Pluto Learns Piano HD
What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Pluto Plays Piano HD is a well-designed music-education app that teaches kids piano skills and music notation. In the music-notation activity, kids guide Pluto the Penguin along an undersea musical staff toward fish that form melodies of favorite childhood songs, all while avoiding underwater dangers and bad notes. In the piano-performance activities, kids play a mini, in-app piano in follow-the-lit-up-key fashion. Both activities allow kids to earn stars that can be redeemed to unlock additional songs; the app encourages practicing and rewards kids for returning each day with a free star. Starter songs include classics such as "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," "Swan Lake," "Frère Jacques," "Oh! Susanna," and "Brahms' Lullaby." Parents can opt to purchase additional songs in-app (prices range from $1.99 for an individual pick to $19.99 for all songs).
What kids can learn
Thinking & Reasoning
- using and applying technology
Engagement, Approach, Support
The app's thoughtful design draws kids in and makes them want to practice piano. Built-in incentives and positive reinforcement encourage kids and keep them playing.
Kids rely on hand-eye coordination to play the correct note. The bubbly, five-line musical staff cleverly introduces melody and note names (C, C#, D, and so on) while rhythmic instruction takes the back seat.
In settings, kids can learn the app's controls and how to switch between music-notation and piano-performance modes. Although the supports have helpful visual cues, kids will need reading skills to understand directions.
What's it about?
PLUTO PLAYS PIANO HD starts with a music-notation activity. Kids guide Pluto along five horizontal lines of bubbles, which cleverly make up a musical staff, and aim him toward fish that are arranged to make up a song's melody. Play the right notes (yellow fish) and earn stars; bump into wrong notes (gray fish) or underwater obstacles (jellyfish, whales), and stars are deducted and Pluto's health declines. Kids can see note names (C, C#, D, and so on) embedded in each fish, so they get a sense of pitch, melody, and musical form. But the song's rhythm is indicated only by how close or far apart the fish are to each other. A scoreboard shows Pluto's wellness level, the numbers of correct and incorrect notes played, and the number of stars earned. Pluto can't die, but too many ill encounters will yield a "Game Over." Pluto has two piano-performance activities: Practice mode lets kids play songs on an in-app mini piano; Performance mode puts kids on a concert stage and lets them play the mini piano (minus the notation). In both modes, kids are guided by lit-up keys to help them play the right notes, but they have the option to turn off labels and highlights once they're ready.
Is it any good?
Pluto''s bubble-inspired five-line music-staff motif gives kids both visual and hands-on interaction with a song's melody. Plus, kids are exposed to reading note names the whole time. Kids hear and see each song's melody at least twice whenever they play a song, thereby reinforcing the song through repetition. Although the star-based reward system may seem overdone, it encourages kids to practice their musical skills and earn stars, which they can redeem for new songs. The overall production value is excellent -- the graphics are inviting, and the audio quality is superb, too. Kids would benefit, however, if the app had an introduction to the five-finger piano-playing method to discourage the "hunt-and-peck" technique typical of beginners.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about the idea of melody. Explain that melody is the part of the song that we sing, hum, or whistle. Sing the melody of some favorite songs and talk about how the notes move up and down and, often, in patterns.
Give your kids an introduction to reading music; let them know that musicians came up with a way to write down music using a special "language" called music notation and that notation helps us learn and share songs with others.