Piano Marvel: Interactive Piano Lessons

Rain, where I work, has released yet another super-duper app. It’s called Piano Marvel and it’s set to revolutionize how people learn how to play the piano. I’m not a piano player myself, but I do remember taking private piano lessons as a kid. I hated it. It was monotonous, inconvenient, and felt like a chore. I wasn’t intrigued and I don’t believe I was the only kid that felt this way.

A while back, Guitar Hero hit the gaming industry by storm and kids flocked to learning the guitar. Sure, it wasn’t a real guitar, but it was still an instrument of sorts and kids were still learning hand-eye-ear coordination, rhythm, and other music essentials. The game was a huge success, bringing in over $1 billion in sales in the first 26 months and set an industry record.

Why such a difference in my experience learning how to play the piano years ago and kids learning the pseudo-guitar with Guitar Hero? Guitar Hero provides objectivity, benchmarking, competition, and addiction. You can play with your friends in a fun atmosphere. Piano Marvel takes these concepts and applies them to learning the piano. Students play along to accompaniment, see exactly which notes they hit and when they hit them, and earn trophies as they complete increasingly difficult exercises. They can practice whenever they choose and can even battle it out with their piano-playing comrades.

Now to the gushy technical stuff.

First, Piano Marvel is built using Adobe AIR and Java. Adobe AIR provides the high level of interactivity needed for such an application. Java provides the ability to communicate with a MIDI keyboard. Both are bridged using Transmission — AIR talks to Java, Java talks to AIR. All are deployed onto the user’s desktop with a single installer. Both Windows and Mac are supported.

Second, all the exercise content can be easily managed by the administrator. Let’s say the administrator wants to add an exercise. He plays a little ditty in Finale using his keyboard, saves the musical notation as a MusicXML file, saves the accompaniment in MIDI format, and uploads both files using an online admin panel. The next time students log in, they have a new exercise to conquer.

Third, all music notation is dynamic. In other words, an exercise is not just a big graphic of sheet music. Instead, MusicXML is loaded from the server at runtime. The XML is immediately parsed and notes, accidentals, lines, dots, and all notation the user sees is drawn to the screen at that moment. Resize the window and the music is redrawn, not simply scaled, to fit into the available space in the most elegant and readable way possible. Because the MusicXML is very comprehensive in describing a musical piece, we can also use the XML to determine pitch and timing for evaluating a user’s performance.

Fourth, the user can tweak the tempo, only play a portion of an exercise, toggle accompaniment and metronome sounds, get note hints, watch tutorial videos, and more.

Fifth, the application was recently nominated as an Adobe Max 2009 Awards finalist in the education category. Yeah, we’re kind of a big deal.

If that isn’t enough, you can watch my ugly cakehole yack about Piano Marvel below:

https://vimeo.com/5012163

You can use a free demo account to get hooked then pay a low monthly fee after your trial period is over. If you check it out using this link you’ll only pay $12/month if you choose to sign up. That’s less than the gas you’d pay for to visit a piano teacher. All you need is a MIDI keyboard and a MIDI-to-USB adapter to get started.

Here are several screenshots of the app and its features. Props go out to Nate Ross for letting me steal his screenshots and captions.

Create a rich interactive music notation engine.
Create a rich interactive music notation engine.
Display immediate feedback on all correct and incorrect notes that were played.
Display immediate feedback on all correct and incorrect notes that were played.
Have the ability to specify tempo, make music selections, and toggle fun accompaniment and metronome playback.
Have the ability to specify tempo, make music selections, and toggle fun accompaniment and metronome playback.
Create an environment that makes playing the piano addictive and entertaining.
Create an environment that makes playing the piano addictive and entertaining
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