Hashtag Music Logo

Hashtag Music Logo

Contrary to popular belief, Instagram is not just reserved for pictures of latte foam designs and bathroom mirror selfies. Music major Addison Horner (’16), for example, uses the app as a tool for music education. His honors thesis project, Hashtag Music, involves creating a 10-month-long curriculum on Instagram that teaches young adults to play the piano.

According to Horner, the project began as an experiment to merge music education and social media. Horner’s primary audience consists of Instagram users between the ages of 18 and 25, but he intends the program to be accessible to people of all ages. “Basically, the goal [is] to see if there’s a way to teach piano to anybody, in a way that’s easy to access, understand, and enjoy,” says Horner. He considered using a variety of social media platforms, including Reddit, Facebook, Pinterest, and Youtube, but ultimately decided to create the Hashtag Music program on Instagram because no one had yet used this app for music education.

Screen shot of the Hashtag Music homepage

Hashtag Music homepage

Whether you’re someone who has never had the opportunity to take piano lessons, or quit your lessons as a kid and now regret it, Hashtag Music can help you tap your inner piano man for free. Horner’s goal is “not to create maestros,” but rather to allow newbies to test the waters, have fun at home, or play something they’ve heard on the radio. Horner starts his lessons at the very beginning (a very good place to start) with an overview of the piano keys and how to read music. He posts five lessons per week, and users can take the lessons at their own pace.

What does an Instagram lesson even look like?

Each lesson consists of a 15-second video (the upper time limit for Instagram vids), an image with a descriptive caption, or both. Horner also posts his own covers of popular songs as a way to inspire and encourage his students. “It’s basically my way of saying, ‘Here, look at this thing that I can do—do you want to do this too? Let me help you out,’” Horner says. After five weeks of lessons, students should be able to play a few simple pieces on their own.

Screenshot of a typical Hashtag Music video lesson. To view full lesson, click here.

Screenshot of a typical Hashtag Music video lesson. To view full lesson, click here.

The editing process

To craft his video lessons, Horner uses Final Cut Express (a “light” version of Final Cut, a professional video editing software suite) and a program called MuseScore, which allows him to overlay sheet music images on footage of his hands playing the piano. He enjoys tinkering around with video editing options, so his lessons have a variety of formats.

A Hashtag Music lesson that uses another video editing technique to optimize viewer comprehension

A Hashtag Music lesson that uses another video editing technique to optimize viewer comprehension

Instagram hassles

One of the challenges Horner has encountered in building Hashtag Music is the fact that Instagram users cannot post to their accounts on a computer. Instead, Horner has to deliver his videos to Dropbox on his computer, download them on his phone, and then upload them to Instagram. Still, Horner says, the thrill of successfully packing a whole music lesson into 15 engaging seconds of video is deeply rewarding.

The big picture

Horner currently has over 80 posts on the account, and about 90 followers. His posts are grouped into chapters based on their lesson themes (i.e., Chapter 1 is all about chords). “I originally planned for 10 chapters,” Horner says, “but then I realized I was looking at the project from the perspective of someone who’s played [piano] for 17 years, almost. So I had to change my perspective.” As Horner fleshed out his lesson plans and started posting videos, he doubled the number of lessons per chapter and cut the total number of chapters down to four or five. He just started posting lessons for the second chapter a couple weeks ago, which will consist of 30 lessons in total.

Ideally, Horner would like to turn Hashtag Music into a business and continue working on it after graduation. However, his first priority is helping people discover—or rediscover—their love for creating music.

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Maria Temming

Maria Temming

Maria Temming is a senior physics and english major. She enjoys both creative writing and science/tech journalism. Most of her writing is fueled by too much caffeine (thank you, Oak House) and classic rock music.

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