I’ve long needed decent piano course, and recently read a post suggesting that Piano Marvel should be checked out. Bingo! Hidden in a quiet package; a somewhat drab "trophy case" is real keyboard learning prize. With this tool, a huge barrier to learning an alternate instrument is gone.
Piano Marvel is a quite decent set of courseware. Its key feature is that it is quite supportive musically, with a good "backing track" (music that plays in the background to give you timing and pitch information), it is also very practice, rather than lecture-focused, with plenty of good lessons. It costs $15 a month, with the first month free. The price is, IMO, reasonable, as it’s as good as a decent piano teacher, in some ways.
As you can see from the picture, it has 6 "levels", each with 5 "sections". Each section is composed of a set of 20-or-so "lessons", It has two trophy cases, "Method" and "Technique", giving about 1200 lessons in total.
A "lesson" is actually more of an exercise, with each lesson/excercise targeted at a musical skill or two. The lessons get longer as you progress and the complexity ramps up rapidly. As you can see, the first level I managed to get nearly 100% (this is a testament to two years of practicing other ways; I won't do nearly so well on the next levels). The award levels are:
- nothing - the Award spot shows the outline of an award in the case
- “OK” - at least about 80% of notes right, in all exercises in the Section
- "Notable" (get the pun?) - at least 90% in all exercises
- "Gold piano" - : 97% or better (97%=one minor note error) in every lesson
Note: some ot the details above might be a bit off: I could not find a Piano Marvel overview section.
It's pretty good at keeping you coming back to do a lesson. After each lesson is completed: it shows you your score, shows you what you missed and compares you to your previous high score. It's thus easy to be challenged; think "if I just fix that mistake I'll push my peak score up /get a trophy", and repeat a lesson until one gets it. You are encouraged as well, by the visual "trophy case" to go back and have a whack at fixing up the few lessons that are keeping you from that gold piano. I, for example, am mildly bugged by the missing gold piano in level one and plan to fix it soon.
Some of the lessons, like the flash note reader are pretty quirky and take a while to get up to speed.Typically a 1st-level section took me 2-3 hours solid hours of concentration to complete to the gold-piano stage.
Crucially, it meshes well with midi in general and my software in particular: I have my jammer keyboards plugged in most of the time, so just have to fire up my keyboard integrator software (Reaper will probably work instead), and start PM, tell it to read the right input instrument, and go. This takes under a minute to start practicing.
It covers rhythm, chords, notes, scales, notation, sight-reading and theory. Further (and this is where I am weakest) it teaches left-right co-ordination well and has good ear-training drills.
With each section, it ratchets up the level with just enough repetition to really ingrain the learning. I particularly like the feature that allows one to ratchet the speed from 30 bpm to 240 (!) bpm.
It also has piles of pieces that you can use the tool to learn. So you can learn a real song to show off to your friends. Myself, I've got my eyes on "Bumble Boogie" - one day ... :) .
Now for the things I didn’t like. First, it does not spell out well how to use the product - what level is needed to get a reward level, how to use it, etc - you know, the basics.
Second, it appears kind of drab, makes poor use of screen real-estate. Because of the drabness, I initially thought it was going to be a boring set of drills. I would prefer to see all of the lessons in a section rather than the first 12 and have to scroll down to see the rest.
Also it does not give much of a clue as to how fast one is likely to progress, or hint as to what a given course level means in terms of skill advancement.
It's kind of weird that the Techniques award case is hidden behind the other case. What the heck? When am I supposed to go for the Techniques awards? Need I bother with them?
It would be nice to see at a glance what sections you've started on, even if there are no awards yet.
However, for comparison, I used tried eMedia's Piano and Keyboard Method, before graduating to Rock Band 3. eMedia only has 300 unexciting lessons (exercises) and 100 songs and got to be a slog.
Rock Band is often a hoot, but there are things it just does not teach, it is a pain to learn each song, and it can instill bad habits.
So I recommend you give Piano Marvel a try. If you have a sonome like the Axis-49 or 64, I’d especially like find out how it is for you.