Quincy Jones, the music legend who produced Michael Jackson’s Thriller album and has the record for the most Grammy Award nominations, is one of the creators of Playground Sessions, a startup that’s reinventing the traditional piano lesson with an app that gamifies the experience and provides instant feedback as you play.
After an illustrious career spanning roughly six decades, the 80-year-old Jones helped start Playground Sessions because he sees a need for better music education in the US.
“I’ve been waiting a long time for something like Playground Sessions to come along,” Jones said at an event yesterday to celebrate his induction into the Rock and Hall of Fame, which takes place officially tonight. “It’s the ultimate technology to bring music to people of all ages who have the passion to learn it.”
Jones calls the software, which works for PCs and Macs, “a musical Rosetta Stone”, referring to the popular language learning software. “It would have been great,” he said. “It would have saved a lot of time. We had to do it the hard way.”
While it might seem counter-intuitive for an 80-year-old to be involved in a software startup, Jones said that he’s been integrating tech and music throughout his career.
“We were the guinea pigs for all the synthesizers. I used the very first one in Ironside,” he recalled. “We were the first ones with the Fender bass…Without the Fender bass in 1953, connected to the electric guitar, which came out in 1939, there would be no rock and roll and no Motown. It would have changed everything.”
He continued: “I know this young guy who said, “Us young guys are going to have to teach the old guys technology,” and I said, “Naw, I’ll teach your ass.” I was in Silicon Valley 48 years ago. I literally thought that the information age and computers, they were smoking kool-aid, man. [Object-oriented programming pioneer] Alan Kay was my teacher back then.”
It’d be easy for Jones to rest on his laurels, but he said he’s just getting going:
“I think I’m just starting, man. All over again. I’ve done all that other stuff. Got the biggest record ever sold in the history of music. I’m not into all that, you know, I just do what makes me feel good and I’m happy, and make somebody else feel good.”
Playground Sessions combines a music store for sheet music, video lessons and a MIDI keyboard setup into a robust system for learning to play through popular music. The main pricing scheme is a subscription method, which costs $9.99 a month if paid for a year or $14.99 if paid quarterly. Membership includes the startup’s “bootcamp curriculum” with lessons on basic keyboard skills, notation, ear training and rhythm. It also offers discounts on video tutorials and sheet music.
Non-members can try out the program and purchase lessons and songs a la carte, but they won’t have access to some of the gamified features, such as scoring, social sharing, badging and leaderboards.
I would love to have had a tool like this when I was a kid. Piano lessons were a requirement in my family when I was growing up, but I quickly learned an odd dichotomy between the contemporary music I enjoyed listening to and the classical musical education that I was receiving.
The new learning method comes as a response to the Guitar Hero/Rock Band craze that swept the world a few years ago. While that trend has largely died down, the fact remains that many of us would have some serious chops if we’d spent all that time learning to play instruments instead of plastic controllers. The Playground Sessions team believes it can combine the fun of a music rhythm game with a proven curriculum in order to make learning fun.
Playground Sessions seems perfectly tailored for the YouTube generation. The video site has been a huge platform for young people to share music and even learn. And let’s not forget that Justin Bieber was discovered on YouTube.
Founder and CEO Chris Vance said he believes the software is “deep enough to be a launching pad,” even for beginners. During the beta phase of the product, the startup held a contest to have a fan spend 30 days going from absolute beginner to intermediate level with Playground Sessions and then hold a concert. The winner eventually went on to make it to Hollywood on American Idol.
Vance noted that the company is interested in using “new media to drive the goals of our product”, while also pointing out the difference between Playground Sessions and lessons just uploaded to YouTube – qualifications and instant feedback.
It’s important to note that Playground Sessions isn’t just a game. The app is able to teach music theory and fundamentals like fingering and scales, it’s just built to do so in an engaging way using songs that people are interested in learning.
Jones highlighted that the piano is a great instrument to start learning on. ”It’s what the symphony orchestra’s based on…Everything’s easier after piano,” he said.
Down the road, the startup may be interested in expanding to other instruments like guitar and drums, but it’s focusing on the piano for now. The instant feedback features will take some tweaking in order to work with an electric guitar, but the technology’s certainly there.
For me and many others, learning music in our childhood wasn’t fun. Playground Sessions deserves a standing ovation for using technology to change the game.
Image credit: Mehdi Taamallah / AFP / Getty Images
Read more from the original source: Quincy Jones on technology, music and his Playground Sessions piano learning startup
“In the simplest terms, Letterboxd lets you share your taste in film, and get inspiration from others. But you can also use it as a simple diary to record your opinion about films as you watch them, and keep track of movies you’ve seen some time in the past. It lets you rate, review and tag films as you add them to your repository.”
While it officially moved out of private beta last year, it has remained invitation-only since then (if that makes sense). But as of today, the iron curtain has been drawn open and anyone can now sign up.
Letterboxd is headquartered in Auckland, New Zealand and was founded by Matthew Buchanan and Karl von Randow. It initially launched at Brooklyn Beta, a small but influential New York Web conference, in October 2011.
All film-related metadata — including actor, director and studio affiliations, plot synopses, release dates, trailers and poster art — is sourced from The Movie Database (TMDb), a crowdsourced film database.
Letterboxd reached the milestone of one million films logged on February 16, 2012 and has garnered some 40,000 members through the prolonged public beta phase. Said members contributed more than 400,000 reviews, compiled 44,000 lists and added around 8 million films to their online profiles.
And throughout its stealth phase, Letterboxd has been refining the service as a result of a tonne of user-submissions, and added a slew of new features including the ability to import historic film data from IMDb, Delicious Library and Netflix, as well as filtering your watchlist by Netflix availability.
However, Letterboxd has taken steps to monetize the service, by introducing a 3-tiered offering – Free, Pro and Patron.
The free service gets you unlimited films, diary entries, reviews, ratings and lists. And at launch, each List on this tier was limited to twenty films, while Watchlists were also restricted to twenty – however, they seemingly backtracked on that limitation shortly after launch:
After hearing your feedback we’ve decided to remove the limits on lists and Watchlists. If you’ve gone Pro and you’re unhappy please email.
— Letterboxd (@letterboxd) February 8, 2013
The Lists feature lets you create things like ‘Best UK Films’ ever, or ‘Best Horror Films’ ever, while Watchlists are where you store movies you want to, well, watch.
The Pro service will set you back $19/year (via PayPal), giving you Netflix filtering and queue integration, as well as the ability to import from IMDb or a CSV file and a personalized year-in-review.
So..what more can the Patron package possibly offer you, for $49/year? Well, not all that much, if truth be told – everything in Pro, “plus the undying gratitude of everyone at Letterboxd HQ,” though you do get your name on a dedicated Patron page and you’re promised the occasional treat.
Though some of the formerly-free features are now part of the Pro package, if you have already been using the service thus far, you’ll be able to keep your existing Netflix integration.
Other changes for today’s launch include the ability to display your Diary for a set period of time, meaning you can filter by month, day or week. You can also now filter your Diary or Ratings page by individual star rating.
While Letterboxd did respond to requests to be mobile-friendly with the launch of a semi-responsive mobile site last October, it would still be nice to see some native mobile apps come to market, and judging by the meticulous way the good folks at Letterboxd have gone about developing the service thus far, taking feedback on board along the way from its users, it’s probably safe to assume that this will happen at some point.
Letterboxd is available to everyone globally now.
Feature Image Credit – Thinkstock
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Last month, Google graduated three Gmail Labs features: “Send and archive,” “Default reply to all,” and “Quote selected text.” Exactly 50 days later, Google has decided to retract the last one, pulling it away from Gmail.
Here’s Google’s explanation:
We’ve been listening to user feedback since the graduation and have decided to move the feature back into Gmail Labs. Users sometimes unintentionally quoted text they had inadvertently selected, which caused some confusion.
To those of you who like the feature, Google says you can still enable it in Gmail Labs. “Quote selected text” lets you highlight text and hit the reply button, automatically taking the quoted text and inserting it into your reply email.
At the time it rolled out, I said I thought it was the most useful of all three:
Clearly a lot of Gmail users disagreed. Google very rarely demotes a feature after it has graduated from Gmail Labs. In fact, the whole point of having such a section is to avoid rolling out features that aren’t ready.
Gmail Labs was introduced back in June 2008, and has been bringing new features to Google’s email service ever since. For users, the project means testing new or experimental features of Gmail, allowing them to enable or disable Labs features selectively and provide feedback about each of them. For Google, it means figuring out which features are worthy, which ones need work, and which ones should be completely abandoned, all in the form of user input to help decide how to use engineer resources.
These features don’t make it out of Labs very often, but there was actually a feature that did recently show up, just 10 days ago: Signature Tweaks. Google graduated the feature on January 15, letting you set your signature to appear above the quoted text in replies, removing the standard “”–”” that separates the signature from the message body.
You can turn this feature on by going to the General tab in your Settings. Maybe Google should done the same thing for the quoted text feature – made it a feature users could turn on if they wanted it?
Image credit: Dani Simmonds
It took more than 6 months after it first announced it would expand the availability of its Drive app, but Nokia today finally made its turn-by-turn application available to all Windows Phone 8 devices in the US, UK and Canada.
Nokia Drive was previously exclusive to Nokia’s Lumia range of Windows Phone handsets, but the company shared news back in June 2012 that it would begin opening it up to rival OEMs and upload it to the Windows Phone Store.
The app remains in beta, while Nokia “fine tunes the customer experience,” but users will have access to full turn-by-turn voice-guided navigation, offline maps, speed limit warnings, and various day and night modes. Nokia has also added a “feedback” tab, which will collate experiences from the wider Windows Phone community.
With the app available on the store, other Windows Phone manufacturers may decide to offer the app to their customers, ensuring that Microsoft’s operating system has a powerful, detailed and well-supported free navigation app capable of rivalling Google and Apple’s own built-in services.
If you own a non-Nokia Windows Phone device, head over to the Windows Phone Store now and download it free-of-charge.