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Review of Playground Sessions - Yamaha MusicSoft

Yamaha has partnered with Playground Sessions to provide Yamaha's customers the opportunity to subscribe to Playground's educational program, co-created by legendary music producer and composer Quincy Jones. Jason Nyberg, Marketing Manager for Yamaha Music Interactive, tested and reviewed the program.

It’s Amazing What You Can Learn On The Playground

By Jason Nyberg

Just hearing the name “Quincy Jones” in any conversation always gets my attention, so hearing that he had co-created a new music course naturally peaked my curiosity. After all, who wouldn’t want to learn from the grand master of music production and composition?

Expecting a nice series of piano course books or a set of DVDs, I was completely surprised to find that it was neither, but instead an integration of video, dynamic on-screen sheet music, and interactivity with a keyboard, all nicely wrapped in a downloadable application.

The program is aptly named “Playground Sessions,” as underscored by their tag line, “Play to Learn.” Rather than working through lengthy course books containing exercises and unknown compositions, it takes the user to “Bootcamp” to learn musical skills using elements of popular songs. The goal is to make music right away, and Playground does a fantastic job of making that a reality.

It is a remarkable program, both in functionality and in style. I especially like the iTunes-like music store, where users can learn to play songs from a library that spans everything from Beethoven to Beyoncé. I also like that beauty is more than skin deep, seen in the intuitive interface that leads the user through effective and entertaining music lessons at a beginner, intermediate, and advanced level.

Playground’s interactivity is engaged when the user plugs in a MIDI or USB keyboard to their home computer (both Mac and PC versions are available), yet the program is still enhanced enough to teach those that have the traditional acoustic piano. In fact, there are over 30 hours of video tutorials, along with a variety of printable arrangements; more than enough to engage the acoustic user.

The graphical presentation of song titles is inspiring enough, but it’s the content that sets it apart from the competition. David Sides, the program’s on-screen teacher, offers instruction in a captivating and comforting tone, drawing the user in with a perfectly-paced delivery. This is the guy that you’d like to have as a personal teacher, and apparently the YouTube community agrees, having given Sides over 185 million views of his online videos. And while it might be tempting to allow the YouTube title to strip the program of its credibility, rest assured this is not another online flash-in-the-pan series of video clips. Playground is devoted to teaching music theory. This is evident across the board, from lessons on keyboard skills and rhythm to notation and ear training. There’s also the time-honored traditions of playing to a metronome and learning songs in “chunks,” one hand at a time.

From there, however, it brings those traditional concepts into the present by using popular songs and exciting background tracks, offering the satisfaction of being “in the band” right from the start. This added layer of fun provides even more reasons to succeed.

There are also elements of “gamification” - something traditional music methods overlook. Much like online video games, Playground includes real-time feedback, scores, badges, leaderboards, as well as progress-tracking visualizations. And to top it off, users can share scores, progress, and messages on Facebook and Twitter.

Longevity of relevant content is another quality I appreciate in the program. While Bootcamp provides plenty of learning material to chew on, the song library is what will give years of enjoyment and continued musical development. Kudos to the creators for consequently offering up a “Lifetime” membership – sure to be an instant win.

Playground Sessions is the program many people have been waiting for. Satisfying, reliable, entertaining. It’s the best way to learn piano from the convenience of your own home.