I don’t normally cover piano teaching apps in this blog, but Piano Maestro is something special, and is rapidly changing the way people learn and teach piano. As many of you know, I believe teaching is something every musician should do- we were given a gift, and it’s our job to share it with others.
(Disclaimer: I’m not a spokesman or getting paid by Piano Maestro. If I gush a bit about this product, it’s unfortunately uncompensated).
Piano Maestro is a free app for iPad that uses tone recognition to “play” sheet music on the screen, ala Guitar Hero. It doesn’t require any technology outside of a piano and an iPad since it can detect the pitch of the tones played on the piano. They’ve included a huge selection of music ranging from top 40 hits to classical, and I’ve found the pitch detection to be about 95% accurate, even on cheap keyboards and old upright pianos.
Piano Maestro consists of three basic sections: Journey, Songs, and Home Assignments. The Journey mode allows you to advance through a series of progressively more difficult songs. The Songs section allows you to play a large variety of songs in any level, on demand (some of the content on this section is pay-only, unless you’re connected with a teacher). The Home Assignments area is the most useful for piano teachers. Using this section, you can assign specific songs for students to work up at home.
I first started using Piano Maestro in January of this year. After discovering it on a music education blog I love (thanks, 88 Note Keys!) I downloaded the app on my iPad, and signed up for a teacher account. I then created profiles for each one of my students, with their own unique nickname. The students that had iPads at home I linked with my teacher account so that they could access all of the content for free.
Students adjusted to using the app quickly, and I noticed that my younger students (particularly the boys) immediately were hooked. One of my students practiced almost 20 hours a week for a month when he first got the app, and went from being able to play two note songs to playing two handed parallel motion 5 finger tunes in less than a month.
Even the older students fell in love with it, with a few notable exceptions. The students that most disliked the app were the ones that had bad habits like stopping frequently, not keeping a steady beat, and replaying sections. With Piano Maestro staying on a steady beat and being difficult to rewind, this forced many of these students to overcome their bad habits.
In very informal comparison tests, I’ve found that students using Piano Maestro progress at roughly double the speed of their non-Piano Maestro peers. That’s right- double the speeds. In most cases, if I switch my students over to Piano Adventures after using Piano Maestro for the first 6 months, students typically go into Book 1B or 2A, where the non-Piano Maestro students have to go into book 1A. With the average student taking around 9 months to make their way through a book, this is a game changer for me.
Piano Maestro is a massive accelerator, and one of the biggest revolutions in teaching piano in the last 40 years. I’m seeing students excited about piano, sight reading for hours every day, and progressing faster than I ever thought was possible.
Are their drawbacks? Absolutely. The app only works on iPad, which locks out quite a few of my lower income students from using the app. Also, I’ve noticed that students playing exclusively on Piano Maestro can become too reliant on the sheet music. This problem can be remedied by asking them to memorize songs, but it’s definitely something to be aware of.
In 2007, Keyboard Magazine asked readers to write in about the state of piano music education in America. Most of the letters were negative, saying that piano education was a dying art form, and that fundamentals like sight reading would become almost nonexistent in the next few years.
I was the only positive letter to the editor that was published, and I wrote that I believed that if piano teachers could engage students with technology, we’d be able to get students more involved. I even said I wish they made a version of Guitar Hero for the piano.
Five years later, teachers are finally getting on board the technology bandwagon, and we’re seeing some incredible results from apps like Piano Maestro. If you’re a music teacher or wanting to learn piano, I strongly recommend you download this app. There’s never been an easier way to learn, and there’s never been a better time to start teaching piano. You can download it for free here.