Mar 27, 2013

Schoolhouse Review Crew: Adventus

Before we moved here, in our old town, the three older children took piano lessons. Their teacher was a wonderful lady who loved kids, had a master's degree in music, and charged less than anyone else in town. The kids loved their lessons so much that we rarely had any trouble getting them to practice every day. It was an awesome arrangement. So great, in fact, that I considered just what it would cost to travel back every week to continue lessons with her once we moved. But, alas, a four hour drive was too much even for the best piano teacher ever. So, after we moved, I looked around for a new teacher here. But the cost was too much, even for much less quality teachers, and we have not found anyone.
A few weeks ago, we got the opportunity to review a program for music/piano lessons at home. Adventus offered us their homeschool program MusIQ Homeschool software designed to provide music lessons in your own home. I wasn't expecting much at first. I've done online and computer-based programs before for various things, and I didn't have high hopes. However, as I explored the program and as I had the children work their way through the lessons, I became more and more impressed.
In order to use this program, you need a Midi-capable keyboard, an adapter, and a computer. We purchased our inexpensive keyboard about four years ago and I was surprised that it was, indeed, Midi-capable. We had to buy an adapter, but that was cheap and simple. It took my husband (who is more tech-savvy than I) to trouble shoot our way into the computer and keyboard "talking" to one another, but after that, there were no more problems.

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The curriculum is designed to teach children how to play the piano, and to read and write music with seven years' worth of lessons. Children as young as four quickly learn how to play while being exposed to classical music and composers in a fun and engaging way. There are several levels offered, so that no matter what your child's age or skill level, they can start right where they need to. Children 4 to 10 would start with Children's Music Journey which is divided into three levels. If your child is young, begin with level one which goes slowly and has a lot of fun, and positive feedback built in. If your child is a beginner, but is a little older, say seven and up, then start with level two, which begins with a quick but thorough review of level one. This lets them move a little more quickly, but without missing anything important.
Whichever level they are using, they have the same set up:

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They can watch a lesson given by an animated version of a  famous composer. They can practice the skills taught in the lesson. They can play games, which further reinforce the skills taught. They can visit the music library. Or they can practice writing their own music.
 If your child is ten, or has played before, then they should start with the Piano Suite Premier which is taught on a more mature level and can be used all the way up to 18 years of age (or higher, I suppose). This one has four years' worth of lessons and takes the child to the intermediate level of piano skill.

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The child can choose to visit the music library, to do a lesson, to write their own music, to learn about composers and music history, or to play games that reinforce the lessons they have done.

So, how did we use this and what did we think:
Since Kaytie is ten and has had several years of piano lessons, I started her off in Piano Suite and pretty much left her alone to explore and find her balance. She enjoyed the fact that she "already knew" the beginning lessons and was able to do a bit of review and get used to the program without feeling overwhelmed. She was, however, a bit taken aback at how difficult it was to write her own music and a bit daunted by the exactness required from the program. If she wasn't nearly perfect then she was counted wrong and had to do it again. She really enjoyed the games and the fact that she knows her skill is improving. She loves playing the piano and this method really works for her.
Nate and Daniel have both had lessons, but neither have really put themselves into improving their talent the way Kaytie has, and they are only nine and seven, respectively, so I had them start with Children's Music Journey Level two. This was perfect for Daniel, but Nate was irritated that he wasn't learning anything new. I let him skip all of the practicing and just work his way through the lessons until he reached his skill level and then he slowed down.
Abbie started at the beginning, because she had never had any sort of lessons at all and she is only six. She and I both felt the slow, simple, fun beginning was just perfect for her. She started with high notes and low notes and quickly learned how to find them on the keyboard and made up a "song" that "magically" appeared in her practice session. She was pleased. :)
Personally, I was very much impressed by Adventus. I am no longer looking for a piano teacher. In return for this review, we have access to this program for a year, but as soon as that year is up, we will be definitely be investing in this program. Purchasing the bundles (you can see all your options for Children's Music Journey or Piano Suite) is a bit of an investment, but considering that we would be paying $200 plus a month for all of our kids to take lessons, this is really an incredible deal. Especially since you can use it with as many kids as you like. Each child has their own profile in the program and there is no limit to how many profiles you can set up. And if you just want to check it out, you can try the monthly subscription for $10.95 a month (which does not include the lesson plans).
Aside from the price, there were many things to love about this program. I feel that the piano teacher we had was top notch, she had a master's degree and 30+ years of experience teaching, combined with an incredible love for kids, and I felt this program taught the kids on that same level. With the added benefits of:
 a lower price-tag;  the convenience of all the lessons being in the dining room so I didn't have to sit and entertain kids in a waiting room for two hours a week; and, the best part, their "teacher" was present for not only every lesson, but for every practice session. See, I know a tiny little bit about playing the piano, but not very much, and when the kids were taking lessons, there were many times that they would sit down to practice at home and they would have a question or had forgotten the exact instructions so they either had to wait a week or practice it wrong until they saw the teacher again. But with Adventus, their practice sessions are corrected. If they hit the wrong key, or mess up the timing, or make any sort of mistake, the program stops them, tells them the mistake and has them redo it. It's like having your piano teacher sit right beside you every single time you practice.
And finally, another thing that I liked was the heavy emphasis on classical music. Several minutes of famous pieces are played before and after every lesson, so that the child is exposed to the complexities of classical music. This is done not only to build appreciation for more complex music, but also to build creativity when they go to write their own music in the program.
All in all, I loved this curriculum and am so happy that we were able to review it. My poor husband has had to listen to me rave on and on about how perfect this is for us and how awesome it is until I think he could have written this review himself! But you don't have to just take my word for it, check out other reviews on from the Review Crew here on the blog.

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