My wife is a great piano player and has been teaching piano all of her adult life so she has been dying to teach our 8 year old son Harris to play for ages. Predictably, he has shown no interest and unlike his parents, is only interested in sports.
That’s why we were blown away when Harris asked to try Simply Piano by JoyTunes. We were even more confused as we haven’t let him watch YouTube for weeks, where he usually sees ads for stuff like this. I can only imagine it was a combination of an old YouTube ad and a desperate ploy to gain access to some sort of screen.
Simply Piano does not provide a virtual piano. Instead, you park an iPhone or iPad running the Simply Piano app near a real piano. The app gives a lesson, the student plays along, and the app uses the device’s microphone to record what’s being played and grade the exercise accordingly.
Simply Piano requires a not inconsiderable subscription fee, but offers some free introductory lessons. Harris had never played the piano before but quickly flew through the free lessons and asked to do more. The prices vary greatly depending on the time required. Three months are $74.99 (~$24.99 per month), six months are $112.90 (~$18.82 per month), and 12 months are $149.99 (~$12.50 per month). That’s not cheap for an app subscription, but piano lessons from a real teacher like my wife are closer to $50 an hour (and that’s on the cheap end).
Partly because of the promise of a 7-day trial, I signed up for 3 months because I have no idea how long he’ll be with the program. We’re talking about the attention span of an 8-year-old here. But it was only after I paid the money that I realized the 7-day trial was only for the annual subscription. D’oh!
Tricky business practices aside, my wife and I were impressed with Simply Piano. It structures each lesson like a video game. You start by learning the new notes and then play them at your own tempo.
Then the lesson moves on to timed exercises where a bar moves across the screen and you have to play the note as the bar moves across it. It’s similar to games like Dance Dance Revolution or Guitar Hero that require you to press a button at the right time, except you’re using a real piano. After you’ve worked your way through all the levels in a lesson, you’ll play a song along with the app, or as Harris calls it, “fighting the boss”.
Fortunately, there are no “chopsticks” here. The song choices are all relatively modern pop hits like:
- Imagine by John Lennon
- “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin
- “Dance Monkey” by Tones and I
- “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran
As you can see, there’s a lot of variety, and it’s refreshing to avoid the 19th and early 20th century music that’s commonplace in piano tutorials, perhaps because it’s out of copyright. (“Chopsticks” dates back to 1877, so it’s easy to see why modern children might not identify with it.)
So far we have been impressed with the Simply Piano lessons. In just a few days, Harris learned a handful of sheet music and simple songs, and he played the songs over and over until he got perfect results. Harris regularly asks for the iPad to play Simply Piano without us having to ask him to practice.
Overall, Simply Piano’s subscription is good value compared to piano lessons, and there’s no telling if it would respond well to a teacher or allow for practice time on its own. Plus, the app supports multiple profiles, so my other kids or I could theoretically learn to play Simply Piano too (although six-month-old Betsy would have trouble reaching the keys). To make it an even better deal, the subscription also includes the company’s Simply Guitar app.
I wish I could say more about Simply Guitar. Harris has tried, but his fingers aren’t strong enough to press the strings against the frets. Based on what I’ve seen, it uses a very similar approach, first helping you tune each string as you learn them, and then listening as you pluck the notes to a song along with Simply Guitar’s cues .
If you’re looking to learn piano, have a child or grandchild who might be interested in learning, or would like a virtual tutor to complement in-person lessons, Simply Piano is worth checking out, and Simply Guitar can be too.