Common Sense Review
Updated May 2013

Pluto Learns Piano HD

This product is no longer available.
Engaging music notation and performance app encourages practice
Common Sense Rating 3
  • Pluto's main screen: Choose songs, enter Piano modes, access settings, and see how many stars have been earned.
  • Song mode: Aim Pluto along a treble clef toward correct notes while avoiding incorrect ones and other obstacles.
  • Practice mode: Play the in-app keyboard while watching the same melody along with the musical staff. Kids can opt to turn key labels and highlights on or off.
  • Performance mode: Play songs "on stage" and follow highlighted keys. Kids can earn points by playing the correct melody and tempo.
Thoughtful, intuitive design and reward-based incentives encourage practicing; great sounds and graphics.
Limited number of songs in-app; rhythm reading takes backseat to melody; lacks five-finger playing instruction.
Bottom Line
Great music instruction tool teaches kids to read music and play piano.
Kim Alessi
Common Sense Reviewer
Classroom teacher
Common Sense Rating 3
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 4

The app's thoughtful design draws kinds in and makes them want to practice piano. Built-in incentives and positive reinforcement encourage kids and keep them playing.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 3

Kids rely on hand-eye coordination to play the correct note. The bubbly, five-line musical staff cleverly introduces melody and note names (C, C#, D, etc.), while rhythmic instruction takes the back seat.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 3

In settings, kids can learn the app's controls and how to switch between music notation and piano performance modes. While the supports have helpful visual cues, kids will need reading skills to understand directions.

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How Can Teachers Use It?

You can use Pluto Learns Piano HD to introduce kids to music notation, but it's less valuable for teaching proper and efficient piano performance skills. The hands-on interaction kids get as they maneuver Pluto along the musical staff is great, because that's how melody works: move Pluto up as the melody goes up, move him down and the melody does the same. While rhythmic notation is glossed over, kids can get a sense of reading rhythm as Pluto swims past notes at various distances from each other. Kids can also see patterns within a melody and get a sense for musical phrasing and musical form. The in-app mini keyboard is fun, and pairing notation above the keyboard (in practice mode) and the follow-the-lit-up-key (in both practice and performance modes) are helpful teaching tools. But there's no instruction telling kids how to position their finger along the keyboard, such as the five-finger method, so it's likely kids will "hunt and peck" at the keys and potentially develop poor playing habits that may be hard to break.

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What's It Like?

Editor's Note: Pluto Learns Piano HD has closed and is no longer available.

Pluto Learns Piano HD is an engaging, intuitive music instruction tool designed to teach kids how to play piano and read music. Familiar childhood songs and rewards-based incentives encourage kids to practice the app, thereby learning music, in order to earn more songs. Pluto defaults to music notation mode -- here kids guide Pluto the Penguin underwater along five horizontal lines of bubbles that make up a musical staff. Kids aim Pluto toward fish that are arranged along the staff to make up a song's melody. Fish contain note names (C, C#, D, D#, E, etc.) and expose kids to the concept of pitch. When fish climb up the staff, pitch ascends; when fish move down the staff, pitch descends. Kids don't get a chance to read rhythm (quarter note, half note, whole note, etc.), or how long a note is played, because all the notes look the same. That said, Pluto does attempt to indicate rhythm based on each note's proximity to each other. Notes close together are shorter in duration and therefore faster; notes further apart are longer in duration and therefore slower.

Pluto also has two piano modes. Practice Mode lets kids play the same songs on a mini, two-octave, in-app piano. Here kids see the same underwater music notation activity, minus Pluto. Performance Mode puts kids on a concert stage and lets them play the mini piano to the same songs, minus the notation. In both piano modes, kids are guided by lit-up keys to help them play the right notes. Kids have the option to turn off key labels and highlights, if desired.

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Is It Good For Learning?

Pluto's bubble-inspired five-line music staff motif gives kids both visual and hands-on interaction with a song's melody. Plus, kids are exposed to reading note names the whole time. Kids hear and see each song's melody at least twice whenever they play a song, thereby reinforcing the song through repetition. While the star-based reward system may seem overdone, it encourages kids to practice their musical skills and earn stars, which they can redeem for new songs. The overall production value of this app is excellent -- the graphics are inviting and the audio quality is superb, too. Kids would benefit, however, if the app had an introduction to the five-finger piano-playing method to discourage the "hunt and peck" piano-playing technique typical of beginners.

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See how teachers are using Pluto Learns Piano HD

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