Piano Marvel: Interactive Piano Lessons

09.02.2009

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:

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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Comments

09.12.2009 / Trevor said:

Hey Aaron. Piano Marvel sounds really intriguing. My wife and I were thinking about getting an Electronic Piano for Christmas. Just looking at the site for a few seconds, I’m not really sure how it works. I wanted to see screenshots, pricing plans, maybe an overview of how it all works? I’ll be back once I get that Piano. Thanks.

09.12.2009 / Aaron Hardy said:

Hey Trevor,

You can download the application here: http://www.adobe.com/cfusion/marketplace/index.cfm?event=marketplace.offering&offeringid=11861&marketplaceid=1

Just sign up for a trial account and you can run the application and check it all out. You just won’t be able to actually play the pieces without a keyboard attached. If you decide to subscribe after the trial period is over it’s $12 per month if you use the promo code E67CD9EA.

Basically you plug in your keyboard, configure it, select different exercises to play, and then a cursor moves along and accompaniment plays while you play along on your keyboard. You then get scored on how accurate you play. There’s a whole range of exercises and full-length pieces from easy to difficult. Running the actual app is probably the easiest way to get the answers to your questions, but if you have any specific questions feel free to ask.

Thanks for posting!

09.29.2009 / Mom of three said:

Does it work on an imac?

09.29.2009 / Aaron Hardy said:

@Mom of three
Yes, it should. You can always try it out with a trial account and make sure it works to your satisfaction before signing up for a subscription. Thanks for asking!

11.02.2009 / online piano course said:

.., whew.. too sad I only read chords and I’m having a hard time with looking up at notes.. :(

11.16.2009 / paul said:

hello there, iv downloaded the free trial, but when i configure the usb key board the little speaker shows feedback but there is no sound any ideas, is there a way that i can set up the midi output device

11.25.2009 / James said:

Hi,

I am trying the free monthly trial, and am impressed! Are there any plans to add new lessons or features in the future?

Thanks

11.25.2009 / Aaron Hardy said:

@Paul
Where are you expecting sound to come from? The way the application is set up, the sound from hitting the keys should come through your keyboard speakers (you’ll need a keyboard with speakers) and the accompaniment will come through your computer speakers. Considering you’re talking about the speaker icon on the configuration screen, it sounds like you’re talking about the sound that should be coming through your keyboard’s speakers, so either you have a keyboard without speakers or the volume is turned down. Let me know if that’s not clear.

@James
I’m sure there are but I don’t know the details of them right now. I can tell you that similar applications are in the works for other instruments. Thanks for trying it out and stopping by!

03.09.2010 / Teaching yourself piano said:

Wow! This looks nice. I was looking for a good method to use for teaching my nephew piano. I play piano, but I’ve never done any teaching. This will be my first foray into that arena.

Thanks for the great info.

08.24.2010 / pianolessonsbend said:

Wow. This could be a great resource for people who live in distant areas and might not have access to conventional piano lessons.

09.16.2010 / Piano Tutorial said:

This way you get hands on experience with each technique as you learn. And don’t worry about not knowing how a piece of music should sound or how you should be playing it. Each piece has an audio example to show you what it sounds like.

02.22.2012 / anselm said:

Hi, I´d like to try Piano Marvel trial version, but assessment doesn´t works. All connection is O.K., repro icon lights on and counting voice I can hear. Is there any limitation for trial? I don´t know what to do more… Thank´s…

02.22.2012 / Aaron Hardy said:

Hey Anslem, did you go through the configuration wizard within PianoMarvel to configure your keyboard? If you successfully completed that then it should evaluate your performance fine. If it doesn’t, I recommend contacting PianoMarvel directly. Good luck.


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