Big news – no problems have been found in playing the jammer (yet).
This is a weird kind of headline, isn’t it? Yet it’s important, nay crucial.
You all probably been wondering what I've been up to, with these many months of "practicing". I do profess to wonder myself; after all these months you'd think there would be something great to show, right?
There is, but it’s kind of subtle: I have been able to play a large range of songs "successfully" (with a few small exceptions). "Successfully" means that the computer courses I've used have passed me; my wife says I sound like a young piano student :) .
This is a fun, interesting new instrument and since there's no race on and my time was limited, the rule was: far better to be safe and careful. If I mess up everyone might conclude the poor instrument is at fault, and not the ham-fisted student. And there's a remote chance of something worse yet: I could succeed, but do such a hack job of design that people curse my design decisions and mistakes for a long time. So I am taking care, working from the bottom up, and not focusing on shiny show pieces.
Besides just reading scores, I have used several “learn piano” courses: eMedia’s Piano and Keyboard Method (kind of staid); then Rock Band 3 (great fun, but with definite limitations), Brendan Hogan’s Musiah (pretty good for kids) and my current favorite, Arron Garner’s PianoMarvel. This last one is excellent, and allows one to spend a large part of one’s practice time in “deep practice”, learning at the optimum rate.
So we have very good courseware, and the dual-keyboard jammer appears, on the surface, to be an excellent instrument. Now how do we test the blink'n thing and prove it?
I’m the geeky developer, I’m not competent to create a test suite (how the heck would I know what is easy and what is hard, what the key starting concepts are?), but the authors of Musiah and PianoMarvel certainly are. And PianoMarvel has keyboard exercises in spades.
So take a look at this screenshot from my current Piano Marvel session . Each one of those trophy symbols represents twenty completed keyboard exercises.
The trophies indicate the lowest score in the exercise set. The gold piano trophy indicates that all 20 of the exercises / songs have been done, at least once, nearly perfectly. The single note and the smilely-face trophies signify that at there is at least one exercise with a score of 80-89% and 90-95% respectively. I'm currently working on level 3C, and will go back to bring all the exercises on level 2 up to perfect later (generally there is only one not-perfect hold-out in each set). From past experience I expect the learning being done on level 3 will allow me to do them easily.
Here's what set 3C looks like currently. You can see that I'm still challenged by the chromatic intervals (jumping to Gb and Eb) in Heart & Soul.
And here is the screen-shot for the technical exercises:
These technical exercises were done twice, once with each hand, as part of research into the value of symmetrical keyboards (the results will be posted shortly).
So does the thing actually work?
The results are totally boring: all together about 500 entry-level songs & exercises have been playable*. There are no songs that could not be played.
There are some exercises, like Chopsticks, Heart & Soul and the trick piece Peter-Peter that are harder to play on the jammer than on the piano, but that's life. This is balanced out by many things that are way easier to play.
* Exceptions are: you just can't do a C-Major glissando (but you can do other, new kinds) and the fingering of a harmonic minor song is more stretchy than I had hoped. There may be a problem with complex pieces that require one to hold a note with one finger and play others with the other fingers; we may need to bring the thumb into play for these.
The unexpected ...
This is the most fun part: hitting the unexpected. I played these many pieces, gradually getting better, under the assumption that they would gradually become automatic. It didn't exactly happen.
Playing still invariably required conscious control: as soon as a distraction like playing a chord with the other hand was added, or talking to someone, then my fingers acted like a bunch of students when the teacher was out of the room. Something, some crucial step was missing from my practice, and it's even missing from the learned books on the subject of talent development. I hope to discuss this in a later post. :)
The level 3 courses are all about simple 2-handed play: melody with the right hand, chords and rhythm with the left. I'm keen to complete the whole of level 3 because the skill acquired should enable me to read a fake sheet and play it at sight. Then I can join some friends in weekly jam sessions - yahoo!
The farther future
I'm hoping that the next levels will get progressively easier; as the lessons shift to other keys and more complex chords. Tthe Rock Band songs were in all sorts of keys, so that aspect is tested.
So far PianoMarvel has mostly stuck to C, F and G. This will be the next critical test: the piano is designed to play songs in C. What happens when we switch keys? Will this slightly-mad jammer player find his long sought learning and playing advantage?