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5 note ratingReview of the Piano Discovery System

 

 

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he Miracle Piano Teaching System is a classic whose hardware and software is a little long in the tooth. Jump! Music has obtained the rights to the Miracle and performed a welcome and thorough update on both the hardware and the software. The result is the Piano Discovery System. More than just an update, the Piano Discovery System builds on the solid pedagogy of the Miracle and adds new features that take advantage of the greater power of today's computers. Teachers, parents, and students will find a lot to like in the Piano Discovery System. This review discusses our evaluation of version 2.02 of the software; a review of version 3.0 of the Piano Discovery System is also available on The Piano Education Page

 

keyinfo.gif (1045 bytes)As far as we have been able to determine, Jump Music, the publisher of the Piano Discovery System, is no longer in business. PDS is still available from some third party suppliers, so we will maintain the review in the near future. Be advised that support is no longer available for PDS. However, we have recently found a tech support archive for JumpMusic products at web.archive.org. Owners of the PDS systems can consult this for help.

keyinfo.gif (1045 bytes)PDS 3.0 exhibits a font problem with Windows XP and Windows 2000. A fix for this is available and is reviewed on another page on the site.

 

The Piano Discovery System, like the Miracle, comes as a hardware/software bundle that includes a small MIDI-compatible keyboard, a cable to hook the keyboard to the joystick port on your sound card (Gamers, relax! The PDS has a built-in pass-through port for your joystick.), and the software on CD-ROM. Since the new configuration uses the sound card and computer speakers for sound output, speakers are not built into the keyboard, as in the Miracle. The resulting PDS keyboard is smaller, lighter, and has a built in carrying handle. Unlike the Miracle, if you want a pedal, you have to buy it separately, although the keyboard has a connector for it. The original Miracle came with 50 lessons; the Piano Discovery System divides a more extensive set of lessons into Years 1, 2 and 3. The Year 1 and 2 lessons come in the package; the Year 3 lessons are available separately. For this review, we examined all the available lessons.

Once the keyboard is connected to the sound card, installation is done using a Windows 95 style installation program, which in our hands went forward without problems on our Windows 95 system and required only minor sound driver tweaking on our Windows 3.11 system. You'll want to check the hardware requirements below carefully before you buy; the 8 Mb RAM requirement is one that some of the oldest systems might have trouble meeting. Then again, the Piano Discovery System might just be the perfect reason to increase your system's memory! The PDS also requires a sound card capable of simultaneous WAV and MIDI input (not all are).

After you've logged in as either an adult or child student, you are taken to Discovery Island, a theme park metaphor in which you can go to different buildings to experiment with the musical ideas in each building, or go straight away to the heart of Discovery Island, the Schoolhouse, to begin the business of learning to play the piano. In the Schoolhouse, you will learn to play the new pieces and follow the chapters/lessons connected with the new pieces. This system uses updated versions of the same arcade-style learning games as the Miracle System to spice up the learning experience and work on finger training. The graphics in these games are greatly improved, but we found the games to move slower. Perhaps this is due to the overhead of the Windows 95 operating system, although our test system with 16 Mb of RAM should be only minimally affected by the greater memory requirements of Windows 95.

The first and most noticeable improvement you will notice from the Miracle system is that the chapters now have narrators to explain the lessons in more detail, provide more historical and structural information on each individual piece of music, and gently tell you if you need to improve on certain aspects of your playing as you practice each lesson of the chapter. We found the narrators to be helpful and the information to be correct and insightful. The introduction of narrators is great for the younger ones using the system, especially if their reading skills in English are not highly developed yet. This feature is a great advantage of the Piano Discovery System, especially for teachers, since it's no longer necessary to sit with students who have trouble reading the computer screens. Even the adult student who has had a bad day and doesn't feel up to doing a lot of reading will find the narrators helpful.

Continuing our tour of Discovery Island, the Practice Bungalow is there if a specific piece of music is giving you particular trouble. Inside the Bungalow, you can practice either the piece of music from the chapter in the Schoolhouse or tackle other pieces of music directly related in degree of difficulty to the Schoolhouse chapter. When working in the Practice Bungalow, the student can choose from hands separate practice, or hands together, and can also adjust the speed at which to practice the particular piece of music.

The Discovery Studios are a great place to hear prerecorded pieces of music, or load, play and edit other MIDI songs you might have on disk. You can also select instruments, record, and compose. On the Jam Stage, the student can play along with a band and record his performance. This is great for all users, but especially those who haven't had too many lessons yet, because you can still sound great.

Once you have successfully learned all the lessons for the individual chapter, you are the featured soloist in the Discovery Island Performance Hall. This is where you will find one of the most interesting improvements in the software. The orchestra still accompanies you when performing the finished piece of music, but after the piece of music is finished, the screen shows the audience applauding the performer, and a newspaper review also appears. This review will give a summation of the student's performance, and if it is not such a great performance, will gently suggest ways to improve it. Just for fun we did a perfectly awful performance; the lack of enthusiasm of the applauding audience was apparent, though they didn't boo us. Obviously, they're polite connoisseurs! This Discovery Island Performance Hall was both fun and a great learning experience.

The Piano Discovery System introduces a division between levels of difficulty into three graduated levels. Particularly exciting was the wonderful expansion of repertoire and pedagogy in the Level Three grouping. The repertoire included music by Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Bach, and in addition to teaching the repertoire, spent a good amount of time discussing form and analysis, structure and other compositional and historical aspects of the pieces of music. At least at this level, the PDS corrects one of the major shortcomings of the Miracle Piano Teaching System by adding these new topics.

The Piano Discovery System can be customized to the user's wishes to a much greater extent than its predecessor. We particularly appreciated the improvement in the metronome setting feature, which has the option of choosing from different timbres of sound for the metronome, ranging from a sharp clacking sound to a more mellow tam-tam sound. Similarly, you can disable the narration if necessary. However, you'll lose a lot of additional information if you do so.

If you have a Miracle system and would like to update to the new Piano Discovery System software, you can buy a special version that includes a MIDI cable to connect to your existing Miracle keyboard. Unfortunately, there is currently no provision for import of Miracle progress files into the PDS, so you will lose your progress records in the upgrade. This will be of little impact to individual users but may cause teachers some headaches. We understand that conversion capability is being considered for the next upgrade of the software, so stay tuned for additional developments.

Piano Discovery System maintains the strong points of the Miracle System, but improves upon it in many ways. Although the graphics might be geared towards younger users, we believe users of all ages will find it fun and helpful. We hope that provision will made in a future version for importing Miracle progress files. We highly recommend the Piano Discovery System to other teachers, parents and students; it retains pedagogical soundness while introducing new and valuable features over its predecessor.

Nancy Ostromencki and John Zeigler

The Piano Discovery System, Version 2.02. List Price: $249.99 (with keyboard). Year 3 lessons: $49.99 ea. Miracle compatible version of PDS with one year and a MIDI cable for Miracle users only is $69.99 direct from Jump. PDS with three years and a MIDI cable for Miracle users only is $139.99 direct from Jump. Jump Software, 201 San Antonio Circle, Suite 172, Mountain View, CA 94040 Phone: 1-415-917-7460. WWW: Jump! Music: http://www.jumpmusic.com/. Required Hardware: 486/33 or higher, 10 Mb hard disk space (25 Mb recommended), 8 Mb RAM, 2X CD-ROM or faster, Windows 3.1 or Windows 95, Super VGA monitor, mouse, sound card (Sound Blaster Pro or compatible with MIDI capability under Windows). A Macintosh version is also available.
 
 
 
 
Page created: 7/13/96
Last updated: 01/07/14
 
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Reprinting from the Piano Education Page The Piano Education Page, Op. 9, No. 2, http://pianoeducation.org
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