The piano has always been my favorite instrument. Ever since my first music theory lessons in high school, I've loved playing the piano. I've actually taught others how to play, which is part of the reason this program intrigued me. Interactive multimedia teaching applications have become a big part of the computer software business but music programs of this type are rare when it comes to quality. And while I'm still convinced that no program can take the place of a private instructor, Teach Me Piano is a very good and low cost alternative.
The three main parts of the program consist of a Musician's Reference, Keyboard Lessons and a Songbook. The Musician's Reference provides explanations for some of the basic elements of music notation. Unfortunately, glossary would be a better term than reference. The explanations are good but in sections such as Key Signatures and Scales it would be nice to actually see a reference of all the available key signatures and each of the major and minor (and perhaps some other) scales listed in music notation.
Keyboard Lessons is where you'll actually learn about music and how it works along with how to play the piano. Keyboard Lessons is split into six sections, which are then split into five chapters, and each of those five chapters is split into five lessons (although a few have a couple more). There are 157 lessons in all. Before you begin, you are asked to sign-in so that the computer can keep track of your progress and evaluate your performance for later review. What's nice about this feature is that the program can keep track of many different students so everyone in your family can use it and go at their own pace. Next you are introduced to your 'virtual' teacher, Professor Hugh Berberich. Professor Berberich provides introductions and instructions for each of the lessons with both video and audio snippets.
Throughout each lesson you are presented with different screens which systematically guide you step-by-step through the learning process. The Trainer Screen is where you'll be spending most of your time. Your current lesson is displayed here as music notation along with graphical keys that show which notes you're pressing as you play your keyboard. From here you are able to practice the lesson in any way you'd like (although instructions are given on how you should proceed). With the Rhythm Trainer, you can focus on practicing the rhythm of the music. The Pitch Trainer allows you to concentrate on the pitch of the notes. Rhythm & Pitch allows you to practice rhythm and pitch together and here you play along with a metronome (the speed of which is easily adjustable). Each of these trainers allows you to practice with the left or right hands separately or both hands together. When you think you're ready, click the Do It function and your progress is evaluated.
The Evaluation Screen is only accessible after you've trained with Rhythm & Pitch and your evaluation is displayed as both a graph as well as a percentage score for both melody and rhythm performance. The program also lets you know which bars of the music you had trouble with and gives you separate percentage scores for each of those bars. In addition, you can play back your own performance to hear exactly how you played. Unfortunately, the accuracy of the Evaluation can sometimes be questioned. In Section 3, Chapter 5, Lesson 1, I was asked to play a series of thirds with my right hand. I did and I know my performance was perfect (I am a professional musician after all) but the Evaluation still claimed that I made mistakes. This only happens with rhythm though and I believe it is because of the nature of MIDI itself and may not be any fault of the program. Pitch evaluation was very accurate.
In addition to practice, you can also perform any of the songs included with the program with full background accompaniment using the Songbook. The Songbook includes over 75 songs taken from different genres including classics, folk tunes, holiday and patriotic songs, and more. Songs can be sorted by a number of criteria including Title, Style, Composer, and Difficulty. In addition, you can import your own MIDI files into the Songbook as well as print out the music notation of any of the listed songs. The printout feature makes it easy for you to take your practice material with you.
Teach Me Piano provides a well thought out and educational course in piano instruction. In my experience with the product, it's more geared toward adults but with some parental supervision, young children should also be able to easily grasp the knowledge presented here. By the time you reach the end of the disc, you'll be playing the piano well enough that your next Christmas will probably be spent a-caroling the whole day through.