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Review of Piano Virtuoso

 

 

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iano Virtuoso is a fun, useful, and highly flexible music theory drill program for piano students of all ages. It doesn't attempt to teach music theory, but does a good job reinforcing concepts taught by the teacher. A very impressive feature of this software is its ability to be uniquely and finely customized by the teacher for each student, not only in the concepts covered and the level of difficulty, but also in the amount of time allotted for a round, the inclusion of bonus questions, how many points are earned, and the optional use of animated graphics. The other particularly exciting feature of Piano Virtuoso is its ability to create charts detailing results, not only for individual students, but also for the studio as a whole, and results within specific categories of questions. Piano Virtuoso is intended primarily for the piano teaching studio, since its major attributes involve the ability of the teacher to customize the program to the specific needs of the student. The software can be used in a teaching studio (Instructor Edition), or in a studio plus the students’ homes (Student Edition). However, the Student Edition is unable to be fully utilized in a home without a teacher’s involvement via an Instructor Edition.

 

 

Installation of Piano Virtuoso was quite simple and quick, after I realized that a computer with both a CD drive and floppy drive would be necessary. My studio computer is a laptop, and like most newer models of laptops, does not have a floppy drive. Once an IBM-compatible desktop computer (Pentium 4, 256 MB memory, integrated video) was set up in the studio, the software was easily installed without any complications. The clear installation instructions in the user manual can be easily followed, or the user can be led step-by-step via the enclosed video disk. Realizing that many students have "hand-me-down" computers, Piano Virtuoso has been designed to run on older computers. In fact, Virtuoso will run on virtually any computer running with Windows 95 or better; however, screens updates are slow on computers operating at speeds of 256 MHz or less.  Currently, there is no Macintosh version of Piano Virtuoso.

The user manual, at 43 pages in length, was a bit intimidating at first glance. However, in working through the program, the manual was found to be clear and thorough, even for a computer novice. Program Help is available, as well, and seems quite extensive, although I read the printed manual to learn how to use the program.

A key component of the software, as alluded to previously, is its ability to be completely customized by the teacher for each student. The teacher can choose any or all of the game categories: note identification, chords, scales, rhythms, intervals, symbols, terminology, ear training, and key signatures. Within each of these categories are additional opportunities to customize. For example, within the category of intervals, the teacher may select any or all of the following sub-categories:

  • Whole and Half Steps
  • Keys of C, G, F (2nds, 3rds, 4ths, 5ths)
  • Keys C, G, D, A, E, F (2nds through 8ths)
  • Perfect and major intervals in major keys
  • Perfect, major, and minor intervals in minor keys
  • Altered: augmented and diminished

Customizing the game is quick and simple, and the program will retain the settings you have selected for each student. When you decide a student is ready for additional categories, higher levels of difficulty, or any other changes in settings, those changes are easily made. Your students can play the game with their personalized settings in your studio, or at home, if they have the Student Edition. The Student Edition includes a floppy diskette, which will store the custom game parameters; when the student plays at home, s/he will play at exactly the level you have set. Additionally, results of any games played at home will be stored on the diskette, and able to be transferred to your computer to be included in charts you create.

Virtuoso allows the instructor to create and view charts and graphs of results for individual students, all students collectively, students by level, or students by age. The line charts, group charts, pie graphs, and bar graphs, all color-coded for quick interpretation, are very helpful tools for the instructor in determining percent of questions correct within various categories.

Another simple, but appreciated, feature of Virtuoso is the option to turn off the animated Panda bear mascot. This is the only aspect of the game with a juvenile appearance, and he is on-screen only between rounds to present the student’s score. While he may be quite charming to younger students, older students may prefer to play without the Panda, in which case the game has a more "grown-up" look.

The game is played in up to 3 rounds, with the first round including questions that are answered by selecting a piano key on the screen, and optional bonus questions that are multiple choice. An on-screen hourglass timer encourages the student to think and answer quickly, although computer-savvy kids will probably figure out that clicking on this hourglass puts it in "pause" mode. This allows the student to slowly and carefully think through the question before answering. Rounds two and three are different and optional; the teacher has full control over including these rounds for individual students. Round two is similar to round one; round three is ear training, with either a short melody or rhythm pattern played for the student to identify.

The only significant concern about the program that I have is that occasionally a wrong key lights up or credit is not given for a correct answer. Additionally, some students experienced problems with their floppy diskette. Two out of four students involved in the review had to play the game at home only in "default mode," as the diskette did not seem to store the customized settings selected by the teacher. Also, the diskettes for these two students did not store results from games played at home, which of course hindered the ability to fully track progress. We e-mailed Piano Virtuoso tech support about these problems several times. The responses were always timely, cordial and helpful, with suggestions of things to try to resolve these issues. I was also sent additional copies of the software to try to help pinpoint the problems.

Another aspect I would change is the game’s response to an incorrect answer. The correct piano key lights up in green, but for such a brief instant that there is no time for the student to re-read the question and think about his error before the next question comes on the screen. On the plus side however, is the fact that the program remembers wrong answers, and will ask the same question again in the next round.

Overall, I found Piano Virtuoso to be pedagogically sound, and my students found it fun and challenging to play. A fully-functional, free demo version with a thirty day time limit is available by calling the toll free number below.

Kathy Hardisty

Piano Virtuoso, version 1.02,  Instructor Edition $59.95 (includes 2 Student Editions), Student Edition $39.95, Studio Edition $49.95 (same as Instructor Edition, but without the Student Editions), Wickes Inc., 111 Oak Meadow Drive, Simpsonville, SC 29681. Phone: 888 298-6857. System Requirements: Any Pentium class IBM compatible computer, Windows 95, 98, ME, 2000, XP, 16 Mb or more RAM, 640x480 resolution or higher, 256 colors or more, 10 Mb hard drive space, mouse, keyboard, audio card, CD-ROM drive, 3 1/2" Floppy drive

 
 
 
 
Page created: 2/20/05
Last updated: 01/30/15
 
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Reprinting from the Piano Education Page The Piano Education Page, Op. 10, No. 1, http://pianoeducation.org
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