KinderBach (Crew Review)
Our family has chosen to make music an important part of our children’s education from an early age, so I was happy to be given the chance to review The KinderBach Online Piano Lesson Membership with Teacher Corner over the last six weeks. This one-year online membership currently costs $95.88 (regularly $130), which breaks down to $7.99 per month. In other words, KinderBach has made it easy to start teaching piano to young children at home for far less money than it would cost to take private lessons. The lessons are laid out so that even parents with no prior musical knowledge or experience can teach their children (and learn alongside them!) with ease.
Since Ian (age 6) already has over two years of lessons behind him (and even the Level 6 sessions were teaching things he already knew), I decided that Elijah (age 4) would be my main student as we went through the program. Arianna (2) also participated in many of the activities, and Ian often chose to join us because he didn’t want to be left out of the fun the other two were having. It was helpful for him to review certain concepts. (Elijah has also started music lessons, but because it’s so new to him and because this material was presented in such a different way, it was a good complement to what he is already learning.) I saw musical growth in all three kids as a result of going through the program, especially in Elijah.
Components of the KinderBach program
The KinderBach website says it is geared toward children ages 3-7, and I think it would work well for any student in that window, though I would probably move through at a rather rapid pace with children on the older end. There are 6 levels altogether, containing a total of 60 weeks of lessons. (You can access the first two weeks of level one lessons for free to try it out.) Each week consists of 4 short video sessions. It’s possible to do all 4 sessions in one sitting, and we often did that many (sometimes even more). I really just tried to gauge how interested the kids were. On the rare occasion that they weren’t really into it, we’d just do one and come back the next day.
The videos are designed to go along with a physical activity, rhythm instruments, time at the piano/keyboard, or a page in the activity books. Through the course of the lesson, students are introduced to fun characters that “live” on the keyboard, helping them to learn the letter names of the notes. For example, “Dodi” lives in the middle of each set of two black notes, which is the note “D”, though the children don’t learn that until later. (His neighbors, Carla Caterpillar and Edward Eagle, along with other friends, are introduced a bit later on.)
The videos are streamed online (or available on DVD for additional purchase), but you can download mp3s of the songs from the Teacher’s Corner (where you can also find lesson plans for using the program in a classroom setting). The activity books are also available to download, either as a whole book, or as individual pages linked under each video. I found this feature especially helpful because it meant there was no preparation needed. Once we opened the page for the video we were on, we just clicked on the link to get the page that went along with that part of the lesson. It made it easy to go at whatever pace we wanted to. I didn’t print out every page (some didn’t work well for our family, as I’ll explain below), but the kids really enjoyed doing these practice book pages.
My Assessment of KinderBach
I think KinderBach would work best for students/families with little to no musical training. I found the pace to be very slow and deliberate, with concepts broken down into tiny pieces that are introduced in a manner that was unnecessarily drawn out for my children who are already familiar with many aspects of music. It wasn’t until Week 19 that they actually played a basic 3-note pattern (C-D-E) on the piano. However, this gradual approach would probably be very helpful for young children or families with parents who are learning alongside their children and want to be sure they don’t miss anything.
The program creates a whole new way of naming and notating music, simplifying the technical terms to more “child-friendly” designations. Instead of letter names, the different keys on the piano are represented by the “piano pals” I mentioned above. For rhythms they use terms like “walk” for a quarter note and “standing” for a half note. I understand that they’re trying to make it easier for children to remember, but I’m not sure it’s necessary (or helpful) to teach them one way when they’re going to have to end up learning it another way later. I see no reason not to just teach them the proper terms from the start. (In fact, in one of the sessions they started by showing a half note and asked, “What is this called?” Elijah promptly answered, “A half note!” (earlier that had been given as the “grown-up” word for it and he remembered), but then he was disappointed when they said, “That’s right! ‘Standing.'” I assured him that he was correct too. It just seemed a little odd that he would be wrong when he was really right. These nicknames made it rather hard to read the “music” when it was time to play at the piano, at least for Elijah, who is already used to reading quarter notes on a traditional staff (which is what he was taught from his first piano lesson). Here’s an example of a KinderBach “pre-staff” music page:
Maybe if a child didn’t already have a frame of reference for what music is supposed to look like they would be able to follow this with no problem, but our family found it confusing so I chose not to use these pages. Instead, I used the terms he was already familiar with and showed him the notes on a staff so he could follow along with real sheet music. I was a little surprised by how long it took the program to introduce the children to actual written music. From what I could find, it wasn’t until the end of Level 6 that they start to read regular notes on a staff.
The slow pace and the alternative terminology were fairly easy for our family to adjust so that the program could still work well for us. These criticisms probably have more to do with my background than with the KinderBach program itself. I started music lessons at age 4 in a program that taught us how to read music from the first day and put a heavy emphasis on ear training. After going on to earn a Bachelor of Music degree, I chose to put my children through that same program because I saw how much the program helped me develop as a musician. So I’ve seen many children reading traditional sheet music before they turned 4 and prefer going that route. For a parent without my background, however, this simplified “prestaff” system might be very useful in helping their children get started in learning to read and play music.
A bigger issue for us had to do with pitch. In the lessons that talked about “music patterns” (referring to three notes that either stayed at the same pitch or moved up or down), there were a couple recurring pitch problems. First there was the background music, playing in one key while the piano played a music pattern unrelated to the music we were hearing. Then the piano would play the pattern and the teacher would sing it back like he was copying it, except he never sang the same notes that the piano had played. Maybe this was intentional to show that the pattern could happen starting on any pitch, but since we are teaching our children that hitting a specific pitch is important, these lessons just came across as being indifferent to which pitch had been played. As I said before, ear training is a major component of the music education program our family follows, so this was a serious issue for me, though I’m sure many music educators would have no problem with it. I simply tried to distract Elijah and anyone else listening when these pitch problems occurred in the videos. Then I repeated the same information using the correct pitches.
We had a similar issue in the few lessons that used solfege. My children have been taught solfege using a “fixed do” (where C is always “do”), but KinderBach used a “movable do” (the first time they used solfege they were singing F and D, calling them sol mi). Obviously for most people this wouldn’t be an issue (and few people would even understand what I’m talking about if they’re not familiar with an ear-training program that uses fixed do), but if you do understand and care about fixed do vs. movable do, it’s something to consider.
On a more positive note, there were several things I really liked about KinderBach. The Piano Pals make it easy to learn the letter names of the notes, and even my 2-year old now knows how to find them on the piano, thanks to the fun little cards the boys colored to place above the keys. I also appreciated the emphasis on playing with the correct finger position, on the tip, to “make them strong.” This is something Ian struggles with and it’s always nice to have him hearing it from someone else.
My favorite thing about the program was the way they used the concept of music patterns. I had never seen this idea taught before, and it was a wonderful way to introduce composition. Both Elijah and Ian were eager to do the activities that had them arranging pitch patterns to create their own songs. They spent a good deal of time figuring out how they wanted to put the patterns together and then proudly sang finished products. I look forward to doing more lessons on composition and helping the boys explore the wonderful possibilities of creating their own music.
Overall, I’d say KinderBach is a excellent, economical introductory program for teaching music to young children if you’re looking for a traditional approach to piano lessons without any special emphasis on ear training. If you’re at all intrigued by what I’ve shared, I would encourage you to find out more. Explore the KinderBach website. Click the banner below to read what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew have to say. (I’ve read several of the reviews, and everyone has something new to say about it, so this really is a great way to learn more.) And don’t forget to check out KinderBach on Facebook, or Twitter (@KinderBach) for special deals!