Monday, December 22, 2014

Review of “Playground Sessions” Piano Learning Software

Yamaha has partnered with Playground Sessions to provide Yamaha's customers the opportunity to subscribe to Playground's educational program, co-created by legendary music producer and composer Quincy Jones. Jason Nyberg, Marketing Manager for Yamaha Music Interactive, tested and reviewed the program.

It’s Amazing What You Can Learn On The Playground
By Jason Nyberg

Just hearing the name “Quincy Jones” in any conversation always gets my attention, so hearing that he had co-created a new music course naturally piqued my curiosity. After all, who wouldn’t want to learn from the grand master of music production and composition?

Expecting a nice series of piano course books or a set of DVDs, I was completely surprised to find that it was neither, but instead an integration of video, dynamic on-screen sheet music, and interactivity with a keyboard, all nicely wrapped in a downloadable application.

The program is aptly named “Playground Sessions,” as underscored by their tag line, “Play to Learn.” Rather than working through lengthy course books containing exercises and unknown compositions, it takes the user to “Bootcamp” to learn musical skills using elements of popular songs. The goal is to make music right away, and Playground does a fantastic job of making that a reality.

It is a remarkable program, both in functionality and in style. I especially like the iTunes-like music store, where users can learn to play songs from a library that spans everything from Beethoven to Beyoncé. I also like that beauty is more than skin deep, seen in the intuitive interface that leads the user through effective and entertaining music lessons at a beginner, intermediate, and advanced level.

Playground’s interactivity is engaged when the user plugs in a MIDI or USB keyboard to their home computer (both Mac and PC versions are available), yet the program is still enhanced enough to teach those that have the traditional acoustic piano.  In fact, there are over 30 hours of video tutorials, along with a variety of printable arrangements; more than enough to engage the acoustic user.

The graphical presentation of song titles is inspiring enough, but it’s the content that sets it apart from the competition. David Sides, the program’s on-screen teacher, offers instruction in a captivating and comforting tone, drawing the user in with a perfectly-paced delivery. This is the guy that you’d like
to have as a personal teacher, and apparently the YouTube community agrees, having given Sides over 175 million views of his online videos. And while it might be tempting to allow the YouTube title to strip the program of its credibility, rest assured this is not another online flash-in-the-pan series of video clips. Playground is devoted to teaching music theory. This is evident across the board, from lessons on keyboard skills and rhythm to notation and ear training. There’s also the time-honored traditions of playing to a metronome and learning songs in “chunks,” one hand at a time.

From there, however, it brings those traditional concepts into the present by using popular songs and exciting background tracks, offering the satisfaction of being “in the band” right from the start. This added layer of fun provides even more reasons to succeed.
There are also elements of “gamification” - something traditional music methods overlook. Much like online video games, Playground includes real-time feedback, scores, badges, leaderboards, as well as progress-tracking visualizations. And to top it off, users can share scores, progress, and messages on Facebook and Twitter. 

Longevity of relevant content is another quality I appreciate in the program. While Bootcamp provides plenty of learning material to chew on, the song library is what will give years of enjoyment and continued musical development. Kudos to the creators for consequently offering up a “Lifetime” membership – sure to be an instant win.

Playground Sessions is the program many people have been waiting for. Satisfying, reliable, entertaining. It’s the best way to learn piano from the convenience of your own home.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Hi there -

      I have been using PlaygroundSessions since March 20th of 2016, and I was browsing the internet to see if anyone used it for a longer time than me and maybe wrote a page about it.

      I just found this article and the first comment, and I would like to give my two cents.

      I am 40+ years old, and never played the piano. I always wanted to though.
      In 2002 I bought a used straight piano for I think $150. I took two lessons in Red Bank NJ (I forgot the name of the place). I remember paying $18 for 30 minutes. It was pretty painful because I used to work in the city and I would not be back before 9 or 10PM. Not only that, but I felt the teacher was going so slow it would take me for ever to learn how to play just one song. So I gave up, and gave my piano to a family member. It is now a piece of decoration in a family room.

      13 years later, I woke up one morning and told myself "There is no way I'm going to grow old on this earth, and not achieve one of my dreams" - which is play the piano -

      I looked for a mini grand piano, but they are expensive. Specially for someone who does not know how to play. So I looked all over for a 88 keys keyboard which sounds like a real piano and found the Yamaha P45B . I have to say one thing about it: AWESOME.

      On March 20th 2016, I heard about PlaygroundSessions and gave it a shot. Here is my view on it: I agree with you about the Theory, I would like to see more of it. But I only just finished the Rookie bootcamp, maybe there is more down the road. So it has been slightly over 60 days which I subscribed. I did not play every day, but as of today I did 42 lessons, and used it 15hours and 45 minutes. Let's round up to 16 hours. If I had to pay $18 for 30 minutes, that would have been $540 in lessons. Just there it is worth it.

      It is actually 1AM, and I have been playing since 10PM: 1 Hour of lesson, and 2 hours of me trying to learn one of the songs I bought. Let's highlight the fact that since 2002 I became a dad, and I don't have too much free time. Being able to take a lesson piano at my convenience is priceless. Most of the lessons are short, but they are hard enough for me as a beginner and they will keep me busy for a good amount of time. Since you get rated at most of the lessons, I put on myself not to go to the next one until I achieve 100%. The other advantage with this is that I can go back and play a past lesson. If I had a real teacher, the guy would probably charge me for his time.

      I wish I recorded myself when I first started, because if anyone saw what I could do after two month of using PlaygroundSessions, people would probably not believe me and assume I took lessons before.

      At the end, the $17 is worth it, and the lifetime subscription is even better.
      Once again, I would have spent $540 on lessons as of now, while the lifetime is $270 I think.

      About paying for the songs.. I don t know if you tried it, but this is how it works. The songs lessons are integrated within PlaygroundSessions software. Which means they break it down by section (intro, verse, chorus, interlude..) and each of those sections is broken by hand (right hand first, left hand, then both). As per the bootcamp lessons, you can of course break down a section into a subsection yourself, and just focus on this. In my case, for the amount of time I spend on the song I am trying to learn now, $3.99 is well worth it too. I only wish they did not limit the number of time you could print a song you bought.

      Overall, I would absolutely recommend it to someone who wants to learn how to play the piano. And please feel free to contact me if you want to talk about it. Whether you Ralph, or anyone reading this blog. I will be happy to share my own experience, and to upload a video somewhere of what I can do on a piano now. I will probably post videos on youtube mid summer.

      On this note, I'm going back to my lessons :)

  2. If you're like me, someone who has tried for many years to learn to play the piano only to be frustrated and bored with the approach of private teachers, I have great news for you. Playground Sessions is a way of learning to play the piano that goes beyond the typical approach, it works great because instead of spending time on scales and notes without ever knowing when your going to be able to apply what you learn to actually enjoying the music you love, Playground Sessions starts you off right away playing great songs. Modern masterpieces like Imagine by John Lennon or Beyonce's Halo, you won't be spending hours playing Mary Had a Little Lamb or Row Row Row Your Boat. Yes you will learn the notes, you will learn the theory, you will get the skills, but you will do it while playing songs you love. It really makes so much sense to play the piano to learn the piano. Playground sessions does a fantastic job of incorporating technology for ease of use but it also offers the human touch as provided by David Sides who makes you feel as if he's speaking directly to you and guides you through important lessons with a personal touch. There are seven overriding reasons to give Playground sessions a try.

    1- It's really fun
    2- It's really satisfying
    3- It's challenging
    4- You get a great sense of accomplishment
    5- It's very convenient, it's always available
    6- It's goal oriented
    7- You will be playing the piano

    Finally, there are other online programs that are designed to teach you how to play the piano, I've tried them all and while a few are decent none of them compare them to playground sessions because none of them get you playing great songs as fast. In my opinion it really is the best way to get up and running and playing as fun as possible. Would you expect anything less from the brilliant Quincy Jones!

  3. I did not post that comment. that is why I removed it.
    I allowed my son to try out my Playground account and being the teenage boy he is, I guess he decided to grip about it while on my computer and somehow his "rude ralph" account is connected to my email and I started getting notifications from this thread.

  4. All my Father's family member can play piano, I really want to learn and play piano, but when i was kid we have finance problem so we couldn't buy any piano, so after my age 34 , I brought my own piano Yamaha P35B, it's great and start to learn Piano by my self , it's not easy to learn it and i brought books about how to learn piano in my age.

    I was get bored , because I got really slow progress especially about fingering and only 1 song i can play , and then after googling i found playground app , Really good app, really fun it's seem I'm playing game actually I'm learning Piano, when i use this apps sometime I don't realise playing piano for almost 4 hours , and now I got good Progress learning Piano.

    It's really satisfying for me .... :)

  5. I had been playing for years, but I stopped 5 years ago as my hands began shaking because of young onset parkinson's. But now that my symptoms are pretty much under control I am using Playground to try and get going again..It is working pretty good.

  6. I am 39 and have a music background as a youngster playing the horn into college years and as a general music lover. I have always wanted to play piano and get into some hobby music production, but who has time for lessons? I am absolutely addicted to Playground Sessions and feel like I am making quick progress. Highly recommended!

    Also, I bought a basic Yamaha YPG-235 keyboard bundle, and it is a wonderful starter piano/synth. Love the grand piano sound.

  7. I'm a retiree who started learning the piano three and a half years ago with absolutely zilch music knowledge. I had a very old 66 keys Yamaha keyboard which I bought for my son when he was little but was never used and I thought why don't I give it a go before throwing it out. Well, I got hooked and upgraded the keyboard several times (all Yamaha) as I improved, and now I have a Clavinova CVP 605 and playing intermediate level pieces. For the first two years, I was at the piano for four to five hours a day, some days even longer. I was very determined to progress quickly to make up for lost time. I searched the net extensively for good piano teaching software and downloaded countless programs available for trial and subscribed/bought several top rated ones. I also bought stacks of song books and tried several highly recommended method books as well as took piano lessons (this I've recently taken up again twice a month to learn musicality). What I've found in my 'hot' piano pursuit is that the one learning method that works best for me (both effective and engaging) is Playground Sessions. In my opinion there's no other existing program or app that matches or measures up to it in terms of keystroke interactivity, visual/audio presentation, range and levels of songs/pieces and importantly, it's capacity to print hard copies to play offline. Thank you Playground Sessions.

    I don't believe there's another software program like PS. I have researched extensively and have tried several programs to build up my piano learning library but none matches up to PS!