Playground Sessions Review – Is the Quincy Jones Backed App up to Scratch?

There aren’t many courses on the market that were created with the help of a piano legend. Quincy Jones is one of the co-creators of Playground Sessions and the online learning platform has some very famous and popular musicians that endorse their teaching methods. So, does it live up to expectations?

In this guide we’re looking at Playground Sessions in full and providing you with a review of the platform, which is quite different to many of the other learning models out there. Instead of starting by teaching you lots of new terms and difficult activities, it actually bases itself around the idea that people who enjoy music have already learned some of the basics just through listening? But does it actually work?

How Does Playground Sessions Work?

You need a subscription to their platform in order to access the course, which is pretty good in terms of compatibility. You can use it in conjunction with your Apple or Windows device with relative ease, and even tablets such as iPads and Windows tablets can run the software.

You connect a keyboard or MIDI-USB enabled digital piano to your computer or your tablet, and this provides a controller for you to work with during the Playground Sessions lessons.

As you may have seen with a number of other online learning platforms, there is a focus on turning things into a game as a method of teaching yourself the piano. This varies from video tutorials and gives you a way to get live feedback on whether or not you are playing correctly. This is exactly what Playground Sessions seeks to do. You can play along to a number of songs and exercises and it will be able to tell you whether or not you are getting it right. It just depends upon having a keyboard or MIDI controller that can link up to the Playground Sessions software.

David Sides – The Guide Behind Playground Sessions

If you do decide to go with Playground Sessions for learning how to play the piano then you are going to get well acquainted with David Sides.

Sides has played music on the piano since he was just 10 years old and he is famous for his cover versions of songs. He’s got hundreds of millions of YouTube views on his cover versions of popular songs, and he is the main instructor throughout the lessons in this software.

David is a good guide, he knows his stuff and he is clear and personable as he guides you through online piano lessons. He is the focus of most of the video content, and this is supplemented with interactive content too. He’s a real virtuoso, so don’t expect to get to David’s levels too quickly, but there is a lot to like about his content.

How to Set Up Playground Sessions

So, what equipment do you need to set up and run Playground Sessions? Interestingly, the makers of the app actually recommend using a 61-key model of MIDI keyboard or other keyboard option. You may already know that this is not the full-size of a piano, so while 61 keys is fine for many, if you want to reach true virtuoso levels then you might consider 88-keys.

The app that runs the lessons can be used on PC or Mac, and on both iPad and some Windows tablets. It is not compatible with all Android tablets. A lot of people use it with their iPad, it’s about the right size to take out and about with you or even sit on top of your keyboard’s music stand.

A MIDI-USB connection is then needed to set up your keyboard and get it communicating with the software. Some of the competing models use the microphone of the device to hear whether or not the music being played is correct, but Playground Sessions relies on having a connection. This is usually fine, but you might have to download a driver and this can be a little bit clunky to set up. Once it is set up, however, it can be a lot more reliable. Microphones sometimes pick up interference or other noise.

Another word of warning when it comes to setting up these lessons. You might assume that once you have downloaded the app, you have all the content within. This is not the case, you need to go into the app and individually download each lesson that you want on there. It’s fine if you are constantly online but if you are doing your lessons somewhere that your iPad or laptop might not be connected this can cause an issue. Ensure you have all the learning materials you need to download in there before you get started.

Pricing

What does it cost to get access to Playground Sessions? This is one of the areas that people often find to be crucial when making their decision of which piano lessons online they go for. There are lots of free video lessons and free sheet music out there so why pay for a course? Well, the interactive nature of something like Playground Sessions can make all the difference.

In terms of pricing, there are options to pay monthly, for a whole year or for a lifetime membership.

Annual membership is $9.99 a month, with the whole year 1 billed upfront at $119.88. If you aren’t sure whether you want to commit for that long, you can go for a monthly membership, billed each month at $17.99. Finally, if you are certain that you are going to stick with the course for a long time then the lifetime membership costs $349.99 and is sometimes on promotion allowing you to access it for the rest of your life for under $300.

This is in line with a lot of the other interactive apps for teaching yourself piano. Our Playground Sessions review doesn’t really have any gripes with the price in general. Within this, you get access to all of their video lessons and even some bonus lessons. However, the access to their songs is the section of their course we take a slight issue with.

Some of the memberships offer 5 free songs per month. This means that you can choose five songs in their library to continue learning each month. These are those you have access to in the form of interactive lessons and playing them within the app can provide you with feedback on how well you are following the sheet music. Five songs to learn each month might sound like a lot, but if you change your mind or find that a few of them are really easy to learn to play then you might want to access more.

With most online courses the full song library within is free, allowing you to play them time after time with no issue, and to keep absorbing new music. For learning piano this app is definitely great, but it would maybe be improved by unlimited access to the song library. This way you won’t get sucked into extra expenses just because you want to learn a new Adele song.

Course Structure

All of the online piano apps and video lessons that help you learn how to play have their own specific structure and slightly different approach. Playground Sessions is quite unique, and it splits its offerings into a few different sections to make it really easy to follow.

Interactive Lessons

This is the first section of Playground Sessions and the main way you learn piano using the app. Interactive lessons allow you to play along with excerpts of famous songs. For instance, there will be a short explanation of a musical concept or something to do with piano learning, and you will then be asked to put this into practice on your keyboard or digital piano. The Playground Sessions software then provides you with feedback based on how well you are playing and whether you are hitting the notes correctly and in time.

If you get something right, the piano on the screen of your iPad or laptop will have green keys flashing up to indicate success. In the app, all the lessons are in the “Bootcamp” section. It’s here where most of the specific lessons can be found and the majority of the playing is done for beginners.

The interactive lessons focus on teaching piano in a way that relies on the knowledge you’ve picked up when listening to music but also teach a lot of the aspects of playing piano by ear first rather than focus on reading music or complex musical terminology. This is ideal for a lot of beginners. Whether it is the best way to learn piano really depends on where you want to eventually go with your music, but it isn’t necessarily aimed at classical pianists, at least not right from the start.

Possibly the very best thing about the lessons within Playground Sessions is the huge amount of control you can have over the learning. You can choose to learn one hand at a time or both hands together, and you can slow down or speed up the songs and lessons to allow you to learn at your pace. This flexibility is undoubtedly one of the best aspects of the interactivity of the lessons, and something other piano lessons don’t give you. With video lessons, you can only take in the information in one specific way. This is fine, but it is good to combine some video with interactivity like this.

The whole interactive section has a bit of a “game” feel to it. If you’ve played something like Rock Band or Guitar Hero then you might know what we’re talking about here.

Video Lessons

We’ve sung the praises of being able to play in an interactive way, but there is a lot to be said for video lessons, too, especially if they are used correctly. Fortunately, Playground Sessions has loads of them.

The video lessons are paired with the interactive lessons. For example, a video of David explaining something about playing the piano or showing you how to play an excerpt from a specific song or songs, which is then accompanied by an interactive lesson and a chance for you to have a go.

Not all of the interactive lessons have a video, but they’re all still pretty well explained and allow you to learn at your own pace, but also not to miss out on important info.

The video lessons notably show a lot of piano playing, and plenty of talking, but don’t have the same level of visual aids that some of the other online piano lessons offer. Be sure to pay close attention so that you don’t miss out on some of the information.

Luckily, the fact that all of the video info is also covered within the other lessons means that you don’t have to worry too much about this. The video tutorials should provide you with a good platform but they aren’t the only bit of the course. There is plenty of other information you can take on board within the structure of Playground Sessions.

Songs

After all the video and interactive lessons come the songs. This is arguably both the strongest aspect of the Playground Sessions course and one of the areas they’ve slipped up, too.

If you buy the lifetime subscription you get access to 40 free songs. If you buy the other subscriptions you get access to 5 free songs each month.

In an ideal world, you would be able to access all of the songs all of the time without having to worry about paying extra. However, if you go over your allowance each month then it will cost another $1.99 per song. It’s not a huge sum of money, especially compared to having a piano teacher come to your home and paying for their time, but it would be better if you could access all the music you wanted.

That said, there are so many good things about the song library.

All of the songs are categorized according to whether they are “easy, moderate or hard” with labels as “Rookie, Intermediate or Advanced” so you will know whether or not the song is at the ability level you can handle. On top of this, some songs have different arrangements with different levels of difficulty.

They all have interactive sheet music, too. This means that you can practice within the awesome system that Playground Sessions provide and see whether or not you are playing the right notes at the right times. When you pay for the music you can actually print out the sheet music, too. This is something that some other apps don’t allow you to do when you are learning how to play the piano. Their sheet music can only be accessed through their own app.

Forum

A forum might feel a little bit “2005” but actually, the Playground Sessions forum is pretty active and does a brilliant job of giving support to the players using the app. A lot of the questions you might have about setup, how to use your digital piano or even other aspects of learning and playing the piano may have been answered within the forum.

You get access to this within your membership and it is worth having a look around, plus, if you feel that there is something you are unsure of, head to the forum for the answers or even ask a question yourself, there are people out there who will take the time to reply to you and give you a bit of help along your piano journey.

Playground Sessions – The Curriculum

The curriculum is what makes up the bulk of the piano learning in any app. Within Playground Sessions it is split into three categories based on ability. This means you can enter at the ability level you are already at (for example, if you already consider yourself an intermediate player). It also means that you can take on more advanced learning as you go through the course.

The three levels of the curriculum are Rookie, Intermediate, and Advanced. Makes sense!

Rookie

The Rookie level can take you from being a total beginner. It has an incredible 80+ different lessons within and even begins with Harry Connick Jr. describing the keyboard, finger numbers, posture, and how to properly use your hands to play the notes of the piano. Another famous endorsement to go along with Quincy Jones.

The other sections of the Rookie “Bootcamp” include learning the notes of the staff, starting to learn simple melodies and grasping some piano exercises. The course starts you off slowly which is pretty good for those who aren’t that confident. It can take a bit of time to get to the point where you are playing full songs. Before this, you learn about changing between chords, rhythms and tempos and much more. Eventually, you get to play some songs, and there’s even an intro to the very simple “Für Elise” by Beethoven, to go with more poppy songs like The Jackson 5.

Intermediate

This level focuses more on triads, introducing both hands and playing along with a backing track. There is a lot of work on playing exercises within popular songs which can keep it really interesting.

As you would expect when you move into the intermediate area there is more of a focus on terminology and some of the more complex aspects such as pedals, and even transitions. The video lessons teach you about triplets and even an incredible trick to learn what chords are in a song just by listening to it.

If you are learning to play the piano by ear, a lot of the videos and classes in this section are going to be the best.

Naturally, there are more songs, both poppy and modern songs and historic classical tunes to learn, so there is a little something for everyone.

Advanced

When you are ready, you can move onto the advanced level. This is where some of the real intricacies of playing the piano kick in. There are only 20 or so lessons in this section, and you are left to your own devices a little more as you learn to play without backing tracks.

You will cover 16th notes, dotted rhythms, arpeggios and even some chord variations. There are also lessons on scales and improvising.

At the end there is the opportunity to learn a load of other songs including the world-renowned “Moonlight Sonata”, this can become something of a party piece.

From here, you’re expected to move mainly onto playing specific songs from their huge library, choosing those that you like and working towards these.

“Courses”

Haven’t we covered that already? Well, on top of the main lessons within, there are a number of additional courses which feature lots of other important and helpful information. Some of these focus on things like music theory which can be easy to bypass otherwise. The courses are a great way to reinforce your knowledge, even if it does feel a bit random that they are not incorporated in with the rest of the sessions.

Playground Session Review – The Pros and Cons

How does Playground Sessions stack up compared to a lot of the other tutorials and apps out there to help you to learn how to play the piano? A simple pros and cons section might be the easiest way to review whether or not this is the software for you, compared to many others on the market such as Yousician and Flowkey. There are bound to be good points and bad points when compared to the competition.

Pros:

  • Playground session has a really good “gamified” feel to it, and there is a competitive element as well as fun scores and a chance to track your progress. It’s good for keeping you interested.
  • The video teachers are fantastic, not only are they famous musicians but they are engaging and do a good job of teaching all those nuanced piano techniques.
  • You can go for a lifetime membership if you wish, it costs more, but this is something that many other apps do not allow.
  • There is a huge amount of sheet music inbuilt and the music you learn is all interactive so that you can track whether you are playing it correctly or not, this is also categorized according to your level of ability so you know the best songs to learn at any particular time on your piano journey.
  • Possibly the most customizable in terms of the lessons. It is the best app we’ve come across for choosing to play with only one hand, combining both, changing timings and customizing the lesson to a method that makes perfect sense to you.

Cons:

  • The maximum number of songs you get included for free each month is five. After this, you need to buy the songs individually which can be a bit annoying.
  • No support for Android devices to use the application.
  • The app doesn’t use the microphone of your device so it isn’t suitable for use with an acoustic piano, or at least, you can’t make use of the interactive content this way.
  • Some of the video content could do with a bit more in the way of visual aids to help people to understand.
  • It isn’t as easy to access a free trial as some of the competing options.

As you can see from our review, there is a lot more to like about Playground Sessions than there is to dislike.

Summary – Is Playground Sessions For You?

If you have a digital piano or a keyboard and you’re relatively tech-savvy, this could be the best app for you to learn how to play. It does an incredible job of allowing you to customize and learn at your own pace as well as take in the “sessions” at the speed you want to.

The only real downside is the fact that you don’t get unlimited access to the songs, and that this can’t be used easily with an acoustic piano. In terms of pricing, it is not cheap, but it is in line with the other similar apps out there, and when you think about the fact that it is significantly cheaper than having someone come and teach you in person, you can see why Playground Sessions would be so popular.

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