Sunday, March 24, 2013

Adventus Piano Software (Schoolhouse Crew Review)

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Product: MusIQ HomeSchool Music and Piano curriculum

Ages: K-12 (and up)

Cost: $10.95 for monthly subscription (includes access to all software)

$89.95 per level for Early Curriculum Software and Lesson plans (ages 4-10)

$59.95-$109.95 per level for Multi-level Curriculum (ages 10+)

I was excited to have the opportunity to try out the MusIQ HomeSchool program created by Adventus, a developer and publisher of music and piano learning software programs that utilize MIDI keyboards and the computer instead of traditional teaching methods.

The online program, which we reviewed, includes use of all of these software programs:

  • Children’s Music Journey, Volumes 1, 2, and 3
  • Piano Suite Premier
  • Ear Training Coach 1 & 2
  • Ear Training  Coach 3 & 4
  • (The MusIQ Challenger game pictured above is apparently not included in the monthly subscription plan.)

Lesson Plans, which provide direction and additional activities to do under the guidance of a parent or teacher, are also available to enhance the program.

We purchased the M-Audio KeyRig 49e keyboard from Adventus and found it very easy to install—basically just “plug and play” --using a USB connection to the computer. Then we installed each of the software programs.

Emily worked primarily in the Piano Suite Premier program, since it is the lesson program for students ages 10 and up. Children’s Music Journey, which is for 4 to 10 year olds, looks like a LOT of fun, so we plan to play around with it as well, although we didn’t have time to do so during our short review period. It has some features—like learning about famous composers and their music—that aren’t included in Piano Suite Premier. (Read other Crew reviews to hear what reviewers thought of Children’s Music Journey.)

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Piano Suite Premier includes 5 main activities:

  • Theory Thinker teaches finger placement, note names, note values, timing, and so on. Each concept is explained as the student clicks through the screens. Some screens teach and others have the student jump to the Piano Player to practice an exercise relating to the topic. The student progresses through each lesson at his or her own pace. When each lesson has been viewed or practiced, a red check appears by it. The student is free to continue to practice that section as long as desired, though. Theory Thinker also offers several games that teach notes on the keyboard and on the staff.
  • Piano Player includes over 500 songs in different genres and 5 different ability levels. The program can be set to show all songs or just ones in the student’s learning level. This is where the student picks actual piano pieces to learn. The student can choose “wait for note” mode, in which each note on the score turns green as it is played correctly. He must play each note correctly before proceeding to the next note. After the student has learned the correct notes, he can adjust the program to focus on timing, which requires him to play each note as it turns green. This mode shows errors at the end of the piece, but not as the student is playing. Specific bars of the piece may be isolated for practice as well.
  • History Happens includes short biographies of 150 composers. This is a nice reference, but there’s not much to do here other than browse or read.
  • Composer’s Corner gives students the opportunity to actually compose and record their own music.
  • Games  allows students additional practice in theory concepts. Several games are not “unlocked” until a student has covered the target skill in Theory Thinker.

imageTheory topics for level 1. Games are at the bottom of screen. Completed lessons are checked.

Emily has had some piano instruction, but still struggles with timing and even note names.  Because of this, I had her spend the first two weeks reviewing the Level 1 theory exercises.  Much of this level was review for her, but the additional practice was beneficial—she was identifying all the notes on the staff in no time, without having to figure them out! Then we started with the lesson plans for Level 2.

One aspect of the music, in even the early levels, was that hands  are placed in different positions for different songs and even moved around. Emily is finishing up the 4th book in her traditional program and every song she plays is in one of 3 or 4 fixed hand positions that she has been taught. This makes her more dependent on finger numbers to identify which note to play. The Level 2 Piano Suite songs are a challenge for her because she has to constantly look at both notes and finger numbers as she plays.

 
imageThe notes turn green as they are played correctly.
 
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Game Time!
 
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Piano Player
 
Ear Training Coach is included in MusIQ School Year 2 and up if you purchase each level separately. It is, however, occasionally scheduled in the lesson plans midway through Year 1. (If you have the monthly subscription play, you have access to it.)  Activities in Ear Training Coach offer practice in repeating back rhythms and melodies, identifying intervals, and sight reading. Emily enjoyed the “Intervalo” area where she tried to correctly identify intervals by listening. The other areas, such as mimicking rhythms and melodies were difficult even for me!
 
Each of the program components can be used entirely on its own, and at the student’s own pace, but the optional Homeschool Lesson Plans add some teacher “face time,” teach some additional topics, and pull everything together. Lessons should be scheduled once a week, with the student practicing on his own with the software the rest of the week. A typical lesson includes activities such as teaching note values on a white board, clapping back rhythms in 3/4 and 4/4 timing, learning and practicing scales, focusing on a practice piece for the week, and specific assigned activities in Theory Thinker or Games. A theory worksheet is also provided for each week.
 
My Thoughts:
  • The scope of this program is amazing. It really does cover a lot of piano instruction as well as some “extras” that go beyond just learning to play—composing, ear training, music history, etc.
  • Emily loved it. Believe me—until now, she’s never begged, “Please, may I just practice for 10 more minutes!” She’s putting in a lot more time with piano practice now. A lot.
  • We found Piano Suite Premier to be a little glitchy. About 1 out of 3 times when first starting up the program, it would freeze (black screen with music playing or an intro screen that wasn’t clickable). I’d have to open Windows Task Manager to exit the program and try again. Occasionally this would happen when using the program too, although the problem was usually only on start-up.
  • To a large extent, the MusIQ School programs can be done independently. Some amount of supervision is needed, though. Piano Player can’t know if you’re using the correct fingering. Although it keeps records for each piece, the student is free to jump from song to song, or skip ahead in theory lessons after viewing them once, even if the material isn’t mastered. The student would have to be very conscientious (mine is not!) or have adult guidance.
  • Personally, I found the Piano Player “wait for note” a little frustrating in the more advanced pieces because if I came off a  note just  little too soon as I was moving to the next note, it wouldn’t let me proceed with the other hand. I’d have to go back and play the first note again. One could argue, however, that requiring this level of precision will improve my piano playing and that perhaps I’ve been too sloppy in my timing. Emily had the same issue with Level 2 pieces, but for her it’s probably a very good thing.
  • I prefer playing on a real piano, or at least a high quality keyboard rather than the “education quality” one we’re using, but this didn’t seem to bother Emily. Since we have a piano, she’ll be practicing on it as well and won’t get totally used to the  feel of the inexpensive keyboard.
  • The Homeschool Lesson Plans are very good and will, I think, add to and reinforce the lessons in the software. I did have some issues, however, with the scheduling. The MusiQ 123 plans included assignments to compose songs using the Children’s Music Journey software. Someone who had purchased the 1 year program instead of the monthly subscription wouldn’t have access to this. There were also assignments for Ear Training Coach, which isn’t included in the Year 1 purchase. The lessons didn’t always follow the sequence of Theory Thinker, but skipped around. Also, there were frequent instructions to teach a specific concept. This was no problem for me, since I read music, but would be difficult for a parent with little music training. I enjoy using the plans, but they may not be for everyone.
  • When compared to the cost of music lessons, this is a great value!

I am really happy to have  the opportunity to use the MusIQ School program for the next year and anticipate that Emily’s piano skills will greatly improve!

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I received this product free in exchange for my honest review.

3 comments:

  1. Hello - I have a question. We live out of the country and I am looking for a homeschool friendly way for my kids to take piano lessons. I know basic piano and can read music, but I don't play. Would you say that this could be a substitute for normal piano lessons, or just to supplement?

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  2. Yes, I think this would be a great substitute for piano lessons. Nothing is quite as good as a real live teacher :), but I think this comes close. From the little bit that I've experimented with Children's Music Journey (the program for younger kids), I am even more impressed with it than with Piano Suite. It is even more incremental and the student always has immediate feedback for mistakes.

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  3. A tip on the Wait for Note is to go to the menu in Piano Player, and select Pieces - Learning Methods - Wait for Note - Preference.

    You'll notice that it's set to strict mode, which is what you found annoying on more difficult pieces. That's because it's set by default for people who are just starting (simple) pieces, and need the instruction as to the relative timing (when to hold notes and when to lift them off.

    So, if you're finding you need more time to move from one chord to another in your left hand, just change this setting from strict to one of the other settings, and you will be able to proceed smoothly..

    Jim

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