A couple of piano teachers recently moved into our home. They don’t take up much room only about an eighth of an inch of shelf space. And it’s wonderfully convenient, as well as affordable, having them ready and waiting whenever we have time for a lesson.
The tutors, a man and a woman, are voices on a CD-ROM that contains 200 lessons and a year of instruction in two teaching modes: one for children (ages 6 and up), the other for adults.
The disc is the heart (and brains) of the Piano Discovery System, which consists of a sturdy plastic minikeyboard with 49 full-size keys and a cable that plugs into the gameport/sound card slot at the back of an IBM-compatible PC running Windows. (There’s a connection for the displaced joystick in the base of the keyboard.)
Like other computer-owning families, we also have a piano gathering dust in the living room and electronic keyboards (sophisticated playthings incorporating synthesizers) in the bedrooms of our two children. The girls are interested in making music, but there never seemed to be enough time or money to fit piano lessons into their busy school-year schedules of ballet classes, school plays and homework.
Fortunately the multimedia computer is an endlessly ingenious family resource, especially as a teaching machine. There are programs that teach kids to type, to speak another language, to add 100 points to their college entrance exam scores. Now there are programs designed to teach anyone over the age of 6 how to read music and play the piano.
Perhaps the most successful of these, at the moment, is the Piano Discovery System, an integrated plug-and-play system. JUMP! Music, of Mountain View, Calif., promises to have beginners doing elementary sight-reading and playing simple pieces in a month - if they do their lessons and practice 45 minutes to an hour every day.
As with any piano lessons, how well the Piano Discovery System works depends ultimately on whether the student is motivated. The lessons in technique and theory are easy to understand, the teachers are patient (voice-overs are supplemented with onscreen text), and users proceed at their own pace while the program tracks and evaluates their progress.
Colorful yet simple graphics enhance the learning experience. And there are creative play activities that take much of the drudgery out of practice and honing one’s skills.
The Piano Discovery System has a carnival-style cartoon interface, Discovery Island, with six buildings offering differing approaches to reinforcing basic skills. Three of them: School House (start and resume lessons), Bungalow (independent practice room) and Arcade (with three games by which the user refines note recognition and sight-reading skills, practices chord-playing, and masters difficult note patterns).