Learning AND Fun Using a Virtual Keyboard
During this time of a global pandemic and constant transitions within learning, I needed to find a way for my students to continue with their love of playing instruments. I searched the web for appropriate resources and found Musica. It is a user-friendly, FREE service that allows students to play piano, guitar, bass guitar or drum set from their desk in the classroom or at home.
The virtual piano uses the device’s Qwerty keyboard to play the notes, instead of clicking on each piano key using the mouse. This gives them the general feel for a piano keyboard and helps their technique. It is not perfect and I’m not striving for perfection. I want the students to create, learn and feel as normal as possible even though everything around them is anything but normal.
Pre-pandemic, I created various types of resources for students to learn how to play instruments efficiently and effectively using alternate forms of notation in a Word or Google document. The students learn the songs quickly and feel successful in one class period. To modify the documents for the Qwerty “piano keyboard” I added the letters of the virtual piano next to or under the original notes of the songs. At first, I expected the students to be confused instead of saying E D C, I was now using U Y T but they picked it up in no time. My students were hooked and so was I!
In the song document, I use space between the letters/notes to approximate rhythm. If the letters are close together the notes are played faster, if there are spaces, play the notes more slowly. I color-code the phrases for easy reading, and include the melody and piano chords to allow for differentiation. Lastly, I include chords for the ukulele, guitar, and electric bass for children who may have access to those instruments at home. As you build a collection of songs for the students to play, you can create a shared folder for them to access all of the songs in your class or school playlist. Showing them how to bookmark the shared folder and the Musicaa keyboard link allows for quick transitions to both during our pandemic shortened music lessons.
The “split screen” function allows the children to look at the notes on the screen and play the virtual piano at the same time. Pressing “ALT ]” at the same time on their chromebook will split the screen easily. On other devices grabbing the tab, pulling down and over to one side will open it as a second window on the screen. The “Tab Resize” extension for Google is another great option.
The first song I demonstrated on the Virtual Piano was In the style of “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers.
- First, we listen to the song as performed by Bill Withers. I share the history of the song and the interesting story of Bill Withers life with the children.
- This video is a suitable starting point to begin the discussion of Bill Withers life, story and other music.
- Then we find the starting pitch on the virtual keyboard and discuss the melodic phrasing.
- Next the children echo the first line of the melody T T Y U I I U Y T T Y U U and we review until the students feel comfortable moving on, then we practice the next phrase.
- After practicing all the phrases, students have independent practice time to put all of the phrases together at their own pace.
- Their favorite part is when I allow time for volunteers to demonstrate what they can do for the class.
- Last, we all play the melody together. We can do this just with the keyboard or play along with Bill Withers.
As an extension, I introduce left hand chord roots and chords. Adding the Virtual Bass Guitar is another way to build on what we learned in previous lessons.
Click here to download a pdf of the play along sheet.
Currently, I see my classes for one week of thirty-minute music classes each month. If you have more contact time with your students you may wish to give them time to figure out the melody on their own.
With transitions from virtual to hybrid and “all in” learning, the Virtual Piano from Musicca is a welcomed breath of fresh air for my students. They enjoy practicing the songs and record themselves and send me videos of songs they are working on all by themselves. There’s nothing better than seeing an avatar from a student practicing when I am updating my repertoire in my Google Drive. They are making music at home, during their free time. I know that they are enjoying the music making process and engaged in meaningful learning even in the toughest of times for both.