If you’re a music lover interested in learning the piano or an experienced player wanting to sharpen your skills, you might be considering an online piano learning platform.
And among the jungle of music learning websites and apps, you may have heard of Playground Sessions.
Developed by legendary producer Quincy Jones and renowned pianist David Sides, Playground Sessions is an online program that uses real-time feedback and interactive lessons to help people of all levels improve at playing the piano.
In this blog post, I will review Playground Sessions and provide an in-depth look at its features, benefits, drawbacks, and overall value.
So whether you’re just learning the piano or want to take your playing skills up a notch, read on to find out why Playground Sessions might be right for you!
What is Playground Sessions?
Playground Sessions is an interactive online piano learning platform for desktop and Apple devices that helps people learn to play the piano.
It includes lessons, challenges, and exercises tailored to your level. It also has an extensive song library of over 2,000 songs that can be played with or without accompaniment.
Playground Sessions offers real-time feedback, which helps users improve their playing as they proceed through the lessons.
The platform also has a community of like-minded users to learn from and connect with via discussion boards and a Facebook group.
And if you don’t have a keyboard, you can bundle a keyboard with a membership.
It’s a great option if you have no idea what kind of keyboard to buy and don’t want to spend time researching different models!
How is Playground Sessions organized?
Playground Sessions is divided into 3 distinct sections.
The bootcamp section is where you’ll start. This section offers instruction at 3 levels: rookie, intermediate, and advanced.
If you’re brand new to the piano, start with the very first lesson in the rookie section. This video features Phil Anderson explaining the notes on the keyboard and how to find middle C, both concepts geared toward complete beginners.
The next several lessons allow you to practice playing along with the background track before diving into basic rhythms, time signatures, and the staff.
Each of the 3 bootcamp sections is broken down into separate lessons to allow you to learn and practice the material.
The rookie section includes over 90 lessons to help you learn and refine the basic concepts.
The intermediate and advanced sections continue expanding on the basic ideas introduced in the rookie section.
You’ll find over 60 lessons in the intermediate section, while the advanced section contains between 20 and 30 lessons.
The courses section includes focused piano learning topics.
One of the courses includes a collection of songs perfect for beginning piano learners. Another consists of the Hanon exercises.
Yet another course comprises advice on playing from Mike Garson, David Bowie’s pianist.
Many other courses are designed to help you improve basic skills, such as reading sheet music and playing with both hands together.
The courses section is also where you’ll find special challenges organized by levels. Challenges are a fun way to learn popular repertoire at an attainable level.
As a rookie, try The Entertainer or Fur Elise challenges and impress your friends with your keyboard prowess!
The third and final section comprises a vast library of songs under many different genres, including holiday, film music, pop, and Christian.
Songs are additionally organized by levels; most pieces are available at different difficulty levels.
Membership plans come with a certain number of songs per month. And if you want additional songs, you can purchase them separately.
Benefits of Playground Sessions
If you want to learn to play the piano but are completely repulsed by beginner songs such as “Hot Cross Buns” or “Merrily We Roll Along,” I have fantastic news for you!
Playground Sessions takes a pop music approach to teach you the basics.
You’ll be playing along with background tracks to hit songs by Lady Gaga, Beyonce, and Celine Dion from the very beginning of your studies.
Although most of the songs in the rookie section will only be recognizable by your friends and family with the accompanying backtrack, it provides very engaging piano practice!
Slow it Down … Or Speed it Up!
You can control the speed of all lesson materials within the bootcamp section.
You can slow down the backing track or play it at tempo with a simple button click.
Start each new lesson at a slow tempo and gradually increase it once you’ve got it under your fingers.
And you’ll know you have the lesson mastered when you can play the song at tempo with zero mistakes!
Jamming with Others
One of the hardest things to learn as a beginner is how to keep playing, even when you make a mistake.
As a beginner, it’s easy to get into the habit of stopping with each and every mistake.
But consistently stopping makes it challenging to learn to play something from beginning to end. And this habit makes it nearly impossible to play with others.
But one of the great things about Playground Sessions is that the songs all have a backing track, so you learn to keep playing no matter what happens.
You can slow the song down for practice at all 3 bootcamp levels, and I recommend starting out slowly and building up the tempo as you learn the song.
Piano Learning in a Video Game Format
One of the more gratifying features of Playground Sessions is its similarity to a video game.
When the app or desktop version is connected to a keyboard, you get immediate feedback on the accuracy of what you just played.
Take a minute or two to review the feedback and try again for a perfect score.
Although it’s fun to see your score, the ability to review what you played and make corrections is a crucial skill that can be difficult to master in other learning formats.
The program also keeps track of your total score and the amount of time you’ve spent in the app.
And it’s addicting to see your score, practice time increase, and overall piano skill level!
If you need clarification about which notes you should be playing, click the button at the upper right-hand of the screen, and the virtual keyboard at the bottom of the screen will light up with the correct notes.
You can choose the right hand, left hand, or both hands.
This feature is helpful if you need help determining where on the keyboard you should be playing.
And you can even watch it through a couple of times and then try playing along.
Emphasis on Playing by Ear
One of the more impressive aspects of Playground Sessions is the early introduction to how to play a song simply by hearing it.
This is a valuable skill that helps all areas of musicianship. It’s helpful for sightreading and even for memorization.
Sometimes it’s a skill that gets bypassed in more traditional methods of learning the instrument because not all teachers have mastered or are comfortable teaching this skill.
Playing by ear is a skill that doesn’t come naturally to me, but I’ve recently been working hard to foster it.
And in fact, I was first introduced to one of the instructors in the course, David Sides, through his piano solo version of “Apologize” on my favorite Pandora station.
I fell in love with his piano solo and immediately began working on learning it by ear.
And I was very excited to watch David’s video tutorials on playing by ear in the rookie section because he uses “Apologize” as an example in his lessons.
Watching David’s ear training videos gave me insight into how he translates a song into the keyboard.
It also reassured me that I’m on the right path to improving my ear training skills!
How to Practice
Although Playground Sessions doesn’t specifically tell you HOW to practice, it divides each lesson into small sections.
It guides you through playing with each hand separately before putting your hands together.
And in some cases, the course has you work through only a few measures of a song at a time.
Breaking a piece into smaller parts is precisely how piano practice sessions should be approached.
At its core, piano practice is about learning to identify WHAT you need to improve and then figuring out HOW to improve it.
When you take piano lessons, the teacher guides this learning process. Eventually, the goal is for the student to learn how to manage this learning process independently.
And although Playground Sessions doesn’t specifically address these fundamental rules to practice, it does break each lesson into small and manageable sections.
This approach teaches you how to approach new songs by breaking them into smaller sections and mastering those skills before putting them together.
And if you’re interested in diving deeper into piano practice, check out my review of the best piano practice app!
Midi Keyboard Bundle
If you’re brand new to learning the piano, finding an instrument is intimidating.
Playground Sessions removes this barrier by offering a variety of keyboards at different price points, all less than $1,000.
It’s a great way to get started if you have no idea what to look for and don’t want to do much research.
The prices are also very reasonable, especially if you’re still determining whether you’ll want to stick with the piano.
Drawbacks of Playground Sessions
Lack of Instruction on Piano Technique
Correct technique is everything when playing advanced classical piano repertoire.
Incorrect body positioning, holding tension in your forearms, and poor posture can lead to musculoskeletal issues over time.
Although there is a brief discussion about technique at the very beginning of the rookie section, correct technique isn’t emphasized much during Playground Sessions.
If your goal in learning the instrument is to have fun and play a few songs to impress your friends, the lack of instruction on technique isn’t a dealbreaker.
And if you want to become a classical pianist, I recommend one-on-one lessons over learning online anyway.
Instructor Bait and Switch
Many of the Playground Sessions ads I’ve seen feature Harry Connick Jr. or Quincy Jones, but I have yet to encounter them in the lesson materials.
Most instruction in the course comes from Phil Anderson and David Sides rather than Connick or Jones.
In other words, if you hope to learn from Harry Connick Jr., you will be disappointed.
Despite the lack of Connick’s presence in the course, the videos are very high quality. Both Anderson and Sides are relatable and enjoyable to watch.
No Feedback for Acoustic Pianos
Maybe it’s my strong classical piano background, but I’m a diehard acoustic piano fan.
I love how acoustic pianos sound and how they feel to play. I’m fascinated by how they work and have even dabbled in learning how to tune and repair them.
Although I’ve warmed to keyboards and digital pianos over the last couple of years, acoustic is still my ultimate preference.
And this leads me to my biggest issue with Playground Sessions and other online learning programs: the lack of feedback with acoustic instruments.
I understand there’s no way to plug an acoustic in to get the perfect feedback. However, it’s still disappointing to be unable to take advantage of the highly-addictive points system.
And even if you have an acoustic piano, I wouldn’t discourage you from this learning platform because I have yet to find one that gives the same feedback given to digital instruments.
One way to get around this issue is to record yourself while playing. You can then play it back and compare it with the sheet music to determine your accuracy.
Although the program itself won’t track your score, you can learn the fundamental skills of listening and providing your own feedback.
Lack of Advanced Level Material
Playground Sessions is geared towards beginning and intermediate piano students.
Although there is a bootcamp section for advanced students, the material is intermediate level.
Even though there isn’t much explicitly geared toward advanced students, you can still find value in the material, especially if you have a classical background, because of its emphasis on listening and playing by ear.
This is especially true if you hope to play pop music.
But if you want to play advanced classical repertoire, Playground Sessions isn’t your best bet.
Check out this post for the all-time best course on learning classical piano!
Consider Playgrounds Sessions If You:
- Want to learn to play the piano but don’t have the time to invest in weekly in-person lessons.
- Love pop music and want to learn how to play your favorite songs.
- Are interested in learning to play by ear.
- Need to take learning the piano at your own pace and have previously excelled in online courses.
- Eventually want to play with others or in a band.
- Think you want to learn to play but aren’t sure and don’t want to make a huge investment until you know whether you’ll enjoy playing.
Skip Playground Sessions If You:
- Want to learn classical piano and aren’t interested in learning pop or rock hits (check out this course instead).
- Are an advanced player looking to further your skills in playing classical music.
- Want to learn from Harry Connick Jr.
- Need accountability from others to keep making progress in your learning.
- Are looking for more of an in-depth course on reading sheet music.
- Want to learn music theory.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Playground Sessions offer a free trial?
Yes. You can try it free for 14 days. And the best part is that you can sign up without providing your credit card!
Do you have to know anything about music to sign up for Playground Sessions?
No. The rookie bootcamp lessons begin by assuming you have no previous knowledge of how to play the instrument.
Does Playground Sessions work with an acoustic piano?
Although you can play any of the lessons with an acoustic piano, the program won’t be able to give you feedback on whether the notes are correct.
Playing with an acoustic piano removes the gaming features. However, playing along with the lessons is still entertaining, thanks to the fantastic song selection!
Can piano teachers use Playground Sessions with their students?
Yes! You can create a piano teacher account and track your student’s progress.
Is Playground Sessions geared toward kids or adults?
Although Playground Sessions can be used by kids, it’s designed for ages 12 and up.
You can certainly monitor your kids’ learning while they use the app, but your kids may need your help understanding the lessons.
And unless you also play the piano, it may be challenging for you to give them the help they need.
If you want your kids to learn to play the piano, get them into piano lessons. Find out how to find a great teacher by checking out this post.
Can you use Playground Sessions alongside piano lessons?
I highly recommend signing up for Playground Sessions even if you’re taking private piano lessons.
Playground Sessions is a great way to develop your ear and practice playing different types of songs than you’re likely to play in private lessons.
You can also play for your teacher and get the type of feedback you won’t get from the program. And as an added bonus, you can get feedback from your teacher on technique.
As someone who has played piano almost their entire life and as someone who has also given piano lessons, it’s one of the best online piano courses around.
The videos are high-quality, and the lesson materials are helpful. Although you won’t learn from Harry Connick Jr. himself, the instructors are fun and easy to listen to.
Their passion for the instrument is evident and shines through in the course.
Playground Sessions offers an easy-to-follow curriculum and exciting song selections with the added bonus of fun gaming elements.
Plus, it’s completely free to try out!
Give it a try, and let me know your thoughts!
And if you’re looking for more great piano-inspired content, check out the following posts:
- Can You Learn Piano by Watching YouTube Videos?
- The Best Ways to Learn Piano in 2023
- Acoustic vs. Digital Piano: Which One is Right for You?
- How to Set Realistic Piano Goals and Achieve Them
- The 30 Most Famous Classical Piano Pieces of All Time
- Can You Really Learn Piano Without a Teacher?
- Your Ultimate Guide to the Perfect Piano Practice Routine
- Ranking the Best Budget Digital Pianos
- The Best Unconventional Ways to Learn Piano
- Why You’ll Never Regret Enrolling Your Kids in Piano Lessons
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