Learn The Piano – Playground Sessions

Playground Sessions – The Facts

Co-created by music legend Quincy Jones, Playground Sessions comes from a team of musicians and developers with a clear and focused passion for sharing the joy of playing music, and making it accessible to all!

Playground Sessions is downloaded as an application on the student’s PC (both Windows and Mac), as well as the iPad (and coming to Android soon) with access to songs and video tutorials as well as music theory courses via a registered internet account.  Included in the subscriptions are 3 Bootcamps at varying levels and additional courses can be purchases which cover keyboard fundamentals, rhythm, playing chords and scales, how to read music and play by ear, amongst many other topics. The fact that it this is downloaded software also offers a certain amount of freedom from a broadband connection, only requiring internet access to sync progress, download or purchase new songs and courses, and get any free software updates.

Playground Sessions offers a growing library of songs and pieces to download and learn, which, most considerately, are presented with several arrangements aimed at varying levels of experience. Beginners and seasoned musicians alike can enjoy learning and playing new pieces. The individual songs and pieces can be downloaded via an online music store.  The Annual and Lifetime memberships come with $20 and $40 in free songs respectively.  In addition, free songs can be rewarded by earning stars via Playground’s gamification.

Initially, I was surprised at the subscription cost, but don’t be put off by this.  The quality of the Bootcamp (music theory curriculum) and  the downloadable content pieces show the effort that has gone into providing arrangements suitable for musicians at different levels of development. With the incredibly well-produced backing tracks and video tuition, this price is easily justified.

 

Subscription

  • $17.99 per month billed monthly
  • $9.99 per month billed at $119.88 for the first year, then $9.99 per month thereafter
    (with $20.00 of free songs)
  • $269.99 Lifetime Membership – one off fee.
    (with $40.00 worth of free songs)

You can find out more about the subscriptions and features on the Playground Session website.

All subscriptions grant free access to the full Bootcamp music theory curriculum, which has levels suitable for beginner, intermediate and advanced musicians. The Bootcamp content is constantly being expanded giving subscribers new video tutorials and interactive lessons all the time.

Playground Session - Learn by Playing

Standout Features

I settled in very quickly with Playground Sessions. David Sides’ instructional videos are extremely well presented to give bite-sized lessons which integrate very nicely into the course. Freedom to explore and experiment is key to the learning paradigm of Playground sessions which actively encourages creativity.

This lesson progression structure is intentionally loose, and explanations often come after the practical, but the emphasis is on experiencing the joy of playing. The approach is that it’s far more important to be making music with the theory brilliantly explained afterwards. As the “student” this gave me a lot of freedom to explore and experiment; both key features of an engaging learning process.  All this results in a fun learning experience, quick progression and a real sense of achievement a the end of each session.  Honestly, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can progress.

The user interface is very straightforward, including a feature that uses keys on the keyboard for simple navigation, rather than clicking or using a computer keyboard. This “hands on the piano” approach is great and hopefully will be developed even further in the future.

The gamification in Playground Sessions is subtle but hugely effective, not to mention very addictive. During practice and performance sessions instant feedback is given by way of coloured notes (green for perfect, pink for slight timing issues and red for missed). At the end of each practice exercise, Playground displays your accuracy % as well as a score.  All of your sessions are represented in easy to read charts so you can see how you’re progressing over time.  There are also badges you can earn for your improvement and successes and, when learning songs, stars that can be earned which can be used as  discounts on new songs.

The gaming element of Playground Sessions adds a great entertainment factor, as well as enhancing the learning experience, and sneaking in some practice dedication too. Believe me, I have spent many enjoyable hours practising a particular piece of music just to get the 100% accuracy pop up on the screen.#

Playground Session Interface

My Wishlist

Given the pedigree of those involved, it would be great to see more lessons, courses and pieces for jazz piano and blues piano along with some more classical piano. It would also be great to see accompaniment arrangements of familiar songs, with the hope that fellow musicians would be able to join in and jam or just sing along.

David Sides is, without question, an excellent tutor and has been a real inspiration for me to push ahead with learning the piano.  Variety, though, can be of benefit when learning an instrument.  Chris Vance, CEO at Playground Sessions, emailed to let me know that they have just introduced a new instructor, Phil Anderson, and plan to bring on other teachers in the future as the project grows.

A real pipe dream would be to see this same platform deliver training for other instruments, but, given the complexity of the world of music, that may be some way off.

Keyboard at an angle

Overall Impressions

From my own experience with other musicians, I have found it beneficial to be able to see where the music is going as well as what I am playing. I have become accustomed to reading music from books and printed scores so am more comfortable with a layout that emulates this.  My own goals of improving my sight reading and music theory were key to the decision, and the associated balance of tuition and gaming. Overall, though, it comes down to what feels right and most comfortable, which, for me, turned out to be Playground Sessions.

With all the boxes ticked it was David Sides’ teaching style and relaxed manner that won my vote. I found that this worked very well for me and that I picked up new information, theory and techniques more quickly and more permanently learning from David and Phil through the Playground Sessions Application. You can see David Sides and Phil Anderson in full teaching flow at the Playground Session YouTube Channel.

I’ve been very impressed with Playground Sessions, so much so that I have asked them to become a registered beta tester so, as a user and enthusiastic piano student, I can help shape the continued development of the software.

Find out more about the people behind Playground Sessions

David Sides

Quincy Jones

 

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