Review by Patricia Monticello Kievlan, Common Sense Education | Updated January 2015
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Wolfie For Piano

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Stellar piano practice tool supports reflection, persistence

Subjects & skills
Skills
  • Creativity
  • Character & SEL

Subjects
  • Arts
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
Pre-K-12
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Pros: Excellent features for annotating, recording, and evaluating add a rich, helpful dimension to piano practice.

Cons: The subscription price is high, and you're pretty locked in once you've chosen the "teacher" or "student" modes.

Bottom Line: An excellent platform for supporting serious music practice if you can make it logistically work in your classroom.

Piano teachers could use Piano Practice with Wolfie as a one-stop shop for organizing their private lessons studio. Log in as a teacher and track your students' progress, including analyzing reports on their playing and practice time. Use the annotation tools to make notes, like circling tricky passages or writing in an especially tough fingering. Use the notes feature to keep track of students' practice assignments and progress following each lesson, and encourage kids to use the same features to note passages that gave them trouble or questions that arise as they practice. Think about using the different highlighter colors to distinguish between students' and teachers' marks.

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Piano Practice with Wolfie is a piano practice app for iPad. First, users pick an objective: taking lessons, teaching lessons, or just solo playing. Users can then browse an extensive, sortable music library (with options like classical and The Beatles and ability levels from beginner to expert). There are lots of classical pieces available without a subscription, but most of the titles -- especially the popular music ones -- are only available with a subscription. Each piece offers kid the option to listen (via a MIDI recording or a YouTube video of a famous performer), annotate (with a highlighter or pencil or typed text), tag the piece with a written note, or record their own playing. During recording, the app tracks progress and notes accuracy, marking problems spots automatically and saving them for later review. Time in the app is tracked, and users can earn badges for practicing the same piece multiple times, practicing for days in a row, and playing pieces correctly.

After a brief free trial, you'll have to buy a subscription to continue using the app. There's two options: monthly or annual and they occasionally go on sale. However, some scores (especially those of popular songs) are only available as in-app purchases. Also, keep in mind that a steady Internet connection is needed to use the evaluation features and to browse the store. For now, Wolfie is designed to support one registered user per device; multiple user capabilities -- which would be a huge help to teachers -- were in development at the time of this review. 

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The app's developers claim they worked with music educators and experts for years to build this tool, and it shows. There's terrific music available here, and the features for each piece offer a flexible, supportive, and detailed environment for promoting consistent, high-impact practice. These features are thoughtfully done; it's great that kids and their teachers can make notes and annotations on the scores, and it's helpful that kids can capture their playing so they can play it back for their teachers and themselves. All of these features promote review, reflection, and persistence, all of which are key to improvement as a musician -- and as a student in general. Kids will be inspired by the videos of famous performers playing the pieces they encounter. It's a revelation for young kids who've reached the intermediate and advanced level to discover that they're playing the very same pieces that professionals perform. It's also fun to find so many styles and playing levels from popular songs to classical pieces divided into skill levels with succinct but super-helpful descriptions (like "Chopin's most complex works are here, as well as late Beethoven sonatas.").

One major area of improvement would be better capabilities for switching users: once teacher or student mode is selected at log in, it's tough (and maybe not possible) to change modes. This could be frustrating for teachers or families with multiple kids learning to play the piano. Even though progress is tracked per-piece, this breaks down with more than one child working on a piece of music at a time. Meanwhile, the built-in features for listening and correcting students' playing are good, and the built-in badges are definitely motivating, but this app seems best used with the guidance of a teacher. A highly motivated child or adult might find success, but no app can replace the critical link between a music teacher and music student -- though this app comes pretty close. Overall, this is a spectacular platform for studying the piano; definitely worth a look.

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Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Great design, a wide range of music options, and super-responsive feedback options will reel kids in and keep them practicing.

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

Between options for recording, annotating, and note-taking, there are tons of ways to practice, get feedback, and keep working to improve your musicianship. 

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

A little more theory or other info for beginners would help. Better support for multiple users would be a huge instructional improvement.


Common Sense Reviewer
Patricia Monticello Kievlan Foundation/nonprofit member

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