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Learning to read and play music via a video game

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July 19, 2006

Learning to read and play music via a video game

Learning to read and play music via a video game

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July 20, 2006 According to the U.S. Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) executive director Gary L. Ingle, Fisher-Price’s “I Can Play Piano” is “the most innovative approach to piano fundamentals we've seen.” The US$80 educational toy uses video game technology to introduce children to learning, playing and appreciating music via Piano Wizard technology. The Piano Wizard method is inherently different from other music-teaching approaches because it introduces actual playing of real music with an simple interactive video game. The technology allows virtually anyone to play songs within minutes and transforms the tedious and traditional methods of piano practice into an exciting video game. Piano Wizard can make the first few years of a child's musical experience fun instead of torture, because children can now actually play to learn piano. The colour-coded plug and play piano keyboard plugs into any TV and becomes a colourful game with fun, moving images that tell kids what note to play and when to play it. Suitable for ages 4 through 8 years, children learn at their own pace and children of different ages and stages of development can play together. The better they play, the higher their score, with positive feedback and unconditional applause to encourage them every step of the way. Before long, children are playing the game and reading and playing music.

As MTNA’s Ingle says, “the more engaging a child's initial experience with the piano is, the more likely they are to go on with their study and enjoyment of music.”

I Can Play Piano also teaches kids to read music through four simple modes of play:

In Mode One, kids simply hit the right note at the right time! Images move toward the top of the screen, and when the color image hits the keyboard on the TV screen, kids press the same color key on the keyboard to hear that note. It's easy for players to follow a whole series of images to play a song.

Mode Two is an intermediate step that helps kids understand how music is organized and read. The keyboard on the video screen rotates from the top of the TV screen to the left side, so kids get used to seeing how pitch is organized on a musical staff.

In Mode Three, the images become color-coded notes on real musical staffs, seamlessly introducing kids to musical notation. Sharps, flats and beginning theory become simple child's play.

Mode Four completes the transition to traditional music notation. The color-coded notes become black and white notes on musical staffs, enabling kids to play the same song with real notes.

In addition to the plug and play keyboard, the I Can Play Piano system includes an AC adaptor and one song and game cartridge featuring eight piano favorites, The Entertainer, Row, Row Your Boat, I've Been Workin' on the Railroad, Beethoven's Fur Elise and more. Additional I Can Play Piano song and games cartridges featuring music appropriate for preschoolers, older kids, and families, will be sold separately for use with the system.

Allegro Multimedia and Fisher Price signed a strategic licensing agreement earlier this year that allowed Fisher Price to introduce Allegro's Piano Wizard technology into the toy market as I Can Play Piano.

Piano Wizard is a teaching platform that is changing the way kids learn piano. "Our strategic partnership and licensing agreement with Fisher Price ensures that future generations of children will use the Piano Wizard method as training wheels in discovering a life-long, love of the piano, ultimately helping to create many more musicians," says Chris Salter, CEO of Allegro Multimedia and inventor of Piano Wizard.

"The problem with the way many people learn piano is that they go through all the traditional methods for months and months, and they're still not playing anything they want to play," says Scott Houston, the host of the public television shows, Play Piano in a Flash! and The Piano Guy with Scott Houston. Houston continued, "They aren't inspired to practice, and they stop learning. That's why I think Piano Wizard is really clicking with people. Instead of saying they have to go and practice, they are genuinely getting immersed in this game. It turns practice into simply learning to play quicker. For any of my students who come in the door and say they are nowhere, don't understand how to read music and need a place to start, I will definitely be using Piano Wizard. To be able to see how the progression of this product turns the playing of the game into playing real music, and how easily that transition takes place, is very impressive to me."

Salter explained, "Piano Wizard's simple interface allows players to learn by doing, simply by hitting the right key at the right time--as Bach so famously put it hundreds of years ago. Because the game can subconsciously teach music essentials to children at such a critical development stage, they can learn music deeply and intuitively, almost as if it were a native language, which is how we believe Mozart processed and assimilated music at such a young age."

Salter added, "By playing the Piano Wizard game, children begin to absorb and deduce basic music theory in the same way children subconsciously learn to organize parts of speech. The foundations of structure and fundamentals are being set without needing to know how to read. In the same manner, we all learn our native languages by speaking, kids can subconsciously absorb the underlying mathematical logic of music, the grid of pitch and time, by playing. Only with Piano Wizard, instead of complex musical notation the music "notes" stream by as simple color coded game characters, not difficult to master hieroglyphics and the music pours forth enjoyably."

This year, Fisher Price is focusing on developing high-quality toys in the musical arts category and the use of the Piano Wizard method in the company's upcoming I Can Play Piano system will play a major role in accomplishing the goal of helping kids learn naturally and painlessly through musical play. Salter concluded, "We are looking forward to a continuing relationship with Fisher Price to set the stage for a revolution in music education, particularly as it affects early child development and the well-known resultant benefits to math and SAT scores in later life."

"Given our expertise in the creation of unique learning platforms and our understanding of the value of musical play, we recognized the Piano Wizard method as the perfect basis for our new generation of musical toys," says David Allmark, general manager and senior vice president, Fisher-Price. "Fisher Price together with the Piano Wizard method will begin to instill a lifelong love of music in children worldwide."

About the Author
Mike Hanlon After Editing or Managing over 50 print publications primarily in the role of a Magazine Doctor, Mike embraced the internet full-time in 1995 and became a "start-up all-rounder" – quite a few start-ups later, he founded Gizmag in 2002. Now he can write again.   All articles by Mike Hanlon
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