first service in China to provide “online one-on-one instrument training”. It’s certainly the only one we know of (based in China at least…. I do know of a few other online piano classes, but their costs are astronomical).
It really is a practice buddy, not a long-term substitute for real music lessons. The word “Peilian”, meaning training or sparring reflects this. The classes are intended to be a supplement to in-person learning (in that they will not develop a curriculum for you). In our experience, the VIP Peilian coach has focussed on teaching my daughter how to practice, and systematically goes through the songs which have been set by her real in-person teacher. During the ‘lock down’ which our city had for Covid, we did take a break from physical piano lessons, and relied merely on apps, but I’m glad we’re able to do the real thing once again too. There’s certainly no substitute for a physical teacher, but VIP Peilian is a nice way to ensure regular practice sessions are effective.
How the Peilian online classes works
- Classes are booked through the app (either 25 minutes or 50 minutes).
- Once a lessons is scheduled, there is an option to photograph and upload the music. The app also has all the common music books (split by instrument and grade).
- The lesson is conducted over their app, and uses a free attachable fish-eye lens, so the teacher can see the fingering better (in our case, it points down for the keyboard, and has a split mirror allowing the teacher to see half screen the keyboard/hands, an the other half screen being the child). The lens will be express couriered to you before your first class.
- After the lesson, the teacher provides short written feedback summary, and it’s also possible to watch a replay of the lesson.
- Child can earn points during the week, between classes, through extra practice and use these to get virtual clothing/food/features for an online monster pet.
We do 3 x 25 minutes per week, and it feels just about right.
What instruments are offered by VIP Peilian?
Piano, violin, viola, oboe, guitar, clarinet, saxophone, drums, ukulele, cello, flute, accordion, and guzheng, among 20 instruments offered. Interestingly, nothing for voice. We’ve only tried out the piano option (it’s been great), and we’ve heard varying reports about the effectiveness of other instruments.
Pricing of VIP Peilian?
Packages are sold in packages of 50, 80, or 120 “credits”.
If you take a standard teacher, 1 credit is 50 minutes. We do 25 minute lessons, so that’s 0.5 credits. Hence, the 80 credit package gives us 160 lessons, which need to be used up in the space of 18 months. The credits can be used across different children (in the one family) or across different instruments.
Note: if you choose a higher charging teacher, they may charge 1.2 units per 50 minutes or even up to 3 units for 50 minutes for a fancy teacher.
There is a free trial lesson (message me if you would like our referral code). After that, lessons must be done from a package and booked through the app. Yes it’s possible to pay in USD using Paypal, and there is also a myriad of options in RMB pricing through Alipay, Chinese credit cards, etc.
How the free lesson trial works
- Register for a free trial (I think if you provide my referral details you’ll get 2 free classes too). This can be done online through their website, which is totally in Chinese. Otherwise, contact them via their Site Chatbot or WeChat, and request to speak in English.
- A course consultant will call you to arrange a trial appointment. At this stage, they’ll ask for information about the child’s age, instrument background, personality etc to determine an appropriate match in teacher for the trial.
- Online 1:1 trial class with the teacher – done through phone/iPad, and requires downloading the VIP Peilian app.
- After class, the sales consultant will ring you to give feedback on the trial and give you A HARD SELL! It’s a little off putting, but it all melted in comparison to the joy I saw my child having, and the light-bulb moment when I realised she’s be able to practice independently with this service.
- There are a range of packages available – as explained above in ‘Pricing’ section.
Pros of VIP Peilian online piano class
- Prices are cheap – US$12 for 50 minutes for a basic teacher! It’s like peanuts if the intention it to simply get a child to happily practice for 25 minutes, several times a week.
- Increases practice time without needing my supervision – I get 1.5 free hours a week, because my daughter will happily practice three times a week with the online teacher, and it happens without any nagging at all! My daughter’s patience and attitude to practising has improved immensely through VIP Peilian, which in turn, it making her actual in-person lessons more worthwhile too.
- Flexible timing – classes can be booked around the clock, and they have help desk to assist 24-hour, that can speak (some) English. If not, they’ll get an English speaking consultant to call you back. Classes can also be cancelled at 2 hours prior notice, which I think it very fair.
- App includes written feedback from the teacher and video of lesson – in case parents want to review afterwards
- Good alternative to other online music lessons during Covid – the teachers are very positive and encouraging, and the special free fish-eye mirrors lens enables hand position and shape to be critiqued, which is an added bonus that might not be available for other Zoom-style music lessons being offered as alternatives to physical classes.
- Practice for spoken Chinese: It’s possible to get the lesson in Chinese or English. We chose Chinese, although the teacher’s English is good enough that she can explain concepts that way too if needed. The Chinese is extra welcome, as our usual teacher doesn’t speak in Chinese.
- Ability to choose a teacher (or teachers): There are a range of teachers, from less experienced music conservatorium students through to prize-winning pianists who have taught for year. It’s possible to view the biographies and qualifications of each teacher, and make a choice. The prices do differ by experience. Apparently, all teachers have professional music school backgrounds and have been screened and trained by VIP.
Cons of VIP Pielian
- The initial sales tactics were a little off putting – in that they call up to schedule a trial lesson and say “it needs to be today” and then afterwards they try to make you sign up for some gigantic package with classes three times a week for the next three years!! It’s probably not a bad deal when you do the maths on it, however it’s also quite a lot to stomach upfront, and I’ve never liked being locked into long term plans. Usually that type of hardsell scares me away forever, but here I am writing a blog post about how good it is! It is actually possible to get shorter packages, and you never have to deal with the hard-selling salesperson again after the original purchase because you then are connected with the teacher and a service help/lesson scheduler who is much more accommodating.
- The app is 100% in Chinese – it was a lot of work for me to figure it out original set up. Thankfully the customer consultant spoke reasonable English and held my hand throughout the setup. Now, thanks to Google translate, we’re able to continue on a day-to-day basis in terms of booking/cancelling classes, uploading new music scores, and reading feedback from the teacher. Still, there is heaps to the app which I don’t understand and I’m sure we’re missing out on (such as free credits for different things, new music, fun music theory games, online competitions, etc).
- It’s not for brand-new beginners – the child would need to be able to read music and know where the keys are. We tried one class on my second daughter (who’d had about 4 physical piano lessons), and she was very frustrated by it all. In fact, she was nearly in tears by the end unfortunately. I think the Chinese speaking didn’t help, as that also takes a lot of concentration for her. So, we won’t be trying it again on her for some time. It’s also not great if the child has a hand position issue or needs help learning to read the music ….. . it is predominantly voice-only guidance, for practising playing and rhythm.
- Teachers could be varied – just like any school or organisation which relies on different individuals (in this case, hundreds of teachers), I’m sure they won’t all be great and there can be some personality clashes. We were lucky to have a great trial class, and have kept the same teacher, who is easy going and motivating. We’ve heard of another family (whose child was actually a very advanced violinist) who had a bad experience whereby the trial teacher effectively said the child wasn’t as good as their mother thought they were, and it was a less-than-professional discussion which evolved where the teacher stated to question the mother about why she was Chinese but couldn’t speak Chinese. Not a great advertisement. They do say on the website that over 80% of the business is from word of mouth, so it cannot all be so bad!
Other alternatives for online piano classes
Online apps: For online practice we also purchased the Joy Tunes app, with Piano Maestro and Simply Piano. These are fun and being in English, we can make more use of the apps. They provided video lessons and an intuitive gamification function where it listens to the piano music being played, and gives a rating. We’ve used them for over a year now – however, I see this as more fun than learning support or practising. Unless the child has excellent concentration and ability to not give up, it’s easy for a child to become slack with these apps. Also, they miss the interpersonal connection!
Other online lessons: We’ve seen a couple advertised, such as Fireworks Music School based in London, but doing a heavy sell into Singapore. Fireworks Music School offers ”Online Live Music Lessons with London’s Best Music Professors” through Zoom. From the look of the website, the iPad needs to be placed beside the keyboard so as for the teacher to view the playing technique, so it might be a bit of a logistic exercise depending on the layout of your room (we certainly don’t have a bookshelf sideways next to our piano!). A good thing about this is that lessons are paid one-by-one (2 days beforehand via TransferWise), so there’s not the commitment risk which Peilian has. However, their rates are SG$45 for 30 minutes, of SG$70 for one hour… so it’s like five times the price of VIP Peilian. I know which one I’d choose!!
How about you?
What great apps or techniques do you use to assist your children with their music practice? I’d love to know!
Meanwhile, if you are interested to try out VIP Pielian, and if they ask you for a referral code, I’m happy to share ours. Likewise, we signed up after a referral from a friend, and it was much appreciated.
If you’ve arrived at the end and are still looking for more classes, perhaps there are other posts on my blog which might help you go down some more rabbit holes to find the ideal class: