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Gauging interest in my idea for a better piano learning app
#2506254 02/01/16 03:39 PM
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Hello everyone!

I'm new to this forum, and when it comes to playing the piano, I am a novice at best. I took lessons for a year over 10 years ago, and then I quit for various reasons, mainly because I was losing interest, other life matters took precedence, and I didn't want to trek across town for my weekly lessons. But I still have this undying desire to learn to play. The last song that I "mastered" was Moonlight Sonata, and I could relearn how to play it in a week or so, but I couldn't begin to play it if I sat down and tried right now. (Does any of this sound familiar?)

I am a software developer, and my undying desire to learn to play the piano has driven me to ponder whether I could make a better piano learning software application. I think I can. I surveyed some of the more popular software apps on the market today, and while I do think they are "good", I think I can make something better, or at the very least something different.

It seems to me that the more well-known apps out there are centered on the model of a popular artist playing his or her own song, while the piano student watches and listens and then gives it a go, and tries to reproduce it. Then the software application measures the "correctness" of play, and presents some of that information back to the user in the form of a pie chart or something.

My idea is to empower the foot soldiers of the piano ecosystem - the piano teachers of the world, and the parents and grandparents and family and friends of the piano student - to make practicing the piano both more efficient and more engaging, but also to allow piano teachers the ability to teach the student remotely. Mainly, I want to replace the celebrities "teaching" the piano student with actual piano instructors. I want piano instructors to be able to record video and MIDI messages in synch, and send that to their students with a simple drag-and-drop gesture, so the student can follow along. That's the heart of my idea.

I plan on launching this project on Kickstarter, but I wanted to gauge interest in the idea on this forum first. My apologies to Piano World and its moderators if I'm breaking the rules in terms of advertising, but I feel that I am not selling or really advertising anything concrete just yet. I'm simply asking if people on this forum ever think to themselves "I wish there were a piano learning app that did X, Y, and Z."

Basically, I see this photo, taken from another post on this site, and I think it sums up the status of the piano today. Being able to play the piano, it's fun, encouraging... it's difficult to put in words how awesome it is to be able to play and produce music with this beautiful instrument. I think if everyone could take a pill with no side effects and wake up the next morning and be able to play, even at a beginner's level, everyone would take that pill. Everyone wants to be able to play the piano. But not everyone wants to invest the time and effort to learn. I want to make an app that changes all that.

[Linked Image]

What are your thoughts on this? I would greatly appreciate it if you would share your opinions, comments, and questions. I want to know if there is any interest whatsoever before I even create a project and video and prototype for Kickstarter to turn my idea into reality. Oh, and as one of my rewards, I will stream video of myself creating this app, every step of the way, showing the art and (computer) science of creating a piano app to help people create (musical) art. But the product itself, at least to help piano students like ourselves learn on our own, will be open source, so that there is no hesitation to download and use it, no financial barrier. And the online tool that connects students to piano teachers would be based on a subscription basis, but would be hugely affordable for both student and teacher. I'm thinking non-profit here. (I think that's what makes me an engineer, and not a businessman.)

Sorry for turning my first post into a short novel.

Last edited by Troy Mulder; 02/01/16 04:05 PM.
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Re: Gauging interest in my idea for a better piano learning app
Troy Mulder #2506324 02/01/16 06:59 PM
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I am an adult re-beginner, but have questions about the application:
- I am missing the usefulness of a Midi application. Does Midi really have the capability of capturing the instructor's nuances in phrasing and articulation? What is the advantage over Skype lessons?
- There are many lessons already developed, not by stars, but by those you refer to as 'footsoldiers'. How will yours be different and make learning more enjoyable? Of the many tutorials and good lesson series,

I think I am not understanding your intent. One suggestion? Since you consider yourself a novice pianist, that you take time to explore what has already been developed. Teach yourself using it to see how they can be improved.

Re: Gauging interest in my idea for a better piano learning app
Troy Mulder #2506347 02/01/16 08:25 PM
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Originally Posted by Troy Mulder
Hello everyone!

It seems to me that the more well-known apps out there are centered on the model of a popular artist playing his or her own song, while the piano student watches and listens and then gives it a go, and tries to reproduce it.


Welcome to the forum Troy,

I think learning piano in this fashion is in many ways counter productive, using simple mimicry most students are learning with a heavy reliance on muscle memory and their ear (naturally those without a good ear will struggle with this method). However if your system contains all the basics of a well rounded piano education then all well and good. The idea always should be to give the student enough of the skills that they are not dependant on the app all of the time.

Not sure which of the paid apps you are trying to improve on? Musiah & PianoMarvel maybe. In my opinion these do need to be improved upon and for those self teaching the addition of a teacher interface of some description would be very beneficial.





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Re: Gauging interest in my idea for a better piano learning app
Troy Mulder #2506352 02/01/16 08:40 PM
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Originally Posted by Troy Mulder


I am a software developer, and my undying desire to learn to play the piano has driven me to ponder whether I could make a better piano learning software application.


That sounds incredibly difficult, but you're the engineer. Maybe you could find an experienced piano teacher in your area who could partner with you to provide content expertise.

Originally Posted by Troy Mulder
I want piano instructors to be able to record video and MIDI messages in synch, and send that to their students with a simple drag-and-drop gesture, so the student can follow along.


Let me describe what I think you're saying and please correct me if I misunderstand.

So, I'm a piano student sitting at my midi keyboard with a laptop next to me and I've got a video connection to a remote teacher. I play a few bars and the teacher makes a comment about needing to play F# instead of F. I ask for clarification and the teacher plays the same bars with the corrected note. My keyboard is sent the midi notes and plays the bars correctly. I replay the bars with the corrected note and then the teacher and I move on to the next section.

Is that the idea?

If you have any use cases completed I'd be interested in reading some examples.

For me, I would love to have a "technique coach" to supplement my teacher. The app would watch me play Hanon or Czerny or scales and suggest improvements to evenness of tempo, correct placement of accents, variances in dynamics, etc.


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Re: Gauging interest in my idea for a better piano learning app
Troy Mulder #2506353 02/01/16 08:41 PM
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Welcome to the forum Troy!

"I wish there were a piano learning app that did X, Y, and Z."

There already is, it's called a T-E-A-C-H-E-R.

My feelings on the subject are as follows...

You cannot hasten the piano learning experience any more than you can accelerate learning about and receiving a Masters Degree in rocket surgery. I can't seem to express the fact enough that learning to play the piano isn't a simple or quick procedure, that there isn't "an app for that", and there's absolutely no guarantee that John Q. Public will ever be successful at learning enough to play with any kind of skill and/or emotion whatsoever. This isn't the summer soccer league for 5 and 6 year olds where no matter how poorly a team does everyone gets the same 1st place trophy and they're shoe'd in for the team next year; this is reality which is often tough to swallow, and unfortunately for some this means that the piano isn't for them.

It seems today, moreso than ever, that everybody wants everything and they want it today on a silver platter, with no waiting, and they'll pay whatever it takes just so they can have it. *NEWS FLASH: this may work with fast food but otherwise snap out of it, you're dreaming!

Until such a time as you get together with a hardware engineer/developer and provide us all with the ability to simply pick up a phone, and like Link in the movie "The Matrix Reloaded," have him upload "The Ultimate Piano Program" into our brains, there is no magic pill nor magic spell nor magic program, app, nor book that will turn anyone into a pianist quicker and with better results than a real flesh and blood teacher. I'm afraid only the naive would dream such a shortcut possible, only the money hungry entrepeneur would dare try to impliment it, and only the gullible would actually think it would work.

During my early years of piano study I also engaged in violin lessons, and I really wanted to learn, but no matter how hard I tried my left wrist just couldn't perform vibrato, and vibrato is such an important part of violin music that to do without it while playing would be like swimming without water. Facing and realizing my limitations, I accepted the fact that the violin just wasn't for me, so I gave up on it after 3 years of lessons to fully pursue my piano studies, and I'm certainly no worse off due to this realization.

'Probably not what you wanted to hear, but you did ask smile

Regards,
Andy


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Re: Gauging interest in my idea for a better piano learning app
Troy Mulder #2506361 02/01/16 09:10 PM
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I don't see how practicing with an app will be any improvement on practicing following a teacher's instruction.


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Re: Gauging interest in my idea for a better piano learning app
Troy Mulder #2506393 02/02/16 12:13 AM
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Thank you, everyone, for your feedback. I really do appreciate it. I realize it is difficult to offer input on an idea without showing any kind of demo or prototype, or even block diagram or, as was mentioned, describing a use case.

I agree that there is no substitute for a teacher. All I can say regarding teachers of any kind is that my intentions are to empower and augment, and not substitute or replace, the teacher. But I do think that there are ways to expedite (I prefer that word over hasten) the process of learning. I've used Rosetta Stone, for example, and I am almost fluent in Italian thanks to that app. I didn't even touch a computer before I began to pursue my Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, but the summer before my freshman year I used Mavis Beacon to learn how to type. Matlab helps students learn math, visualize plots of functions, etc. It still takes work to learn, even using those tools, but they help, just like the wheel barrel helps workers move heavy items from point A to point B. So I do believe there is a happy medium. I suggested the pill concept only to illustrate my belief that, if no time or effort were involved, everyone would like to be able to play the piano. But that's just my opinion.

I'll work on developing a prototype to get a better feel for whether or not my idea is viable.

Re: Gauging interest in my idea for a better piano learning app
Troy Mulder #2506432 02/02/16 04:30 AM
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Hey Troy,

Fellow software developer / entrepreneur here. I think you heard the verdict of the piano playing population quite clear and I agree to most of what has been said. But let me give you some feedback from an entrepreneurial point of view:

If my teacher charges me say $20 for a half hour lesson, he or she will charge that regardles of wether I'm sitting in the room next to her or on the other side of the globe. If both my teacher and me have to pay a subscription fee the price of my lesson will actually increase while the quality will decrease. So this software is really only usefull to people who do not have access to a teacher in their own vicinity (which isn't a bad thing but someting to keep in mind: you're not making lessons more accessible to everyone, and you're not making them any cheaper).

There's a reason there's so many apps that have a celebrity record a video once and have it be watched by thousands. It's a lot cheaper than a one on one situation. There's also businesses that combine the two, ie http://www.drumeo.com where you have lesson videos but also have the option to send in videos and have them reviewed. I guess this would cost about as much as a real lesson too. Also, there's honestly not a lot of custom tech involved, and I don't think there needs to be.

You're also talking about building a prototype. I don't think there's any need to spend much time on a prototype since it's already there: skype. Try and find a teacher that will give you a lesson over skype. If you can't find a teacher willing to do that, your idea is probably not viable. If you can find one, ask the teacher about anything that he or she thought was lacking. See if you can somehow compensate for that with technical solutions. Ask teacher(s) what they think about those solutions, if they are positive, invest time in a prototype.

I know as a software engineer you're addicted to building things and the building in itself can be so much fun that it doesn't matter if there's any practical use for whatever your building. But from an entrepeneurial point of view: do not build anything until you are sure it is the right thing. And don't overestimate what a prototype can be. Sometimes a prototype can be an existing piece of technology, sometimes it can be a cardboard box.

Also: don't ignore what people are telling you. If you want to augment a teacher, listen to feedback like this:

Originally Posted by scgrant

For me, I would love to have a "technique coach" to supplement my teacher. The app would watch me play Hanon or Czerny or scales and suggest improvements to evenness of tempo, correct placement of accents, variances in dynamics, etc.


Basicly, once your over your first few lessons all you are interested in is improving technique. This is hard to do remotely and has a big subjective component. However, creating software that gives some feedback on timing and dynamics is a pretty viable project. Have look at this drumming app for instance: http://drumtimeapp.com

I augment my lessons all the time: I listen to music, read forums, read about how to practice, practice reading using an app called music tutor on my phone (which is an excelent example of something that actually works: do one useful thing, and do it well). The way people actually augment lessons might be a direction worth investigating. Maybe you can somehow support this in new ways.

There's nothing against believing in your own idea and going for it, but realise that most people that built something succesful did that by questioning each and every assumption they had and going back to the drawing board a million times untill they stumbled upon an actuall need they probably never knew existed. This game can be as enjoyable and frustrating as software development itself.

Obviously this is all just feedback. No doubt everybody here, myself included, hopes you will succeed in whatever you set out to do wink.

Re: Gauging interest in my idea for a better piano learning app
Troy Mulder #2506473 02/02/16 07:54 AM
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First, may I ask for which platform are you aiming your app? Desktops and laptops, mobiles, or tablets?

I mostly use piano software on my desktop. I think MIDI Illustrator comes closest to what I would like to see in a piano practice application.

The features I'd like to see in a desktop and laptop app, are as follows:
  1. Practice mode - the program waits until you press the right notes. Some say this is detrimental to a pianist technique, but I still want it!
  2. The notes light up when it's time to play them, and for the time they are supposed to be played, a quarter note for one beat, an eight note for half a beat, and so on. Some programs have a colored rectangle around the notes, but I prefer the notes themselves to light up, makes it easier to see them. Still others have a blue progress bar, starting at the due note, and then suddenly jumping to the next one. I don't like that, it makes me dizzy to watch it, let alone play it. If there is an option to turn the progress bar off, I do. It would be nice to have different colors for the treble and bass clef, respectively.
  3. I would like to be able to assign a different color to the top (melody) notes.
  4. If features two and three are implemented, it would help a lot in slow practising, and even make the first feature unnecessary, though I would still recommend keeping it as an option.
  5. A looping feature is important, being able to work on parts of a song.
Now start coding (no just kidding.) grin


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Re: Gauging interest in my idea for a better piano learning app
Troy Mulder #2506477 02/02/16 08:11 AM
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Hi Troy, welcome to the forum. It is an interesting topic, for sure.

Have you looked at Piano Maestro, by JoyTunes? It is a tools for learning the piano and for interacting with teachers. It connects to your piano via MIDI or microphone. A student can link up with his teacher for getting assignments and reports to the teacher (I have not used the latter function yet, as my teacher does not have an iPad).

Have you also looked at the TED talks on remote teaching piano with a system that links two acoustic pianos so that the teacher can demonstrate to the student on her/his piano what he means?

I am very interested in computer aided learning and all that. For example I try language learning software every three to five years to see what the latest is. I never got far, though. Too little real life applicability.

With piano it is now different. I have been using apps for about a year now to support learning the piano in addition with having weekly 30m sessions with a teacher. As e.g. Piano Maestro has e.g. Czerny material which my teacher also uses, there is some real overlap and it helps me, so I became a paying subscriber.

I think an app can be of value for assigning and managing "homework". At the moment my teacher writes down what she gives me and I write down what she gives me. Unless I think I will remember and then I don't... If she could see an analysis of what and how I played this may help her to help me. But that would add to her workload outside of "class".


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Re: Gauging interest in my idea for a better piano learning app
Troy Mulder #2506552 02/02/16 01:00 PM
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Hoo boy. Ok, I'm a developer and have a little midi piano program of my own.

For one thing, I don't think you have spec'd out what you plan to do.

If you're still a novice piano player, how can you possibly expect to write a computer program that will actually teach piano. You haven't even been taught MANUALLY yourself. No point in trying to automate what you haven't done manually.

As I say, I've put some effort into this area.

Software can't teach art. Software will never be able to teach art.

Only humans can teach art and that's the way it will always be.



Instead, I've put my efforts into a software piano PRACTICE program. Something that helps you out with the day to day grind of showing the score, notating it for how you're going to play it, looping it up so you're only practicing the short tough spots, stripping out repeated bars. Stuff like that. Also, I model the notation after standard notation. I personally can't stand standard notation. But the score should definitely NOT scroll. It's tough enough following a score. If it scrolls, your eyes have to track a moving target - that's terrible. Fingering and cues (little textual notes) are very important on the score. And time (rhythm) is the most important element to show.

If this is a path you want to go down, make sure you can actually play the piano pretty well. If you can't get yourself to the point of "somewhat accomplished player", this is probably not a passion for you and a path you should probably not go down. Playing piano takes a LOT of time. And developing software also takes a LOT of time. Both those things need to be a passion for you if you indeed plan on getting this DONE.

I'm 50 and far from done. But it's been a fanTASTIC project. It's my greatest passion and pretty much my life's work.

So if you don't have a piano teacher, that's your first step right there.

If you don't have a piano teacher, don't bother to write a single line of code of any kind of piano program.

Your next step will be writing your own midi file loader and saver. You may say to yourself, pfff, it's just a file format. Write the software to load one into memory. It's definitely not a snap, and if you use somebody else's code, it will NOT be flexible enough...

This is a tough road, but it's a fun one, too. If ya wanna talk about it, my email is on my website n stuff.

good luck !!





http://PianoCheetah.app - my weird piano practice program
Re: Gauging interest in my idea for a better piano learning app
Stephen Hazel #2506556 02/02/16 01:22 PM
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Originally Posted by Stephen Hazel
I personally can't stand standard notation. But the score should definitely NOT scroll. It's tough enough following a score. If it scrolls, your eyes have to track a moving target - that's terrible.



I have been saying this for a while about some software programs. Eye movement when you start piano has to be learned almost as a skill in itself as you are tracking differently than if you were just reading normal text. I thought in my first year of piano my sight reading needed a lot more work and I started to use a program with a scrolling screen. But when I was done with the program I had to retrain my eyes because they had become used to focusing completely differently than what is required for standard notation. So very glad you brought this point up.


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Re: Gauging interest in my idea for a better piano learning app
Troy Mulder #2506561 02/02/16 01:36 PM
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Thank you! I really do appreciate everyone's feedback.

I will look at all of these other tools, thanks for mentioning them. The creative process is interesting, in that you want to see what is already out there, so you don't copy or reinvent the wheel. And yet, you want to make what YOU want to make, too, even if there are similarities to what's already out there. What I have in mind is unique enough, I think, so I will push forward and build a prototype. Yes, it will take time, but I love this stuff, and I want to hone my Java skills anyway. I'm going to make the prototype in Java, though I do see the benefit of making it for iOS. I wish they made even bigger iPads. I'll see what I come up with. I also wish Apple would make a piano, and put its touch-screen technology on every piano key. There are a lot of possibilities for that configuration.

On the topic of payments, I had in mind the idea of a teacher recording his piano play, with the video camera pointing down at the keyboard, and the app recording both the video and the incoming MIDI messages sent by the electric piano. (This idea doesn't work with an acoustic piano, of course, unless I also build some sort of sound processing acoustic-to-MIDI converter, or use one off the shelf.) Then the piano instructor can save that combination of video + MIDI stream as a file, and now the instructor can reuse that, send it to as many people as he/she wants, requiring very little time. I know this is not aligned with instruction that is customized or tailored to the individual. But I have to believe that some instructors do SOME redundant teaching. Or, as mentioned above, this could be additional homework.

My idea mainly came about when I learned a piece in the wrong key. I thought I knew how to read sheet music, but somehow I interpreted the sheet music incorrectly, but I guess it sounded right to my ears, and I went with the wrong set of notes as I learned the simple piece. When I played it for my instructor, he laughed, and said "That was interesting." Then he corrected me. The point is, one of the main aspects of this tool is to do what other tools do, which is to verify that you are playing the right notes at more or less the right time. But I want to be able to disable (and hide) the lower staff to focus on the right hand, then disable the upper staff to focus on the left hand, going slowly first, then ramping up speed until full speed is achieved, and the put the hands together. I want to be able to disable or change individual notes (at least temporarily) which are difficult to play, but shouldn't prevent the student from playing the other notes around it. I'm thinking specifically about the pinky note that stands out in Moonlight Sonata, for example. It's such a important note to the piece, but it's difficult to play that one note with the right timing while still playing all the neighboring notes correctly.

I want to be able to alpha-blend the video of the instructor's play with the video of the student playing, to verify that the finger assignment is correct. And I want the user to be able to select a note on the virtual sheet music and give it a finger assignment.

I also want to show the note notation differently. Think of how funky the notation is. A whole note has is an unfilled tilted ellipse for its note head. A half note is a filled ellipse. Now you start adding a stem to get to smaller notes. Ah, but after the stem is added for the quarter note, you start adding flags to the note to get smaller notes still. I want the user to be able to slide a glass over the measure as he/she plays, showing different representations, like a single rectangle for a quarter note, two for a half note, four for a full note, or squares that are large for the whole note, and get smaller and change color for smaller notes. Or even show notes as circles, with the fill of the note a clock that winds down as the duration of the note ticks to completion. (The original idea for the name of the app was Nozart, a corrupted portmanteau of "notes + art".) I just think that sheet music could be colored, changed, even animated. And when the student learns the music, maybe he/she wants to just play the song from memory, in which case the notes can be something more abstract, like clouds passing by under the moonlit sky for Moonlight Sonata, or snow falling over a small town in Switzerland. I don't know. It could be anything!

But the best feature of all is to record the MIDI messages of the piano student throughout learning a single piece, and multiple pieces, and somehow let the student hit play and sit back and see how far he/she has come, showing the initial mistakes being made when first learning a given piece, and ending with a near-perfect performance at the end of learning that piece, reminding the student that learning takes time and practice, but he/she IS in fact learning and improving, and maybe even show the time taken to get that far. Because as we learn any given piece, as students, we are constantly learning. So every new week brings a new challenge, a new note or rest with a new duration. A new combination of notes putting your hands in new positions, stretching them to the limit, pushing the limit every time. Smaller notes and a faster pace, requiring more dexterity, etc. We forget how far we've come, because we are always looking up at the top, where our favorite artists like Coldplay and Elton John and Billy Joel and Yani are playing, effortlessly. So that's a big driver of my idea to capture each and every press and release encapsulated in every MIDI message, for the student to be able to replay when considering quitting lessons when in doubt of his or her progress.

I'll come back to this forum when I have a prototype. But my intention is to bring more piano students into the ecosystem, and keep them there, not replace the teacher for those students who are already in it.


Re: Gauging interest in my idea for a better piano learning app
Troy Mulder #2506577 02/02/16 02:45 PM
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Originally Posted by Troy Mulder
But I want to be able to disable (and hide) the lower staff to focus on the right hand, then disable the upper staff to focus on the left hand, going slowly first, then ramping up speed until full speed is achieved, and the put the hands together.

Hands separate practice is a must for a program like this, how could I forget it in my requirements list?

Quote
I want to be able to disable or change individual notes (at least temporarily) which are difficult to play, but shouldn't prevent the student from playing the other notes around it. I'm thinking specifically about the pinky note that stands out in Moonlight Sonata, for example.

I have sometimes solved this problem by moving the top melody notes to a separate staff, since they are usually the notes giving me the biggest headache. However implementing a feature to pinpoint them would be helpful, though probably hard to code.

Quote
A whole note has is an unfilled tilted ellipse for its note head. A half note is a filled ellipse. Now you start adding a stem to get to smaller notes. Ah, but after the stem is added for the quarter note, you start adding flags to the note to get smaller notes still.

A half note is actually an unfilled ellipse with a stem, but I get the idea, it's interesting.

Quote
Or even show notes as circles, with the fill of the note a clock that winds down as the duration of the note ticks to completion.

I've never seen that in a notation software, so that would probably be something entirely new.

Quote
(The original idea for the name of the app was Nozart, a corrupted portmanteau of "notes + art".)

Don't say too much, someone might steal your idea(s). cool

It will be interesting to see the outcome. I agree that software can not replace human guidance, but it can complement it, as you say. Good luck with your project, it's a marathon, as Stephen Hazel points out.


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Casio PX-5S. Garritan CFX, Production Grand 2 Gold, Concert Grand LE, AcousticSamples C7, NI Giant, Sampletekk White Grand, Choc. Audio Steinbach, and a few more. Kontakt 5. Reaper.
Re: Gauging interest in my idea for a better piano learning app
Troy Mulder #2506586 02/02/16 03:14 PM
Joined: Nov 2006
Posts: 758
500 Post Club Member
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500 Post Club Member
Joined: Nov 2006
Posts: 758
> I will stream video of myself creating this app

Ok. I'm holdin' ya to dat wink




http://PianoCheetah.app - my weird piano practice program

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