Sunday, March 24, 2013

Review: Adventus MusIQ Homeschool

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Music is very important to me. It is so powerful, and I want it to be a big part of the life of my children as well. When I was given the opportunity to review MusIQ Homeschool from Adventus through The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew, I was extremely excited! Looking over the vendor's website, I could hardly wait to get my hands on this program. It seemed almost too good to be true.
The girls have taken piano along with other instruments for pretty much their whole lives! They really enjoy it, and it has given them the opportunity to be involved in many different events. (Of course, it helps to have a grandma who is a music teacher!) We have tried to give them a lot of exposure to music, because we have often heard it said that the way to develop a good "musical ear" was to listen to good music from a young age.

Let me tell you a little bit about this program, and how we have been using it.
First of all, MusIQ Homeschool has 7 years of piano instruction curriculum, spanning about 20 levels, in the full course. It will take a student from a beginner who knows nothing about music to an advanced intermediate level of piano playing if they systematically progress through the levels.
Children begin in the program called Children's Music Journey which is recommended for ages 4-10.  This program actually has three levels. If the child has never had any exposure to music or is very young, it is suggested to start them on Level 1. The levels do overlap somewhat, from what I have seen. Since the girls have already had quite a bit of piano instruction, I started them on Level 2. Even though Melissa is 11, I thought she would enjoy the animated children's version more than Piano Suite Plus which is suggested for ages 10 and up. (I have been working through Piano Suite Plus myself, and I will tell you about that in a few paragraphs!)
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This software can be purchased as a CD or as a download. We received the download with all components of the program, including an Ear Training Coach Program. You can also purchase a subscription which can be renewed monthly.
To make this work, you have to have the following (taken from the Adventus website):
Adventus does sell several inexpensive keyboards that work well with the program, and can also be bundled together with the software for a discount.

MusIQ Homeschool is not just piano instruction. It also includes theory training, music appreciation (listening to great composers and their pieces), some beginning composing and improvising, and A LOT of interaction. It has won an impressive list of awards from a wide variety of homeschool and education groups.
About Children's Music Journey 2, specifically:
For a short overview video, please click above.

Level 2 began around what would be lesson 26-30 on Level 1. It also moves the child along at a slightly faster pace than Level 1. There is a little bit of 'review' at the beginning, but the children found it very interesting and I wanted them to adapt and learn the program before moving on to challenging music instruction, so we found the simple review concepts to be helpful. By the time they got the program down, and figured out the progression of the lesson time/practice time/games, they had moved on to things that were a little more challenging to them.
We did have a little bit of trouble in the beginning with setting up the program and keyboard initially. It was not a simple "plug in and play" procedure like it is listed on the website, which would have been great. Instead there were a few quirks that actually were worked out pretty easily, even for a non-techy person like me. We are using the M-Audio KeyRig 49e which is available for purchase from Adventus for $114.95 by itself, if you do not bundle it with software. After downloading the programs, I could not get any of them to recognize the keyboard. I went searching for answers, and was able to find a file that I needed to update on my computer to make it all work. After that fix, we were ready to start using the program. Adventus has a lot of tech support available, with a live chat option, as well as email and toll free phone options.
One thing that is pretty neat about Children's Music Journey is that multiple children can create user accounts on it, and the program will recognize each individual user, keeping track of their progress. Another feature that I really liked is that the children have to complete their lesson first, before the games will unlock and become available to them. This keeps everyone honest! :-)  As they demonstrate mastery, more games are unlocked and become available to play.
Adventus also has manuals available with absolutely wonderful daily and weekly lesson plans all laid out! Even if you are not musical, you will find it very easy to give your children a very well rounded musical education by just following the instructions.  The manuals are not included with the monthly subscription, but can be purchased separately. They are included with the purchase of the software CD.
I received the manual as a pdf file, and printed it out and bound it, so that I could easily use it to refer to while the children were doing the lessons.
A typical lesson will look like this:

If you are following the lesson plans in the manual, you will start with some teaching time, where you review the previous lesson and perhaps play a short game. You can discuss the composer who taught the last lesson, and see if your child remembers the name of the piece that was played. You can also sign into the program and go to the Music Library, where you can select the composer and listen to the piece together.

The lessons are taught by animated versions of famous composers in music history. They will talk a little bit about themselves, and then perhaps one of their famous works. The first 'teacher' in Level 2 is Antonin Dvorak. One thing I enjoyed was that he talked about a certain musical pattern that was used in one of his famous pieces, then the children actually played that pattern during the lesson time. The piece was then played so that they could have an opportunity to listen to it in its entirety, and specifically listen for the small pattern that they just learned. Both the girls reacted the same way - they easily picked up and were able to play the pattern, then carefully listened for it when the piece was played. As soon as they heard it, they got a great big smile on their face and started saying "I hear it, I hear it" and were humming along!

Kelly was very excited when she moved on to a new teacher, but with the music library available, she can still go in there and pick out the Dvorak piece and listen to it any time she wants to.

After completing the lesson, which usually took around 5-7 minutes, students head over to the practice room, where they review the concepts learned, and work towards mastery. Only after logging their practice time can the girls go to the game area and play the games.

Following their computer time, and on subsequent days before they do the next lesson, there are worksheets which can be used to reinforce the concepts, and also to help the students with their music theory studies. Sample worksheets can be seen on the MusIQ blog of teacher resources.

Another fun area - probably where the girls spent most of their time, actually - was the Improvisation Room, which features a selection of instruments and background music to choose from. Students can have free time on the keyboard, experimenting with various sounds and recording the pieces they create. The girls really enjoyed being able to record their songs and play them back for me to hear. In fact, they also played songs that they have already learned on the big piano, just to hear how they sounded "in different instruments". The Improvisation Room is laying the foundation for composing music someday, as the girls gain a better understanding of how music works.

I love how positive the correction is. When a mistake is made, the teacher's voice will say "careful" in such a way that the child knows they didn't play the right note. They are then given the opportunity to play it again. The lessons don't move ahead unless the concepts are somewhat mastered. Kelly got caught up in wanting to get to the next level, and rushed through one of the lessons and practice times. She then told me that she had to 'repeat' it because she went too fast and wasn't careful enough.

I felt the program received a rousing endorsement from Grandma the music teacher, who was watching over the shoulder one day while one of the girls was doing a lesson. She complimented the program on how interactive it was! It requires almost constant input from the child, so they are not able to drift off, and miss something important. Even the "lesson time" is short and interesting, and has some interactive features to keep the child engaged.

About Piano Suite Premier, specifically:

I took piano lessons at several different points in my life. As a young teen I took lessons, then gave up in frustration. I tried again as a young adult, and ran into the same kind of problems. I understand music and the way it works, but for some reason I have a total disconnect in my brain when I get to a certain level in piano playing. I cannot, for the life of me, play a song with both hands together. I can do one hand or the other, but give me something just a little complicated, and a step above 'chord with left hand and melody with right' and it just ends in frustration.

I started on the lowest level of Piano Suite Premier because I am interested to find out what I missed along the way. My hope is that if I find and fill in the gaps, I will be able to overcome my musical mental block and actually play some songs on the piano! I would absolutely LOVE to be able to have enough skill to accompany the girls when they sing. Or to be available to help play the piano if there is a need somewhere. Or....just play for my own personal enjoyment! The piano is such a lovely instrument!

The first block of lessons was all music theory instruction, which would prepare a new student to be able to sit down and read basic music to begin their piano lessons. While it was very informative, there was no new information there, so I ended up skipping most of it. I started on the first basic lessons that had actual note/song playing.

I have to say that Piano Suite Premier makes SO much sense! Adventus thought of everything when they made this program. It doesn't have any of the animated frills of the Children's program, and it also moves you along pretty quickly, so it definitely is the right choice for an older student. (The company suggests it for ages 10 to adult).

With each lesson, there is a series of short sound clips with illustrations, then a practice (interactive) page. You can easily go forwards and backwards with the use of big arrows. If you wish to proceed you can, but if you need to hear a concept again, or feel the need to practice a bit more on something, that is your choice as well.

At the bottom of the practice piece, there are choices as to how you would like to practice. You can choose left hand, right hand, or both. You can also choose whether the computer will give you metronome sounds or not, and what speed you would like the metronome to play.  You can choose to follow the notes as they light up, or play at your own pace. Basically, you can customize your session to whatever works best for you! I absolutely love that! I experimented with a few different methods to see what I liked best. I also turned the metronome waaaay down when I was making too many mistakes, so that I could master the practice exercise at a slow pace before trying it faster.

After playing each piece, the computer gives you instant written feedback on which measures needed improvement (specifically what notes were played wrong, and what timing was off). It gives you a percentage grade on how well you did. At first, I got a lot of mistakes listed, and some very low grades, but I noticed that as I kept working on the practice exercises, things greatly improved and I even got some 100% grades! Yay!!

Piano Suite Premier has the same concept of games being unlocked by the completion of lesson and practice times. I have not fully explored all the features yet, since I was really focusing on the girls' use of Children's Music Journey for this review, but it seems like there is a ton of music appreciation pieces and music history, and I was able to see that Piano Suite Premier has a huge library of famous pieces available for practice. You can select a piece based on what level you are on in the program. I entered "Level 1" and was given a diverse list of simple pieces that I was actually able to play fairly well on my first attempt. Of course, that was very encouraging and I can't wait to have a turn at the keyboard again to challenge myself to some other pieces.

Although I didn't need it for myself, I wanted to point out that the program also offers a way for the parent/teacher to view or print progress reports for each student. It gives percentage grades and keeps close tabs on what was completed, and how well it was completed. There is NO extra bookwork or record keeping for the teacher - it is already available on the program.

I really look forward to working through this program myself as time allows, and somewhere down the line, I will post a follow up to this review to let you know how my piano playing journey is progressing!

How to Purchase the Program:

First, I love that Adventus offers a free one week trial for you to download and inspect the program for yourself.

Then you can either purchase the entire program (all 7 years worth of software) or you can also just purchase the level that you need. I guess it would depend on how many children of various ages would be using it. (or if mom and dad want to jump in and try some piano lessons too!)

Adventus also offers a monthly subscription of complete program access for $10.95 or a bundle of all the software for $319.70. I know this sounds like a lot, but if you consider what lessons cost (typically $10-20 a lesson per student) over the course of a year (even at $10 a lesson that is well over $500 and that is just one child!) plus gas in the car, and the travel and waiting time, it adds up to quite a bit of savings!

What I most love about this program is that we can fit it into our schedule, when it's convenient for us, and we can get a thorough lesson and practice session in. We don't have to leave the house to do it, and we have no travel time or expense. This is very important for busy homeschoolers! We are more likely to stick with music lessons that don't completely disrupt a day of other homeschool lessons and activities!

My recommendation:

I could not find anything in the program that I didn't like! I think it is WELL worth the price, and I think it is very thorough. It seems like the creators of this program have thought of EVERYTHING! I am so pleased that we are reviewing it, and I look forward to using it even more in our homeschool. The girls love it and ask often when they can do their keyboard on the computer. The novelty did not wear off. Any curriculum or schoolwork that inspires the children to ask when they can do it next is typically considered a success in my book. Rather than nagging the kids to practice, instead I find myself having to limit their time and telling them that they have to get off the keyboard now, to let someone else have a turn, or to get back to other activities. It has also been a great motivator, ie "When you're done with _____ you may do your piano lesson on the computer!" It's pretty funny when a child sits down to the computer to work on something educational, and you have to tell them, "Now you may only do one lesson today!"

As you can see, the girls were inspired by this program! Not only did it get them taking lessons on the computer and using the keyboard interactively with the computer, but it also seemed to stir extra interest in playing the big piano as well. They have logged quite a bit more piano practice time since starting this program.

To find out what other members of The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew thought of this program, please click the banner below:
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  1. Hi Erica! I was SO THRILLED to see you were on the crew! I am also! :) My husband (Greg Owen) and I are good friends of Mike & Michelle Ilardo. I just became a member of the Crew this year and am still adjusting to the review style and guidelines. You write FANTASTIC reviews! So happy to see a nice review of this curriculum. Blessings to you and your family! :)

  2. Oh how cool!!!! Yes, I remember meeting you. Thanks for stopping by and saying hi. I'll check out your blog. :-)


Thanks for sharing your thoughts!