By Alicia Baker
Teaching piano to beginners is a challenging task. I remember when I was a young piano student, too impatient to practice accurately. No matter how many times my teacher told me to practice slowly with one hand at a time, I went home and rushed through my pieces, always playing with both hands. Now that I’m teaching young students myself, I’m very aware of how hard it can be to learn to read and play music. It’s a difficult, slow process that takes patience and consistency—and a lot of encouragement.
As piano teachers, we have to find ways to keep students engaged and interested as they develop fundamental skills and learn the language of music. However, this often takes a lot more than just a passion for teaching. Sometimes you’ll have a student who isn’t learning well from your methods, or can’t stay focused. Or sometimes they’ll want to rush through learning their pieces, and they end up playing things incorrectly and developing bad habits. We’ve all been there as teachers: stuck, and trying to come up with a better way to help these students learn.
I think every teacher can agree that when students enjoy practicing and are interested in learning, they progress at a much faster rate. In today’s world, more than ever before, there is a wealth of resources to help teachers and students achieve their musical goals. Wouldn’t it be great if we could make ear training fun? Or if kids were as motivated to learn a piece of music as they were to conquer a level on their video game? Thanks to technology, these educational dreams can now be realized.
One of the best music education tools available today is the DigiScore feature found in Roland’s HPi series of digital pianos. Combining powerful practice resources with a fun and engaging visual learning environment, DigiScore motivates and assists pianists of all levels to improve their skills.
An HPi piano with DigiScore is equipped with a large, color display built into the music rack that can show many different things, including sheet music, musical games, flash card exercises, original compositions, and more. DigiScore displays the notation for the diverse song library included inside the piano, as well as universal Standard MIDI File (SMF) songs loaded from USB memory. In addition, DigiScore can record and notate music as you play, making a composition or exercise much easier to teach.
Use Digital Sheet Music to Enhance Lessons and Engage Students
There are many ways that DigiScore can enhance a student’s learning experience. One is by expanding their exposure to a varied repertoire. An HPi piano contains a wide range of standard teaching pieces stored in internal memory. This music ranges in skill level from beginner to advanced, and even includes standard technical exercises by Hanon and Czerny.
As the piano plays a song or exercise, DigiScore displays the music in standard notation with fingerings, and the tempo can be easily adjusted to suit the student’s current skill level. In addition, the left-hand or right-hand part can be silenced for practicing one hand at a time. For example, while the student practices the left-hand part, the piano plays the right-hand part, and even provides orchestral accompaniment at the same time. This feature certainly would’ve encouraged me to practice each hand separately when I was learning the piano!
DigiScore can also display the notation of Standard MIDI Files. From a teacher’s standpoint, this is an incredible benefit, as it allows them to bring in their favorite method materials and integrate them directly with the HPi piano. Laura Zaruta, an education specialist at Robert M. Sides Family Music Centers in Pennsylvania, has a master’s degree in piano pedagogy, and teaches both private and group piano lessons. “Educationally, I like that I can integrate what materials I’m using into the piano via USB with MIDI files,” Laura says. “Everything that I’ve always used for lessons, I can now use through the piano.”
MIDI file compatibility is also a great motivational tool for getting kids excited to play. If a student has a favorite piece of music but can’t find any sheet music available, all they need is a MIDI file of the song to create the musical notation with DigiScore. This enables them to be involved in choosing their own music, which helps them want to practice. Catherine Davis, the education director at Capitol Music in Austin, Texas, completely agrees. “It empowers the students to learn some things on their own by pulling up those MIDI files and getting really excited about music,” she says. “It motivates and tricks them into practicing. Plus, they’re actually learning.”
Fun and Engaging Practice Tools
DigiScore also integrates many unique practice tools into its high-tech notation display. As a student plays a piece, a bouncing ball onscreen tracks where they are in the music; this bouncing ball can be set so that it doesn’t advance if the notes are played incorrectly. For beginning pianists, this tracking feature is unbelievably helpful, as they can’t always tell when they’re making mistakes. It clearly identifies what they’re doing wrong, so they always stay on the right track.
Most teachers would agree that trying to fix an engrained habit due to incorrect practice is not a simple or fun task. Laura has witnessed firsthand how DigiScore’s ability to track the student’s playing and identify mistakes helps to build practice accuracy between lessons. “With DigiScore, the progress is faster, because students are not learning something wrong all week and then coming to the lesson,” she explains.
DigiScore also helps students develop good rhythm, providing the option of playing along with pre-recorded accompaniment tracks through the use of MIDI files. Instead of practicing with a metronome, the student gets to play to the steady beat of a well-orchestrated accompaniment. This helps them develop a musical pulse, and provides an ensemble playing experience at the same time.
It was this ensemble experience that further sold Laura on the immense benefits that DigiScore could provide her students. Now that she’s been teaching with it for some time, she’s seen incredible results. “With kids that are practicing along with accompaniments through DigiScore, the progress is faster because the practice is more accurate,” she relates. “From the beginning, they’re developing a sense of pulse. And inevitably, they’re able to correct themselves when they’re not counting properly, because they’re with a band.”
Laura has also found that the benefits of ensemble playing go far beyond just helping with rhythm skills. “It’s promoting success, more efficient practice, and more progress, which makes kids happy and fuels their desire to want to continue lessons,” she says.
Games That Make Learning Challenging and Enjoyable
In addition to notation functions, DigiScore includes a Visual Lesson feature that makes practicing the piano seem more like a video game to the student. From an educator’s perspective, this modern technology serves as a powerful assessment tool, and also helps them relate better to students by meeting them in their own worlds.
Visual Lessons allow a student to practice any of their MIDI file music, including weekly assignments provided by their teacher. After they play through a piece, they receive a score based on how accurately they played the music. They can then review their mistakes, with color-coded notation that shows what rhythms and notes were missed.
By making students feel as though they’re playing video games when they’re learning how to read and play music, the Visual Lesson feature encourages much faster rates of progression, which leads to a higher percentage of kids staying with the piano. James Harding, a music educator at Gist Piano Center in Louisville, Kentucky, could not be more passionate about the Visual Lesson benefits. “In my mind, video games are the best thing that could’ve happened to musicians,” says James. “It teaches kids to practice and to understand that if you want to achieve the level of perfection another player has, you have to work at it. Where a student might argue with a teacher, they won’t argue with a video game. The computer says you messed it up—you messed it up. You’ve just got to try it again.”
Parent involvement is a crucial element in a student’s success, but not all parents know how to read music themselves, making it difficult to assess their child’s playing. Visual Lessons provide a beneficial assessment tool for those parents that aren’t musically inclined. “Students are more successful when parents have a way to know what is correct,” says Catherine. “Even if they don’t know much about music, they want their children to be successful, and this gives them a guide at home. I find that parents really value this tool.”
The Eyes Have It
While music is ultimately an aural experience, some people learn music better in a visual way. The Visual Lessons in DigiScore help these visual learners stay engaged with the music as they build playing skills. James has always been a visual learner, so he understands how this is helpful. “It’s not just about hearing—learning music is only helpful to visual learners if there’s a visual component to it,” he relates. “DigiScore adds that visual cue. It’s another sense to help students grasp concepts.”
Catherine also noted how helpful it is to engage the attention of her visual learners. “I had a set of twins who were very visual learners, and they invested in a Roland HPi piano for their home,” she says. “Their rhythm got substantially better, because they could self-correct themselves at home by playing with MIDI files and watching the screen.”
A Powerful Tool for Building Composition Skills and Creating Lesson Materials
As we know, composition is an important part of a musician’s education. With DigiScore, composing melodies and songs has never been easier. Students can record their creations, and the DigiScore notation will be captured and displayed automatically. With the onboard editing tools, they can correct mistakes in a recording and continue to hone their composition. Once completed, the notation can be transferred to USB memory for printing from a computer. This is also a great feature for teachers, making the creation of customized lesson materials a much faster and easier process.
Better Learning with DigiScore Technology
The exclusive DigiScore feature in Roland’s HPi piano series provides a well-rounded, all-encompassing music education experience, helping students learn to play the piano accurately while having fun at the same time. Laura Zaruta believes that modern solutions such as DigiScore are the way to inspire today’s students and maximize teaching time, and encourages all teachers to take advantage of this powerful technology. “We now have a really great way of presenting music to kids in an all-encompassing way—a way that makes sense to them and excites them,” Laura says. “It’s a big opportunity for music education.”