The enormous success of the video game "Rock Band" has one clear lesson — music (and perhaps anything) is more fun to learn if it’s a game. That's the philosophy of a new iPad app, "JoyTunes Piano Dust Buster," that was announced today.
Of course, some games have their own complexity, which adds yet another barrier to learning to play. But the game aspect of "Dust Buster" is amazingly simple -- essentially "Rock Band" with a "Space Invaders" twist.
In the basic version, with an on-screen touch keyboard, you swat at little creatures as they descend by playing the piano key on which they are about to land. In a more advanced version, you smack the critters when they slide along as notes on the music staff, so you get a sense of where A4 or D#5 is in music notation, for example.
For more advanced play, you can use the "Real Piano" mode, in which the app acts as an accompaniment to an actual piano or electric keyboard. The invaders still drop toward the notes or slide along the staff. But you play on the real keyboard, and the app uses the iPad's microphone to recognize whether you have played the right note.
Bonus: The games are very brief, so you could even get in a little practice while on the subway or in the waiting room.
Being music illiterate, I was an ideal test case. And I did find it a very easy and fun way to at least get some idea of how music notation and the piano keyboard work.
But what's with the name "Dust Buster"? The notion is that you are cleaning off that dusty piano that you haven't played in ages. The critters you swipe at represent germs, and your character is an old woman with a feather duster. OK, here's the problem. What kid would want to identify with an old lady? And especially, what little boy would? And beyond that, the name "Piano Dust Buster" is not quite self-explanatory. People might never bother to find out what it is.
Get past that, though, and it's rather fun — whether you or your kid is trying to master the piano, or just learn a little while playing a simple game.
" Piano Dust Buster " is free in the App Store. It includes 23 songs in all. The first few, such as "Mary's Little Lamb" and "Frere Jacques," can be played immediately. As players progress, they unlock access to more advanced pieces, including "Ode to Joy" and "La Bamba."