Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Review: Soft Mozart Piano Learning Software

Soft Mozart is a piano learning software program that the kids and I began using last year. Through the use of a Midi cable, you can connect a digital piano or keyboard to your computer and the Soft Mozart program serves as "interactive sheet music."  The notes are registered on screen as they are played by matching up the  corresponding keyboard stickers. There are a variety of other learning games in the program as well.

I have extensively researched all of the piano learning software programs on the market and came to the conclusion that Soft Mozart is the right midi interactive program for my young preschoolers. First and foremost, Soft Mozart uses a "pause and wait" method of note progression which is ideal for small children just beginning to learn. All other midi interactive programs require that the child keep up with the program as the notes are played on tempo. Instead of forcing the child to keep up, Soft Mozart takes the opposite approach and slows down to the pace of the child. This reduces frustration and gives the child as long as they need to be successful in hitting the right keys with the proper note length. The song does not progress until all of the notes are played correctly.

I experienced that even adults can benefit from this feature. A friend of mine who also happens to be a degreed piano teacher and was giving me a few pointers, watched me practice a piece using traditional sheet music. Apparently, I attempted to use the metronome too soon. As a result, I made the same mistake several times in a row without even realizing my own error. She expressed concern that each time I played the song incorrectly, it created a rut in my brain that will grow more and more difficult to undo later. Repetition is how habits, including bad habits, are created. It is better to practice the song slowly and perfectly in the initial stages, rather than on tempo incorrectly. Soft Mozart forces you to play to 100% mastery first. I find the program to be particularly helpful when kids are learning to play with both hands simultaneously as it does not allow them to advance until the right and left hand are working together. My son has recently begun to play Hot Cross Buns and Jingle Bells with two hands, although it requires much effort as he is still learning.

 Soft Mozart also allows students several options to view the staff. The introductory level displays a widened, non-traditional vertical staff with picture cues to be matched to stickers on the piano keys. This is a child friendly introduction to reading notes on the staff. I appreciate that the grand staff is always displayed in it's entirety from the very beginning of the program, giving the user a better orientation of what is happening on the screen and how it relates to the keys. As a student progresses, the staff can then be flipped horizontally, the picture cues can be removed at any time, letter names can be used, and eventually the notes can be displayed as traditional sheet music.

In our house, like many BrillKids parents we had already begun using BrillKids' Little Musician software before we purchased Soft Mozart. Little Musician is a not specifically a piano learning software and does not have midi connectivity, simply because that is not what it was designed for. So comparing the two is like apples and oranges. Little Musician provides a generalized umbrella-like introduction to music, whereas Soft Mozart is specifically created for learning how to play the piano. I mention this so readers are aware that they are not in direct competition and you do not have to choose one or the other. Hellene Hiner, creator of Soft Mozart, shared that Soft Mozart does not conflict with any approach and it can be used concurrently with other programs. For my children, I created a floor staff and modified piano stickers to visually incorporate both learning programs.

I did turn the Soft Mozart staff horizontally very early on (rather than vertically) so that both methods presented the material the same way. However, I am a parent that believes in "layering the learning" solely for the fact that I know this is how my children learn best. For this reason, I frequently use multiple programs and techniques at the same time in all subject areas, although you certainly do not have to. I mention this so that similarly minded parents can know that Soft Mozart is versatile in that respect.

 At the recommendation of an esteemed friend, I ended up enrolling my daughter in local Yamaha classes last June to try them out. We soon discovered that Soft Mozart was not in conflict with the Yamaha method, either. I found that after enrolling in lessons, we actually used Soft Mozart *more* frequently than before. Getting into a daily practice routine is vital and I strongly encourage parents to participate in the Soft Mozart forum if you have difficulty in this area. Regularly reporting to a teacher and/or support group either online or in person will keep you accountable and motivated. For us, local instruction provided this outlet but we would not have been able to progress as quickly without some kind of outside support, either online or in person. The Soft Mozart community members are a wealth of information and Hellene Hiner regularly guides students via forum posts and Skype conferences. I urge you not to let "life get in the way" of your family's musical progress and to take advantage of some kind of support.  For this, the Soft Mozart online community is available 24/7 offered at no additional cost to help you on your journey.

(Note: I was not aware of the Soft Mozart videos that demonstrate correct finger placement until after Lily already learned Joy to the World so there is some "crossing over" in this video. However, that is no fault of hers, but rather mine because I did not teach her correctly to begin with. ;))

Lastly, the interface of Soft Mozart is intentionally designed to be very simple so it can be operated by young children without mouse control. At first glance, it does not look very modern but that does not impact the efficacy of the program. I suspect that with the upcoming "Ipad Generation" of tots, kids are more technologically savvy than ever and mouse control is probably not as much of an issue as it once was, but even so the software does not rule out any child that hasn't yet developed their mouse skills. Everything can be operated with the keyboard alone. I do suggest in future updates that the labeling of levels within the program can be simplified somehow. As a beginner myself, I would benefit from all of the songs being laid out in a more linear fashion, right down to a sequential order *within* each level of difficulty built-in. Do not be mistaken, there are assignments included in the manual, but it would be nice if all of the information was self-contained in the software. 

Early on I made it a "rule" that I would learn to play every song before teaching it to my children. So I am pregressing slightly faster than a 4 year old ;) but progressing none the less as a first time piano learner. Overall, Soft Mozart has been beneficial to my family's musical development and I encourage you to see if it will be a good fit for your family, as well. Free trial available here:


Anonymous said...

Great review! And very helfpul, thank you!

Anonymous said...

Its good to find a find a Piano software that is effective for helping you learn fast. I guess you can find it with the help of your friend. Somebody that have experienced using this type of software.

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Jason Craft said...

What model piano did you get for Soft Mozart? They do not list the models they recommend on their site.

polak667 said...

check out this youtube video. Uses colored stickers on piano keys and listens to your child play. Easy Piano App

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Derrick Lee said...

I also find my children fingerings the song incorrectly, it created a habit in their brain that will grow more and more difficult to undo later. Repetition is how habits, including bad habits, are created. How to better practice during the initial stages, in order to avoid the mistakes later?

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