Product: Piano learning system for iPad, iPod and iPhone
Developer: Ion Audio
Minimum Requirements: iPhone, iPod, or iPad and Piano Apprentice app
Price: $99.99 (Piano Apprentice app is free, with additional songs available via in-app purchase)
Ion Audio claims that with their Piano Apprentice 25-note lighted keyboard and accompanying iOS app, you can “learn to play piano anywhere.” Physically, this is true. The keyboard itself is compact and light, and easily transportable. In practice, though, it’s not quite that simple. It’ll teach you a few songs, yes, but you’ll have to figure some things out on your own, and you won’t be entertaining with “The Entertainer” overnight.
The Piano Apprentice system comes with the 25-note compact keyboard (keys are not full-sized), a quick start guide and four AA batteries. Input for an AC adapter is available in the back, but no adapter is included with the system.
For the lessons, you’ll need to download the free Piano Apprentice app. It’s universal, allowing it to work on your iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. I preferred the larger screen of the iPad, but you can get by with the smaller iOS devices.
After placing your iOS device into the cradle and plugging the Piano Apprentice into the dock port, you can turn everything on and start playing. The app is split into three sections: Piano Jam, Piano Lessons and Sheet Music.
Piano Jam just allows you to play whatever you want. If you already know some music, have fun.
Piano Lesons is where the meat is, as we get to watch Scott “The Piano Guy” Houston’s video lessons.
He’s a friendly enough chap, and he leads you through a collection of songs. The general approach is to learn the right hand (melody), then left hand (chords), then combined. You see his hands hit the keys in the video, and the physical keys on the keyboard light up simultaneously.
It’s a decent way to follow along, although slightly frustrating at first as you bounce between the video screen and the lit keys. Scott offers tips on fingering, when necessary, but he seems fine with letting you position your hands wherever they’re comfortable.
Mrs. Deardurff would’ve had a fit about that back in my grade school piano lessons.
Finally, there’s sheet music. This area disappointed me, as the sheet music is melody only…one note. The chords are listed and the keys light up, but the notes are not on the page. It’s an odd omission in an app that’s supposed to be teaching you how to play. Maybe Scott can explain why this is.
Having some piano training, I went here first and still found it hard to follow along (the keys still light up in this area). This is mostly because the it took a while to adjust to the smaller keys. They’re perfectly sized for kids, but adults will find they have scrunch up their fingers or risk hitting the wrong keys. Thankfully, you can slow down the tempo of the song to make it easier to hit the necessary notes, which is great for learning. You can also play without the music and light accompaniment, but the music sheet doesn’t scroll along with you. Too bad the developers couldn’t come up with a way to detect where you are and scroll the music accordingly.
The music included is okay for the early lessons: You expect basic versions of titles such as “Ode to Joy,” “Greensleeves,” “The Entertainer,” etc. They make things fun (and give you a reason to break the system out at parties) with “The Birthday Song” and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” then round it out with “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again” and “Stardust.” “I Have a Little Dreidel,” “Silent Night” and “Jingle Bells” are listed, but you’ll need to pay $0.99 to get the three of them. They state the songs require a download, but there’s nothing in the app to warn that you’ll be paying for them if you select them. Just remember that. And hopefully, more songs are added soon.
I also wish the app had the ability to save your performances so you could play them back to hear where you need work, or just to share them with others via the various social networking sites. Perhaps in a future update.
Despite these shortcomings, the Piano Apprentice system is well done. Although the plastic keyboard feels very much like a lightweight toy, it gets surprisingly decent sound. The 25 keys are limiting, but expected at this price (there are octave buttons if you want to reach lower or higher registers). I certainly wouldn’t recommend this over a full sized keyboard or actual piano, of course, but for children just learning about playing and appreciating music, it’s a fantastic way to get them started without the full investment of equipment and lessons.
Buy the Piano Apprentice