Ep. 111 Transcription

Disclaimer: This is transcribed using AI. Expect (funny) errors. 

Mindy Peterson: [00:00:00] I’m Mindy Peterson, and this is Enhance Life with Music, a holistic look at the power of music in our everyday lives. Today we’re talking about my favorite music learning app. Now I’m going to preface this by saying I’m kind of a minimalist, so I do have some teaching props and sort of tools of the trade that I use with teaching. But in general, I’m not one to encourage parents to buy a bunch of stuff for music lessons, but there is this one music learning app that I’ve been using for many years, and it’s so effective and so fun and motivating that I do encourage the parents of my students to get a subscription. We’re talking today about the app Piano Maestro, which is made by JoyTunes. My guest today is Joy Tunes music education specialist Becki Laurent. Becki is joining me today from West Texas. In addition to her work with JoyTunes, Becki is the director of a music school. She conducts teacher workshops and promotes the use of tech to make teaching easier. Welcome to enhance life with music, Becki.

Becki Laurent: [00:01:06] Thank you for having me, Mindy. It’s great to be here.

Mindy Peterson: [00:01:08] You great to have you. Well, Becki, for listeners who aren’t familiar with Piano Maestro, can you just explain what this app is and what it does?

Becki Laurent: [00:01:18] Piano Maestro is an app by the company JoyTunes. It was developed to be a sight reading app, so the idea behind the app was to give teachers piano teachers the ability to gamify sight reading because the founders of the company know that learning to play an instrument is more fun. If you can read and the more you can read, the cooler the music is because really nobody wants to play, you know, a one note song for six months. So the idea was to create an app that would teach people to sight, read in a gamified manner a Angry Birds kind of format so that you wanted to get your three stars and you wanted to play more. And of course, the more you play, the more you level up. And then leveling up means that you get better, you’re higher in rankings. It was a really, really cool concept that was created out of one of the founders going to visit his nephew, who was taking piano lessons. And when he went to go visit his nephew, the mom said, Oh, but your uncle is here and he wants to hear you play piano. And the kid was like, No, I want to show my new we. And so that’s kind of where this whole thing started was from that interaction between an uncle and his nephew and the uncle thinking, You know, if we could make learning to read music fun, then we could get more people to play and to play for longer and to sit and practice those skills for longer periods of time. And so that’s kind of how Piano Maestro was initiated. It’s just a genius idea. I am so, so thrilled that this happened and that they’ve been around for now, I think a little over eight or nine years now. Ok.

Mindy Peterson: [00:03:10] I was going to ask you that how long they’ve been around. I was trying to remember as I was getting ready for this conversation, how long I’ve been using it. The way I kind of backtracked and figured it out is my oldest was in fifth grade. She’s now 19, but I remember when she was in fifth grade, she started playing in the band at school. That’s when Band starts in our school district and she was playing flute and there’s this program called Smart Music. So if parents are listening to this and they’re familiar with smart music, then they understood my enamored with smart music. When I saw it, I was like, Oh my goodness, this is so cool where she could play along on the flute with these songs and have this background. You know, this back track playing along with her, and it’s sort of a metronome that was part of it, and it gave her feedback on how accurately she was playing with notes and rhythm and things like that. And I thought, this is so cool and it’s so fun, and why don’t they have this for piano? And I feel like it was not long after that that I did discover Piano Maestro, and I can’t even remember how I found out it.

Mindy Peterson: [00:04:14] But I want to say it was maybe an ad in Music Teacher magazine, but my daughter is now 19. What are you in fifth grade like? 10. So I’m guessing I probably found out about Piano Maestro shortly after it started. Well, in just to give a little bit more visual to listeners, too, of how this works with the piano with Piano Maestro. It works on an iPad. It uses the built in microphone and the iPad, and students just put this on their music stand of the instrument and see the music kind of scrolling across the screen, and they play along with the music as they’re watching it. Scroll across the screen. The microphone is picking up with their plan. And giving them real time feedback on the accuracy of the notes that they’re playing, the rhythm that they’re playing, and all along, they’re playing along with this track. Explain just a little bit more about that. So people kind of have an idea of what this looks like when it’s being used.

Becki Laurent: [00:05:16] Well, it’s really it’s kind of bright and fun. And so the kids are seeing music scroll across the screen. There’s a little maestro character cartoon guy sitting in the corner who’s kind of cheering them on. And the backing tracks are all created from live musicians who record this in house. So The JoyTunes Company has live musicians who do all of this in-house. One of the founders is the principal oboist for the Jerusalem Symphony. So he’s got a really strong background in orchestral music, so they’re very rich and very full backing tracks

Mindy Peterson: [00:05:55] That know that. That’s fascinating.

Becki Laurent: [00:05:57] Well, this then allows the pianist to really feel like they’re part of the piece, even at different levels. So if you’re a very beginner and you’re only playing, you know, just a few notes, you still feel like you’re part of the orchestra, you still feel like you’re part of the backing track. And then of course, as you evolve and you grow through the app, which goes to for piano teachers, it goes to about a Faber intermediate level. You begin to add in more chords, you begin to add more sophisticated rhythms. Most of the popular songs are designed to work for early beginner primer level pianists, but then they do another version that’s for like a late elementary. They usually do a melody only version, and then they do an intermediate, late intermediate version that you know is full range of chords. One of the things that makes Piano Maestro so unique is that you can use this with an acoustic piano as long as your piano is in tune. You can use this with an acoustic piano, and most of the apps out today require the use of a midi wired connection, which means you can only play them on keyboards or play them with digital pianos and Piano Maestro. All of the apps by JoyTunes actually are able to be used with wired connections, but also with acoustic pianos, and that that really kind of sets it apart from everybody else just in that, you know, if you’re a piano teacher and you want your students on acoustic pianos, this is still something they can use.

Mindy Peterson: [00:07:28] Yeah, it’s so convenient. I mean, it really is because you don’t need any extra hardware or all those wires and things like that. So it’s great. And as you mentioned, the leveling system, there are actually options within the app to for specific method books where you can assign students to play specific songs within books as part of their assignment. So, for example, the Alfred series, the Alfred premiere series, those method books are all incorporated within the app. So if you have students playing through those method books and they’re on Page seven in the lesson book, you can go into the app and select that level and that song and throw it into their home challenge for the week and say, OK, this is part of your assignment, and it helps them learn their songs from the method books.

Becki Laurent: [00:08:18] It’s really, really amazing that they do that. Just last night, I had a transfer student come in and he had been working out of the traditional piano method books. I moved him into piano pronto, which is one of the method books that’s in Piano Maestro in the library, and I didn’t show him Piano Maestro. At the beginning of the lesson. We first went through his lesson book and his technique book, and at the end of the lesson, I said, OK, so here’s your assignment. I want you to work on this song and your lesson book, but I also want to show you how you can practice this song in this really, really cool app. And I’d already set up his account, so I was in his own profile and I showed him where the music was and he was like, Are you serious? I can. I can play my piano music as a video game. And I said, Yeah. And he said, You got

Mindy Peterson: [00:09:07] To be true.

Becki Laurent: [00:09:09] Ok, is our lesson over because I need to go home and practice. And I mean, I was super excited to hear that because again, he’s a transfer student. And you know, when you get transfer students, you’re never really sure how they’re going to do, you know, because you don’t know what they know and what they don’t know. And so when he left my office, he was so excited. He said, Mom, we got to go. I got to go practice. And she looked at me with this dumbfounded look on her face. And she said he has never said that about his piano lesson. Like, ever? What did you do? And I just kind of laughed and said, I have a secret weapon and it is, yeah, maestro. So you know that that is really, really cool, that the method books are in there and the full method book is in there. You don’t have to pay extra for that. Those method books are included in the library. A lot of teachers ask me, Do I have to buy the books to use the method books that. In the app, no, you do not if you don’t want to purchase extra material, but you need supplemental material to push that particular objective that you’re teaching, the library and Piano Maestro is full of material from other lesson books that are all teaching the same concept that you can go and pull from just to reinforce those concepts that you’re working on in class.

Mindy Peterson: [00:10:22] Yeah. Well, one thing that continually amazes me is Piano Maestro is fun and appeals to all ages. I mean, I have students who are just getting started in kindergarten and they can play the most basic, all middle seat. You know, they’re just hitting Middle C as part of the Piano Maestro song. And I can also have adult students and everything in between who love Piano Maestro. And part of part of the appeal, I think, is there is such a wide range of songs in it. I mean, all genres, there’s music for all holidays, even holidays like Halloween. You know, there’s songs that kind of go along with that. And I have so many students down through the years who have asked to play Halloween music and I’m like, OK, what music is Halloween music? But there’s Halloween music in there. All the holidays, whether it’s Christian holidays, Jewish holidays, Fourth of July, they have it all. They have pop music, they have the classic Americana tunes, they have the top 40 that you’re hearing on the radio. They have amazing grace. It’s all in there. So one thing I enjoy too, is there’s so many students now who don’t know some of those traditional Americana or folk songs, whether it’s merrily we roll along or for. He’s a jolly good fellow and they get exposed to him and Piano Maestro, so that’s another little perks to it.

Becki Laurent: [00:11:43] I also really love that because we are educators, they’ve included scales and cadences and arpeggios, and for the more traditional piano teacher, they have Hannon and Czerny and Bock and Bird Miller. These are all included in the library for you to use as you know you need. So even students who are sitting for exams can use Piano Maestro for, you know, some technical pieces that you know, just make it more fun to sit and play at the piano.

Mindy Peterson: [00:12:13] That’s a good idea. That’s one thing I haven’t thought to use it for sight reading for students preparing for exam, that’s a great idea. Well, sight reading is such a fun skill to have to be able to sit down with a new piece of music and play through it pretty decently. The very first time as a really fun skill and Piano Maestro is not only fun with gamifying in that process, but it is effective. And that’s why I’m such a big fan if it was just a video game. You know, I’m just not. I’m not really into the video games. We didn’t really have it in the house when my kids were growing up. But if something’s effective with learning, then I’m totally on board and this is one of those apps that is really fun and it is really effective. There’s so many different options for students learning the piece, whether they want to play hands separately once they get into that level where they are using both hands and some of the songs and Piano Maestro. One of the features that I like with learning a song that Piano Maestro has is that feature where it will wait for you, so it will wait for you to play the correct know before it continues on with that background track. And as a teacher, I like that because it’s encouraging students to slow down to the point where they’re getting it correct and playing it accurately, because otherwise those of us who are teachers know those students who just throw a whole bunch of notes at something until something sticks, you know? Right. And so this is a really good feature for that. Like, no, don’t just keep throwing out these notes. Figure it out and play the correct one the very first time. What are some of the other learning features that you like or that some teachers may not be aware of?

Becki Laurent: [00:13:54] Well, one of my favorites is the ability to transpose some of the pieces. You have students who go through the library and they play everything in the key of C, and then you begin to to branch them out into, you know, the key of F or you start doing minor keys. You think that your time and Piano Maestro is over. But if you go back and you look at some of those pieces, you can transpose them, and that is, I think, an often overlooked feature. So if they are, say, playing Angry Birds and they’ve done it in a minor, they can go back and do it again in two other keys. That’s kind of a cool feature because you get additional benefit out of them going back and playing songs that they really loved before and doing it in a different key.

Mindy Peterson: [00:14:43] And do all the songs have that capability?

Becki Laurent: [00:14:46] Not all of them. The ability to transpose came a little bit later in the development of the app. Ok, so a lot of the songs that were put in initially don’t have that transposed ability, but a lot of the songs in the later edition of. Piano Maestro do have that. How do you

Mindy Peterson: [00:15:02] Know if a song has that capability or

Becki Laurent: [00:15:03] Not, when you’re looking at the song in the library, if it says in the little snippet portion of the piece where you’re looking at the piece and what it what kids in and what its objectives are or whatever you’ll see at the bottom where it says the number of stars. So usually it’s at zero out of three stars. If you have never played the song before, it will say zero out of three stars. But if you see where it says zero out of 12 stars, then you know that that song is able to be transposed because that’s that’s way more than three. Yeah, and two lots of times you can tap on. There’s a little arrow there that will bring a drop down menu in, and when you see the dropdown menu, you can pick which key you want it in. So you do kind of have to look at the title graphic and try to get that information from there because they don’t really have like a list that says, OK, these songs are all the ones that are being transposed and in what key? But if you notice that you know, the song says zero out of six stars or zero out of nine stars, well, then you know that that song is available to you in a couple of different keys.

Mindy Peterson: [00:16:14] Ok, interesting. Well, as a teacher, one of the things I like about this, too, is that it does take some of the subjectivity out of critique because it’s this objective third party, the software, this app that’s giving the feedback to the student of how accurate the notes or the rhythm are rather than, you know, as parents and as teachers, we get sort of worn down, sometimes by always correcting and having the student or child kind of give us some pushback, like, no, that was right or is this you just put it up there and they’re not going to argue with the software of if they got the right note or not. So I kind of like that. I don’t use Piano Maestro a ton during lessons. I tend to use it more as a way for students to receive that feedback when I’m not there in between lessons, when they’re at home practicing. But I do know that a lot of teachers do really incorporate Piano Maestro into their teaching and the actual lesson. Can you tell us about some of the ways that teachers do that? I’m sure that will give those of us teachers who aren’t using it in lessons, some creative ideas.

Becki Laurent: [00:17:21] I started using this as most teachers do as a reward, so the student comes in. We get through all of their lesson stuff because they practiced at home. And then I would say, OK, so here we are. It’s the last five minutes and we’ll let you play Piano Maestro. That was how I used it initially. As I grew more familiar with the material in the content that was in the app, I really started incorporating it into all of the parts of our lessons. So when my students walk in, I have a little chart that sits in an acrylic frame on my piano and it says because my studio is very organized around different themes and topics throughout the year. But we go through all the major and minor scales every year at every level of student. And so up in the corner of the acrylic frame, it says work on these three scales. So when they walk in, if I’m still either writing notes for my last student or talking to a parent during the crossover, the students know to just grab my iPad. It’s sitting on the piano and open up to their profile, and they start working on those scales. And then, of course, we move into the lesson. As I said earlier, if there’s something that I’m teaching that I feel like we need a little bit more practice in before I send them home to work on it in their lesson book, I’ll pull a short piece from Piano Maestro to reinforce that new note or that new hand position.

Becki Laurent: [00:18:49] Or, you know, whatever that new rhythm that we’re working on, I can do those very quickly. And then again, as just a reward for doing such a great job during their lesson, they can pick a fun pop song at the end to sight, read through. We sight read a lot through our lessons, so it’s really, really great to just kind of have this always available to you. It’s really, really handy. It really is handy. The more you, as a teacher spend time exploring the content of the app, the more you find ways to incorporate it into what it is that you’re teaching that day. And the kids really, really, really love that change of direction. You know, I think sometimes we get so focused in on, we’ve got to get through all of this material that we forget that the human brain isn’t really designed to focus on one thing for a long period of time. And this really gives us the ability to reset that brain into a different mode and still be still remain in the learning mode just a little bit.

Mindy Peterson: [00:19:54] I mean, it’s almost just like switching modules or something.

Becki Laurent: [00:19:57] Yeah, and it’s really helpful for students this. Actually, at the end of the day, where they’re tired and they’ve been focused on one thing for 45 minutes all day at school, this this really gives their brain the extra charge that it needs to, you know, kind of change directions but still stay in that same framework.

Mindy Peterson: [00:20:13] Sure. Well, one thing I want to point out, too, is there are these reports for the teachers, and I think you can customize these to some extent. I probably did this when I first set it up eight years ago or whatever, but I do get a weekly email that’s automated that shows me my star student for the week, the student who spent the most time using Piano Maestro. And then I can click on a link to get the full report and see what songs students played, how much time they spent in the app, how many repetitions of each song. And then I can also pull up within the app, my teacher view and see all that information, too. So it’s really helpful if students tell me they practice a certain song five times, I can pull that up and see for myself exactly what went on. So anything else you want to say about those reports?

Becki Laurent: [00:21:04] More than that, what I love about the teacher report is it gives you insight into your student. Very often I will ask my students, OK, so what kind of music do you want to learn to play? And they give you this deer in the headlights look of I I don’t know, we don’t listen to music at home and you’re going, Okay, seriously, you’re seriously. I can’t believe you just said that to me. You’re in a piano class. You’re here to learn music. Clearly, you listen to music at home. And so, you know, you ask them, what kind? What’s your favorite music? They have no idea. They will not tell you anything. But when I look at the teacher report, I can see where their interests lie. I can see that they are playing, you know, show tunes and that they loved playing the show tunes because they played way more show tunes than they did anything else. You know, when they go into the library and they can select whatever song they want to play. I really get some insight into what kind of music they like. Do they like classic rock? Do they like R&B? Do they like Christmas music? It’s really, really interesting to me to see where their interests lie, and the teacher report is really, really great for that. It also gives you insight into their What’s the word there? Stick to itiveness their initiative in terms of how frustrated they get with this particular piece and then why you as a teacher, look at that and see, OK, so they got one star on this particular piece.

Becki Laurent: [00:22:31] Why? What was in it? That was hard for them, because that gives you an insight again into what you need to cover with them so that they can be successful with it the next time. And and yes, there are all kinds of practice tools that they can use to slow things down to play one hander than the other two. Add the note names to the notes on the screen as they’re going by, but also on the keys of the keyboard that isn’t right in front of them. You know, there’s lots of help there for the student, but sometimes they just don’t do that because when they don’t understand it or to, they just don’t think about using those tools. It gives you the teacher some insight into where you need to target some of your review for that particular student. So the teacher report really can give you a lot of information. The other thing that I love about the teacher report is when you’re doing like a studio wide competition, the app does not count how long the app is open as time spent at the piano. It only counts how much time is spent playing. So when you see on the teacher app, this student played, you know, two and a half hours, that’s playing time. That’s not just that the app was open, that’s how much they actually played. And if you’re doing a studio wide competition among the students, this is a fun way for you to kind of check that they are actually doing the work.

Mindy Peterson: [00:23:58] Sure. Well, that reminds me of a little tip that I got from you just as we were emailing back and forth, setting up this appointment, you mentioned at one point that forcing the app closed sort of forces all of that progress and updates to be sent to the cloud. That was something I hadn’t thought of or hadn’t known. Occasionally, I have had a student come into a lesson and we pull up their account and they’ll say, Oh, why isn’t that showing that I got three stars? Because I did. I finished that, and it’s usually it was pretty recent, maybe that same day or the night before. And so that was really helpful to hear you say, OK, force, it closed and that will cause your progress to sink so that it’s showing up on my end.

Becki Laurent: [00:24:42] And that’s really important for you, teachers to remember to remind your students when you’re done playing, make sure you close the app by swiping it up and off the screen so that all of the work that you just did shows up on my iPad as well, so that we both have the same information. On the iPad, because otherwise you could have done, you know, five or six chapters in the journey. I’m never going to know, I’m never going to know that. So it’s a good habit just to get into to remind your students

Mindy Peterson: [00:25:09] To do that. Yeah, I am constantly learning new things about it for my students. I use the home challenge quite a bit with students where I manually put certain songs into their home challenge. So like, OK, this is what you’re assigned to go through this week. But I had one student who didn’t like that, and he came to his lesson and announced that he hadn’t done the home challenge. But he had done the journey, and I was like a journey like, tell me about the journey. I don’t know what the journey is. So he told me about that, and I’m like, Oh, that’s awesome. Sure, do the journey. And so I just changed my question. Every week was like, OK, what level are you up to on the journey? And so we would track his progress that way rather than doing the home challenge. So there’s so many different cool features about this, I’m sure, way more than what I know. Before we wrap things up, is there any favorite feature that you have about Piano Maestro or a feature that you just wish more people knew about?

Becki Laurent: [00:26:05] No. My favorite feature we’ve we’ve already covered is the Teacher Report. I think that is really, really critical bit of information that teachers need to have about their students that you get to see where their interests lie and how they are practicing. I spend hours, literally hours looking at my teacher report. Once a month, I scheduled some time out to look at my teacher report and really analyze it by student so that I can see the pluses and minuses things I need to work on, things they need to work on. That teacher report really is just an enormous amount of information for you. That’s my favorite feature.

Mindy Peterson: [00:26:42] Great point. Well, joy, Tune’s has many other apps. We ran out of time to kind of highlight those, but there are several other apps in the iTunes family. I’ll include the link and the show notes to their website and of course, other ways to connect with Becki and her work and find out more about Piano Maestro Becki. I ask all my guests to close out our conversation with a musical, ending a coda by sharing a song or story about a moment that music enhanced your life. Do you have a song or a story that you can close us out with today?

Becki Laurent: [00:27:13] Well, this is this is a piano meister story going back to, you know, when we started this conversation and you were talking about your daughter? My daughter has, I don’t think, ever known music without Piano Maestro in her life. She was three when I started working for Piano Maestro for JoyTunes, and it’s always just kind of been something that she has used to learn to play. When she was little, she really wanted to learn to play the song Shut Up and Dance. And I happened to be walking past the library where she was practicing in our house, and she she talks to herself all the time. So she opens up the app and she sees that shut up and dance has been added to the library. So she gets really, really excited. And she’s like, Oh my gosh, I can’t wait to play this. So she she starts to play one of the versions of the song, and she says to herself, like, out loud and I’m, this is where I kind of walked by because I knew she was practicing, but I didn’t know what she was working on. So as I walked by, I hear her say, Oh, you know what? This is really hard, but I can do learn mode and then I can learn it by myself.

Becki Laurent: [00:28:19] And so she starts, she opens up the app, and in each of the songs, there’s a section called Learn Mode, which breaks the songs up as teachers do into different sections. And you play one hand and then the other hand and then you play them together, or you play one hand with a metronome, and then you play that same phrase with the backing track a little bit slow and then it gradually speeds up. And so she started doing that and she taught herself how to play, shut up and dance. And I I walked away from my daughter, who had seized the initiative of her own education. She had learned that she could teach herself to do something, and the ramifications of that exceed way beyond just Piano Maestro. Oh yeah. And learning to play piano, that’s really that built her confidence to be able to say to herself, in any situation, I can teach myself this if I break it down into steps and I do it slowly, a little bit at a time, I’ll get there. And and I just my heart just swelled not only in pride of her. But to be part of a team that understands that, that understands that teaching someone to play piano is not just giving them a skill, it’s giving them a lifetime of believing in their ability, believing in their ability to work and to succeed, and giving them tangible physical steps to take to learn something new, something that’s hard, something that most people can’t do.

Becki Laurent: [00:29:58] You know, Maestro has the JoyTunes team has broken it down in such a fun, engaging, easy way for people to know that they can do the hard things if they just take a little bit of time, slow it down. I just thought it was such a neat experience for me to see that, yeah, ever in my own child, you know, because lots of times we miss the moments where our kids are actually that light bulb goes off because we send them off to other teachers. And I happen to to walk by just in that moment to see that happen with her. And I thought, This is amazing. It is amazing that she at such a young age because I want to say she was five or six understood through her practice with Piano Maestro that she could learn it by herself. She didn’t need her teacher to help her. With that, she was fully capable of learning it on her own.

Mindy Peterson: [00:30:46] That is so powerful, and I totally agree, Gaby, instilling in our kids and in our students that sense of self-efficacy where I can do this. You know, I don’t I don’t need somebody else to hold my hand all the time, every step of the way. But I can figure this out and I can make this happen. That’s exactly that’s so powerful. I mean, like you said, transcends way beyond the piano lesson or the music lesson that they’re in, but applies to all of life with that sense of confidence and that can do attitude. Love it. Well, thank you so much, Becki, for coming on the show today and sharing with us the wonders of Piano Maestro. Very much my

Becki Laurent: [00:31:26] Pleasure. It’s my favorite topic.

Mindy Peterson: [00:31:29] Like I said, we could geek out together all day over this, but I’m sure listeners will want to jump over to those show notes and get more information about Piano Maestro and learn how they can sign up for a subscription or jump onto their music teachers subscription. Because there are studio plans where teachers can buy a studio subscription and then make that available to their students for a cheaper rate than what it would be for every individual student going on on their own and getting that subscription. So check it out if you’re in piano lessons. Tell your teacher about it if they’re not already aware of it and encourage them to get a studio subscription so the whole studio can join on to those benefits of the Piano Maestro app.


Transcribed by Sonix.ai