Digital keyboard sales are fast overtaking those of their conventional wood and metal counterparts. Advances in sound sampling and weighted actions mean they can no longer be considered a cheap alternative to the real thing. It's no coincidence that two of the most successful digital piano manufacturers, Yamaha and Kawai, also make concert grands.
Keyboard Coach is a software tuition program that recognises this change. The program has five levels, incorporating 25 modules and more than 150 lessons. In level one, students are taken through the basics of setting up keyboard-to-computer MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) connections and familiarising themselves with the sort of controls - rhythm, chords, tempo - that come with electronic keyboards. If you get into difficulties with MIDI, software developer Charanga provides telephone support. There is also a crash course in music reading with explanations of terms such as leger lines.
Levels two to five introduce a selection of musical styles and encourage users to play along to a range of tunes with rhythm backing.
Lesson material is a good mix of more than 50 video-clips, aural and visual training, on-screen cues, printed music and a "keyboard roll" that identifies the note positions on screen.
Mark Burke, publishing director of Charanga, suggests there are five strands to the learning: "Students learn how the keyboard's features work; they learn to read music and develop good hand skills; they learn to play songs by a process of copying and listening, and they build up hand co-ordination. Finally, they learn to play different keyboard parts - lead lines, solos, string and rhythm accompaniment - in a 'real band'
The key to the success of this program is the choice of material. Many children give up the piano between the ages of 10 and 13 because it's not cool. They may not enjoy playing an exclusively classical repertoire and wish to learn something more contemporary. By showing them how to play in a virtual band environment, reinforcing the aural learning tradition and providing them with some catchy pop tunes, Keyboard Coach gives aspiring musicians a useful set of tools.
On completion of the five levels, students won't necessarily have the digital dexterity or sight-reading ability to take on more advanced piano pieces, such as those for grade two piano. And Keyboard Coach is not intended to replace individual tuition. But, as music teachers will know, personal direction in class is not always possible, and if Keyboard Coach encourages children to keep playing and to make and enjoy music with others it will have performed an invaluable function.
HJ Keyboard Coach costs pound;40Tel: 0808 0048 482www.keyboardcoach.com