Play a game and learn the piano at the same time. (April 11th, 2008)
Product Manufacturer: Music Wizard Group
Price: $199.95 US; Other versions less
- Easy to use. Fun for all ages. Includes a wide selection of music. Reasonable price structure. Colored piano key stickers leave no marks.
- Interface is not Mac-like. MIDI files sound tinny. Included keyboard is very clunky.
Part OneNo matter the method you choose, learning to play the piano is a time consuming process. The only way to learn any instrument entails hours of practice. Allegro Multimedia Inc. dba Music Wizard Group has solved the tedious aspect of learning the piano with a game that approaches learning to tickle the ivory in an innovative way. Piano Wizard makes whiling away the hours feels less like torture and more like gaming fun. Although the software is aimed at children, adults can certainly learn to play the piano with it too.
Piano Wizard is amazingly complex and customizable. While I've spent many hours banging away on a keyboard, I've barely touched the surface of the four levels available in Easy Mode. The first screen includes buttons to set up your keyboard, watch demos, enter Easy Mode or Premiere, if you bought that version, and to check for updates.
Easy ModeIn Easy Mode, you play a game in which the colored object you choose scrolls up on the screen and you try to press the correct piano key when the note is between two vertical lines on the top of the screen. Initially, you only need to use one or two fingers in each song, but as you progress you learn to use more fingers and the songs scroll faster.
First, you choose your lesson and song to practice. The next screen lets you pick a background scene that lends the video game feel to your play. Scenes include under the ocean views, various nature scenes, outer space, holiday motifs, and a number of music-related pictures.
Each scene comes with objects that are the pictorial representation of the note you need to press. These cute pictures change in various ways when you press the correct note at the correct time. For example, a ladybug opens it wings, a grand piano opens its top, a rocket explodes, or a dinosaur takes wing. There are approximately 80 objects to choose, but only four for each of the 20 screens.
The background screens add visual interest that reduces the potential boredom of listening to the midi files play notes. The appealing characters provide immediate feedback, and give Piano Wizard its arcade-game feel.
There are ten levels of music in the Easy Mode, each containing ten songs, some very familiar, and some a bit more obscure. If the notes scroll too quickly, you adjust the speed with the arrow keys on your typing keyboard. You can also use the keyboard to adjust the space between the vertical lines, in which you're supposed to press each piano key. The simple goal of the video game is to press the correct note at the correct time. When you finish a song applause plays you get a percentage score of how many correct notes you hit.
Other OptionsYou can also choose to play the left hand or right hand part, or use both hands. Once you learn one hand, you progress to the next hand, and then learn to use both hands. That’s hours and hours of practice, but the ability to change the characters and background screen helps to keep visual interest. While they claim a child can play the piano within 15 minutes, it seems to me that many hours must be spent using the program before one can easily move from level to level. All of these customizations make Piano Wizard playable by any age group. There is definitely a background or character to meet anyone’s interest.
The KeyboardTo help you learn, Piano Wizard includes removable colored piano key stickers. After you place the stickers on the appropriate keys, you use those color keys to identify the correct notes shown on screen. The colored notes on screen also include numbers to represent the fingers you're supposed to use or the name of the note. When I asked why they didn't display both pieces of information, they explained that it has to do with learning one simple task at a time. They maintain that the reason why so many of us hated those childhood piano lessons is that too much information was conveyed at once which made learning to play the piano unnecessarily difficult. Their approach is to learn one aspect at a time and make each aspect fun. According to the staff, it shows how music is a grid of pitch and time, and how the piano relates to the music.
The Levels of PlayThe first level colored notes scroll up the screen. You choose whether to show numbers which tell you the correct finger to use, to display the name of the note, or only show the colors. They keyboard appears at the top of the screen. The second level uses the same screens and characters, but the keyboard appears on the left side of the screen instead of the bottom. This orientation helps you learn how a music staff works and how the notes appear on a staff, which supposedly helps you to learn how to read music.
The third level uses regular music notation with colored notes. Your character still opens or explodes between the lines when you press the piano key at the correct time, but the background doesn’t appear.
The fourth level uses the normal music staff with black and white notes, but everything else is the same as level 3.
The object, according to the staff, is to first teach timing, then finger placement in a subtle way. As you progress through the hundreds of included songs, your skill level rises and eventually you acquire all the knowledge needed to play any piano. I don’t know if the software really helps you learn to play the piano any better than any other method, but does reduce the tedium of hours of practice.
Piano Wizard Part Two covers the keyboard and more music options.