Full disclosure. I tested this app a few months ago with a piano, but have not had access to a piano since then. Further, I did take some piano lessons as a child, which might taint my view of how good this app is as a learning tool.
The History: Yousician is a music learning app that uses your phone, tablet, or computer to teach you piano, ukulele, bass, or guitar via Guitar Hero like training exercises and sheet music uploads. It premiered in 2014 on the app store, and was founded in 2010 by Chris Thür and Mikko Kaipainen in Helsinki, Finland. More information can be found on their site https://company.yousician.com/story The website itself uses a series of videos, exercises, and proprietary songs, as well as crowdsourced, popular music, to teach you how to play one of the four instruments.
-Design (Good to look at, easy to use)
-Fun (Does it feel like a chore to do, or like a game)
-Worth (Does it help you do the thing it says it will help you do)
Obviously not everything worth doing is fun, not everything fun is easy to do, and not everything pretty is substantive.
Yousician’s website is terrible. I thought i’d mention it here, even though it has nothing to do with the app itself, but the website is a madhouse of different links that never seem to take you to the page you want. I’d recommend using the app, and, because this review series is about apps, and not websites, I won’t include this mess in the final grade. That’s not to say the website isn’t navigable, but it certainly isn’t intuitive.
That bit about the website does make the design of the app surprising, however, as it is simple, easy to use, and nice to look at. As with duolingo, it has taken the skill tree/tiered pages approach, which make it easy to get where you need to go. As with my last review, we’ll talk about the 3 main things in app appearance: Content layout, picture aesthetics, and progress tracking symbols.
The content layout is tiered from top to bottom of the screen. You have 4 main pages (Home, Songs, Challenges and Settings), which are further broken up into 2-5 sub pages. You use the Home page for your daily practice, with skill tree missions, workouts, and daily goals. You use the Songs page to test what you’ve learned on more difficult, and more recognizable, songs. You use the challenges page for some curated, weekly challenges. You use the settings page for anything having to do with your account. It’s a well organized app, and one that doesn’t give you much room to be confused about where something is.
As for pure aesthetics, it’s nice to look at. More geometric shapes, like duolingo, fill the basic pages, while photo’s relating to the genre of music help differentiate the song pages.
The progress tracking symbol is an easy to understand, 3 arced circle with a number on the inside. The first arc is green, for easy, the second is orange, for medium, and the third is red, for difficult. Each song has this symbol to denote difficulty, and you have this symbol to show both progress, but also show which songs you’d be best equipped to play.
Overall, it’s a nice looking app with not much to complain about: A
Is guitar hero fun? If you answered Yes, then so is Yousician. If you answered No, then neither is yousician. Yousician’s main draw is that it turns sheet music into a living object that speeds along the page while you try and keep up with the notes. You get stars for how well you do, as well as some arbitrary points that only serve to see how many stars you get. Each song has two modes: Practice and Regular. Practice allows you to slow down the song, but also doesn’t fail you out if you miss too many notes. Regular doesn’t allow for time manipulation, and will boot you from the song if you aren’t keeping up. But there is one huge difference from guitar hero: the songs.
The appeal of guitar hero was in playing the songs you recognized and feeling like a rock star. Each song on guitar hero had multiple difficulties so that, even on easy, you felt like you were playing your favorite song. Yousician faces the problem in that these two parts: leveled progression and popular songs, are split. Let me explain. Yousician doesn’t have any song licences. Their training songs, and any tiered songs (easy, medium, hard mode), are either classical, free songs or songs they wrote themselves. And they are Ok, but not exactly why I’m learning an instrument. They try and get away from this by letting anyone upload sheet music, which their app converts to a game, for any song, but these uploads don’t teach you how to play the song and are just moving pieces of sheet music. These songs also face the common crowdsource problem in that their quality isn’t always the best.
But Mr. Markley, I hear you saying, can’t you just do the training songs until you learn enough to play the popular songs?
And yeah, you could, but it’s boring. Their proprietary songs aren’t very good, and I didn’t have fun learning. The fun always felt like it was just around the corner. Fun grade? C
Let’s talk about the premium version. The free version of the app limits how many training exercises you can do per day, and doesn’t allow you to upload your own music. If you are only using the free version you just have to hope someone else uploads a song you want. For 10-15 dollars a month (Depending on instrument choices) you can get rid of these drawbacks. But neither of these aspects apply directly to the question of: Does it teach you how to play the instrument.
I felt like I understood how to read sheet music much better after my time with Yousician. As mentioned earlier, I knew how to read it (FACE and All Cows Eat Grass, duh), but I felt a new understanding for how sheet music relates to my finger positioning. The training songs taught me chord positions, and gave me some good practice. I felt like a better piano player than I did before, but I didn’t feel like a rockstar.
It does what it says: B
Yousician has come a long way since when I last used it. It has more training, more songs, and has fixed some of the problems I disliked, but it still isn’t what I, personally, was looking for. I constantly felt like I needed something more, like my instruction wasn’t complete enough, but it definitely got me playing the piano and learning. B-.