Children Around the World Projects & Piano Software

Otter's Scones

Just what is this blurry picture of….well…biscuit looking things that seem to have exploded? This is Otter’s attempt at photography and plate presentation.

You see, Bear handed me a wonderful looking scone, perfectly proportioned with just the right amount of strawberry jam and whipped cream oozing out of the sides. It looked so beautiful, I was determined to get a photograph of another JUST like it, to post here on our blog. However, we all demolished the scones before I could do that. BUT… Otter saved the day because he told me he took a picture of HIS scone. So here it is. In all of it’s gloppy glory.

Aren’t you glad I could share that with you?

The scones were the last recipe the kids made from our week spent learning about the British Isles. Honestly, they tasted a lot better than the one above looks. Wink

This week we learned about Ireland. We watched step-dancing videos, read plenty of books and are going to wrap up this week with some Irish stew (made from lamb), soda bread and an apple cinnamon cake for dessert. Everyone is enjoying the food aspect of our studies.

In other news, Otter is really enjoying taking pictures with his digital camera. A lot of pictures… of…just about anything and everything like: dad’s desk, the dog’s nose, clutter on dad’s desk (because you see, my desk is perfect and NEVER has clutter on it), our library books, fur balls on the carpet, etc. etc. However, out of all the hundreds of photos he’s taken, he actually did get a few nice ones from our local nature preserve. Maybe there is some hidden photographic talent in the boy? At least we aren’t paying for 40 rolls of film to be developed of blurry dog noses and so on. You’ve gotta love digital for that.

Our piano software from Soft Mozart came in the other day. I have wanted Otter to be able to take piano lessons for a long time. He may not be a talented photographer (yet), but he picks up piano pretty fast (at least I think so). Just by self teaching and Emily helping him out a little, he was reading music and playing some songs.
Lessons are expensive though. So… I went online and looked for some sort of piano program you can learn on the computer. My thinking is that we’ll get him started with something like that until he outgrows it and really needs a teacher. I found the Soft Mozart site and watched a boat load of videos they had posted on YouTube and also read articles about their philosophy, etc. I decided to give it a try. After only a couple of days, even *I* am playing music with it! I’m so glad I ordered it. It’s actually working out for us very well.

Soft Mozart

You hook up your keyboard to your computer via a special cord that plugs into the midi port in the back and the USB port on your computer. That way your keyboard can communicate with the software. The software comes with several different games that teach the notes, etc. and there is also a mode that teaches you songs. There are several different “modes” for working on a song. There is the easiest way which shows the music lines vertically instead of horizontally. This way the notes correspond with your fingers on the keyboard. In the picture above, Otter is working on a 2nd mode where the lines are horizontal, but the notes contain special colors and letters to help you. As you progress you can choose other modes. Finally, you end up with traditional sheet style music. In the earlier modes there are some very nifty animations to help you with your playing. As you play through a song it keeps track of your errors and you get points at the end for accuracy both with the notes AND the timing. Otter keeps trying to up his score until it’s perfect. It’s like a game to him.

You can also work on sight reading and memorization. You can hide notes so that they will only appear as you play them and give gentle hints for things you’ve forgotten. You can also just work on either the right or left hand parts while the computer plays the other part for you at the same time.
One of the things I like is that it gets you looking at the music and not at your hands right away. It’s just natural to do so with the way the program is set up.

It’s hard to explain it all…you’ve got to take a look at some of the videos from the site itself to understand what I’m trying to communicate.

Keyboard

You can see the stickers on the keyboard that help you learn how to play. After you become proficient, the stickers come of easily. They are nice – kind of like training wheels. I know they made *me* feel more confident at any rate.

My point for sharing all of this is that it’s successful! It works! After just a couple of days Otter is playing Ode to Joy (a simplified version), Hot Cross Buns, Jingle Bells, “The Small Fir Tree” and some other songs. All of the songs he is playing require both hands with up to 3 keys pressed at one time. He has also started a few songs that are similar level wise to this one. All of the “hype” on the site is true, at least for our family. It’s a very easy thing to learn and you progress pretty quickly and without feeling stressed. The song library includes songs from the Bastien piano library and tons of other songs that go from the simplest level to more advanced pieces. We ordered the version that comes with ALL of the songs. The less expensive version comes with 52 songs (probably plenty to get you started).

Otter is on cloud 9. He’s finally got a structured program and he is having very early successes with it. He loves it that he gets to choose which song(s) he wants to work on. He sat at practice for 2 hours today just because he wanted to. He also likes the games. They help you get more familiar with note duration, note names for lines and spaces on the treble and bass staves and other important skills.

The creator of the program sent us a free year’s lesson plan. Otter is going too fast to use it though.

Emily loves the program too. She was all excited over her decent progress in just the last couple of days. I even got Bear to sit down and after a few tries he was playing a simple song with 2 hands too. (Shh don’t tell anyone. Bear doesn’t play music. That’s for girls or little brothers or something roll eyes).

My only gripe is, that without a teacher, it’s difficult to know hand and finger placement for some of the songs. One of the songs Otter is working on requires you to move your hand from its first position and move your fingers over other fingers. There is no instruction on how to accomplish this – no ghost hands or video or anything. Because I have a little piano knowledge, I was able to demonstrate to Otter how he was probably supposed to do his fingers…but I’m no expert. I might be ruining him with bad piano habits or something. Wink

I did notice the Soft Mozart addresses this issue:

Soft Mozart doesn’t have special finger tutoring in order to not divert the student’s attention from the task of music reading and finding of correct keys, and to spare a student from the fear of pressing a piano key with the “wrong” finger. The position of fingers is the naturally most comfortable and effective position while playing a song, rather than a rigid artificial scheme, and the management of the fingers should advance with piano playing. While playing, try to use all your fingers, without unnecessary motion of your hands. We use the Bastien Piano Library at the very beginning level, where the songs are carefully picked by their hand positions. When learning very advanced songs, we would suggest consulting a teacher or a pianist to help you with the difficult places. With the development of coordination and experience, any player can find the most comfortable order of fingering naturally, without being distracted from music score reading by special fingering instructions.

Another thing we ran into was that we needed to set our screen resolution on 800 x 600 with 16 bit color to get things to look properly.

Anyway, if you are looking for a computer program to teach piano, or to reinforce what your children are learning in their lessons, you might want to take a look. I think it was worth every $.