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3 note ratingReview of PBJ Basics Of Keyboard Theory




BJ Basics of Keyboard Theory helps younger students to solidify various music theory concepts in a fun and interactive manner. The software provides a wide variety of games that focus on numerous areas of music theory, ranging from primary to average fourth-year level, making it a useful tool for a studio catering to those in their first years of piano study. While PBJ Basics of Keyboard Theory could place greater emphasis on ear-training and notation skills, it constitutes a worthwhile supplement to studio computer lab activities.



Screen shot of PBJ Basics of Keyboard TheoryPBJ Basics of Keyboard Theory is available in both a demo version that can be downloaded at the manufacturer's web site, as well as the full commercial version that is reviewed here. The program does not come as a single set for all levels, but must instead be purchased and installed separately, with the first set of exercises encompassing Primary through Level Two, and the second set covering Levels Three and Four. This IBM complete 4-set version came on 6 floppies (also available on CD-ROM) which were easily installed under Windows 95. A Mac version for System 7 is available separately. 

The installation and setup are both fairly simple procedures and self-explanatory. I had no problems with the sound and graphics working right when I started the program, and had no need to reconfigure MIDI settings—a difficulty I have experienced with some other programs. A MIDI-compatible keyboard is not required or used by this program. Although there was a ‘glitch' that occurred in the program for Levels Three through Four, the manufacturer supplied an updated version to correct this problem, after which I encountered no further mishaps. Despite the fact that the program is written in Toolbook, a Windows programming system known for its slowness, PBJ Basics of Keyboard Theory ran quite smoothly and quickly on my computer with 32 Mb RAM and a 166 MHz Pentium processor.

When PBJ Basics of Keyboard Theory starts, the player is given an option of what level to enter, followed by another menu that provides a list of theory concepts to work on. Primary through Level Two focuses on note identification, half and whole steps, major and minor five finger positions and triads, beginning level signs and terms, some major scales, primary triads and cadences, basic time signatures and a general analysis of repetition and sequence in music. Levels Three through Four encompass the recognition of key signatures in all major keys, key signatures in some of the basic minors, major and minor scales, major, minor and Perfect intervals, dominant 7th chords, signs and terms for beginning and intermediate levels, primary and secondary triads and cadences, major, minor and diminished triads, inversions of major and minor triads, more difficult time signatures, and an analysis of more difficult repetition, sequence and imitation in music.

Once a category of exercises is chosen, the appropriate game then opens with the first question posed. All the games are easy to play, entailing no more than either clicking on the correct answer or dragging and dropping an answer into the correct place on the screen. The games themselves revolve around a wide variety of familiar themes, such as sports, travel, shopping, and science, to name a few. For example, in a basic interval recognition game, the player drags a dart containing the interval to the correct representation of it on a staff in separated balloons. When correct, the balloon, complete with sound effects, pops. Another game concerning the recognition of various accidentals involves the player dragging a football containing a named sharp to its correct position on a keyboard that has been made to look like a football field. In yet another game with a more ‘scientific' setting, the player is asked to recognize triads and their inversions to save the laboratory rats from an infestation of poison (see screen shot above); the fifth wrong answer results in a message which informs the student that s/he has "inhaled a lethal dose of poison gas. If, by some miracle, you should recover, please try this task again. My condolences." There are ‘Play again' and ‘Menu' buttons available in most of the games so that the player can decide to start over or exit a game at any time.

Help buttons are readily available for all of the games, with simple, easy to follow directions explaining how the games are to be played. These are more a tool for a player to grasp the presentation of the games than for a teacher or parent to understand use of the program.  PBJ Basics of Keyboard Theory does not provide significant guidelines or tips in either the Help files or the manual for how the program can be incorporated properly into a student's training. PBJ Basics of Keyboard Theory could benefit from the addition of guidelines, either in manual or the Help files, on proper use of the program by teachers and parents.

There are some other weaknesses in PBJ Basics of Keyboard Theory. The first is its minor emphasis on notation-related games, relegated only to the writing of one octave scales and a couple of interval notation-style dilemmas. The second is its limited provision of ear-training games, as well as corresponding sounds for assorted scales, intervals or other theory concepts being presented. Overall, the progression from Primary to Level Four moves smoothly, although a few concepts are introduced too early for some students in the Primary grade to follow, e.g. ledger line notes and minor five-finger patterns. Although PBJ Basics of Keyboard Theory does provide a wide variety of games, several are limited to only one round of play, preventing the user from continuing a game at the same difficulty level, but with different questions being posed. Thus, a student may simply memorize the pattern presented in a given game and lose the benefit of recognizing concepts on a more random basis. Some of my students also had difficulty with the short keyboard, which consisted of only one octave, presented in the accidentals football game. The beginning students who were used to seeing a full keyboard had some problem recognizing the last key of this limited graphic representation, which I believe would not have occurred if there were at least two octaves for them to visualize. PBJ Basics of Keyboard Theory could benefit greatly from the addition of an on-line tracking feature where both the student and the teacher could keep a record of games and scores completed so that progress could be monitored and problem areas identified.

Overall, I found PBJ Basics of Keyboard Theory to be a beneficial program in its focus on the recognition of assorted theory concepts in a fun, interactive, and non-intimidating manner. Although it does advance to a fairly intermediate level, the games themselves seem somewhat juvenile in appearance to older beginners (Junior high school and above). The lack of ear-training games and sparse notation-type activities weakens it, requiring the teacher to find other software to cover these areas. The program's list price of nearly $90 for both sets of exercises makes it a rather expensive package in light of the features it lacks. However, for the teacher looking for a fun, easy-to-use program oriented toward young beginners who enjoy all the ‘bells and whistles' that come with such interactive computer games, I would  recommend this program as a worthwhile supplement to lab activities.

Jennifer Olson

PBJ Basics of Keyboard Theory, Version 1.2.  List prices: Levels Prep-Two $49.95, Levels Three-Four $39.95. PBJ Music Publications, 5062 Siesta Lane, Yorba Linda, CA 92886. Phone: (714) 961-0257, E-mail: System requirements: Windows 95/3.1 or later, 8 MB RAM, 4 MB hard disk space, MIDI-compatible soundcard, color monitor. For Mac: System 7 or later, 8 MB RAM, 4 MB hard disk space, color monitor.
Page created: 10/14/98
Last updated: 01/30/15
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Reprinting from the Piano Education Page The Piano Education Page, Op. 10, No. 1,
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