Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Kinderbach....piano lessons for pre-schoolers!

It is a standing rule in our house that you must be 8 years old before you can receive any formal instruction in music. I suppose my opinion on this matter is a bit hypocritical since once upon a time I begged my grandmother, a professional music teacher, to give me piano lessons at the tender age of four. She tried to fend me off, but eventually caved to the pressure as any grandmother would. Like a firecracker on the fourth of July, however, my piano education was short-lived and I will forever blame my youth as the reason I so quickly lost interest.

Sometimes, as the saying goes, “rules are made to be broken”. Kinderbach Learning Center, a web-based keyboard instruction curriculum, is designed to teach children aged 2-7. Lessons are provided through video, printable activity pages and games with great appeal for the pre-school set.

Kinderbach video lessons are very engaging reminding me of an episode of “Blues Clues”. Kari Gregor, creator and founder of Kinderbach, acts as the teacher standing in the midst of a cartoon room. Cartoon characters, “Frisco”, a young boy, and “Dodi”, a donkey, introduce various musical concepts, and locations of notes on the keyboard as early as Lesson 1. The mix of cartoon life and real people drew my young ones into each lesson. Four year old Aidan adored hunting down all the pairs of black keys on our piano that in his mind were simply the locations of “Dodi’s house”; a game provided in Lesson 4 of Kinderbach.

Parents interested in Kinderbach may use the site free of charge for the first two weeks. Those wishing to continue can for a fee of $14.95 a month or $85.95 yearly. Membership to the site gives you access to 60 weeks or two school years of instruction. According to Gregor, the lessons cover “the topics of piano, music theory, note reading, rhythm, ear training, hand position and much more.”

As I logged onto the website for the first time, a short instructional video immediately popped up. I easily came to understand all the symbols, options and concepts of the site. The first game of Lesson 1, “High and Low” designed to help children recognize the concept that some notes have a high sound and some have a low sound, brought forth lots of giggles from my daughter Sierra, age 7 and son Aidan.

Each weekly lesson included with Kinderbach consists of four parts with instruction being provided through individual videos. Children or parents have the opportunity to print off fun activity pages and crafts related to the topics discussed in the lesson. We saved all of these papers in a three ring binder, creating a keepsake notebook to review as often as desired. The total time to complete all four components of the weekly lesson for us was about 20-30 minutes. This made it possible to complete an entire lesson during one sitting if desired.

I am a hard sell when it comes to music instruction and I discovered I had a few criticisms as we worked through the first four lessons. The music we heard was all generated by a keyboard synthesizer. While the sound quality was fine to the untrained ear of a pre-school child, I couldn’t help but think how much nicer it would be to have full rich tones of a stringed piano or more traditional instrument. Secondly, one of the theme songs contained lyrics that were unintelligible over the instrumental sounds. I felt since this was a curriculum dedicated to music instruction the music and lyrics should be a bit sharper as they came across my computer.

Aidan and Sierra loved the lessons we tried. They eagerly ran to the computer when I told them it was time to complete each “piano lesson”. Aidan especially enjoyed the video instruction even talking back to Kari, on occasion, when asked a question. The coloring and craft exercises were also a big hit. “I just like them. I like coloring and printing out the papers!”, remarked Aidan.

In addition to the on-line instruction, Kinderbach offers Kinderbach at Home, a DVD option of the same program offered through the website. There are many different options to purchasing Kinderbach at Home with the most economical being the entire Year 1 (lessons 1-60) collection of 6 instructional DVD’s, 6 activity e-books, 6 audio CD’s, 4 songbooks in e-book format and 4 corresponding audio CD’s for $217.75. Individual songbooks, containing music for 15-16 songs, are available on the Kinderbach website too for $21.95.

I asked Sierra what she thought of the Kinderbach lessons and her response was, “I like them. I like learning about the piano. I like seeing Dodi’s house on the piano”.

In an effort to advocate for all pre-school musicians hoping for piano lessons Aidan gave Kinderbach one final recommendation. “I love it because it’s very sweet and because we could do it day after day after day. It makes my heart so happy!” Who can argue that?

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