Charles Sekel, of Malverne, has taken panic out of learning piano — and has found TikTok fame while he’s at it.
Sekel has been teaching music for the past decade. In August, he added TikTok as a tool in his educational arsenal. His channel has since taken off in a big way, with his content garnering hundreds of thousands of views.
Sekel said that the video-based social media platform helps emphasize something that traditional piano lessons sometimes lack: accessibility. “I’m always interested in the students and the people that traditional piano instruction kind of leaves behind,” Sekel, 37, said. “So even in my most technical, specific videos, I’m always trying to leave the door open for a more casual audience, or someone who might be intimidated by too much jargon.”
Sekel’s TikTok channel, PatternsInPiano, focuses on breaking complicated musical concepts them down into manageable patterns and sound bites that people can recognize.
“Traditionally, music educators have made it more complicated than it needs to be,” Sekel said. “It’s just all patterns. And once you kind of get the hang of it, it can be simple.”
Sekel’s channel has been attracting more views since Nov. 5, when he posted a video walking the viewer through different kinds of chords. The video is now approaching a million views.
“This is crazy, but I feel like this actually unlocked something for me,” one user commented under a video.
“I learned more from this than I did three years taking piano classes in school,” said another.
To Sekel, that’s what it’s all about. “Sometimes people hear ‘music theory’ and it has negative connotations, and they kind of run the other way,” he said. “They’re like, ‘Oh, it’s kind of sanitized, sciency stuff.’ But it doesn’t have to be like that.”
What’s special about TikTok as a teaching medium, Sekel said, is that it meets people in their comfort zones, and reminds them of familiar touchstones.
“It’s giving Lavender Town.”
“The song from Aristocats.”
“The real Slim Shady.”
“Sounds like a Portal 2 song.”
Those comments are all responses to one of Sekel’s videos. Viewers can draw their own connections between his explanations of theory and music they know and love.
“I get lots and lots of messages from kids and adults — people of all ages — commenting, ‘Oh, but this pattern reminds me of this song, this pattern reminds me of that song,’” he said. “And that’s so gratifying for me, because that’s exactly the process of learning the language of music, you know? You hear things that remind you of other things, and then eventually get a clearer picture of what those things are, and before you know it, you know the music.”
TikTok makes it easy to see what resonates with people and what doesn’t, Sekel explained. He started using a pencil to play simple melodies simply because his phone was too close to the piano for his hand to be in the frame. Now that method has become part of his brand. It’s another way for Sekel to make music education manageable for everyone, regardless of their level of experience.
“What’s happening is there’s kind of a one-to-one ratio of what you’re seeing and what you’re hearing,” he said. “And I think that’s very important, because non-musicians, or people who maybe aren’t as musically inclined as other people, need some sort of visual reference. Some sort of visual analog for what they’re hearing.”
That first viral video last month was also among Sekel’s first to feature Magic Scroll, a learning tool he has been developing. It’s a piece of paper that provides an easy blueprint for scales and chords. Ironically, what ultimately helped people connect with this 21st-century video platform were simply a pencil and paper.
“My core philosophy is that learning should be rooted in experience,” Sekel said. “That’s what I’m trying to get across with the TikTok videos, where it’s just a small little bite, and I’m hoping that those little bites will entice people to maybe go to the piano and try something. I’m basically just trying to inspire other people’s creativity.”
Sekel’s videos can be found at @PatternsInPiano on TikTok.