Playground Sessions certainly seems like an exciting way to learn piano from the outside.
It boasts a star-studded roster of musicians that have led and developed the app, primarily the legendary Quincy Jones, but also the likes of Harry Connick Jr, and Mike Garson – best known for being David Bowie’s longtime pianist.
Playground Sessions also promises a fun way to learn, with game-like features and a vast library of songs. But does it deliver? Let’s find out.
What Does It Offer?
Playground Sessions is an app-based piano learning tool. With a combination of video lessons and play-along lessons and songs that give you real-time feedback, it could be one of the best ways to learn that doesn’t involve a live human teacher.
It also ‘games your experience’, giving you ratings and skill points, which could be a great incentive for young students.
The app is available to download on multiple devices, including iPhones, iPads, Macbooks and Windows devices.
(However, a brief caution – the Apple store told me the app wasn’t available in the UK for iPhones and iPads, but it did work fine on my Macbook.)
Playground Sessions also offers a range of teachers that feature in the videos – you may recognise some of them if you peruse piano Youtubers a lot. It gives some nice variation to the faces in your videos, and the teachers themselves come from a range of backgrounds and genres.
Who Is It Aimed At?
Playground Sessions calls itself a ‘perfect program for complete beginners’.
It’s all presented in a way that assumes you’ve never touched a piano before or have no musical background – so players with a bit more experience may find the initial sections very slow.
However the game-like nature may appeal to tech-loving players, and there’s a nice portability to it – you could take the your device and connect to a piano anywhere in the world, and keep learning!
It’s also suitable for children – Playground Sessions recommends it for age 7 and up.
Playground Sessions uses a subscription-based membership model, with all options covered by a 30-day money back guarantee.
You can choose between:
- Monthly membership – at $24.99 a month
- Annual membership – at $12.49 a month, with the first year billed up front
- Lifetime membership – at a one off payment of $349.99
All of these prices are pretty good deals in terms of the material provided vs. traditional lessons.
They all offer the same features too – the only perk the Lifetime membership offers is ‘2 years of unlimited access to 2,000+ popular songs; á la carte purchasing or subscriptions available afterward’ – so perhaps ‘Lifetime’ is a bit of a misnomer.
What Do I Need?
You will need:
- A digital piano, keyboard, or MIDI controller (buying guide)
- A device that can support the Playground Sessions app, and connect to your piano, keyboard or MIDI controller.
Playground Sessions recommends using keyboard with at least 49 keys for a similar amount of range and space to a real piano.
I would also recommend something with weighted or semi-weighted keys, so that you can learn to play with touch sensitivity, again similarly to a real piano.
Interestingly, if you don’t connect a piano keyboard but boot up the app on a laptop, the app will use your QWERTY keyboard as a substitute piano keyboard – fun, but definitely not useful if you’re trying to learn piano!
Once you’ve purchased your membership plan and downloaded the app onto your device of choice, you’ll need to connect up your keyboard via USB.
You might need to download a driver from the keyboard manufacturer’s website for it to be recognized by the Playground Sessions app.
Once that’s set up, you’ll come to the Dashboard, which looks something like this:
It’s divided into the homepage Dashboard, and then:
- Bootcamp – the fundamental lessons that Playground Sessions definitely thinks you should learn.
- Courses – Challenges and lessons, based around a specific, more in-depth subject (e.g. Both Hands Practice) or a certain type of song (e.g. ‘The Entertainer’ or ‘Holiday Songs.)
- Songs – A library of songs, with sheet music and backing tracks for you to play along and practice to. Most of the songs feature several versions of that song, arranged to different levels of skill, so you can try playing them no matter how experienced you are.
Speaking of those levels of skill, everything is divided into the following categories, based on your experience. Absolute beginners should pick
Those with more experience should try Intermediate:
And if you already have a good grounding in chords and theory and playing, maybe you can challenge yourself with Advanced.
Since many of you trying this will be absolute beginners, let’s take a look at…
The Rookie Section
The Rookie section, as previously said, really does start at the absolute beginning, assuming you may never have even touched a piano before.
In fact, the first lesson is ‘Breaking Down The Piano’, which introduces you to the layout of a piano and where all the notes are.
From there, the lessons dive straight into a lot of learning and theory. The lessons are divided between videos to watch, and playing exercises to follow. Be warned – even though this is the Rookie section, it’s by no means an easy ride.
There are 93 sections in the Rookie Bootcamp, which leads you through…
- Finding middle C and basic finger positioning
- The fundamentals of music theory – staves, rhythms, including tied and dotted rhythms
- Accidental notes (sharps and flats) and some scales
- Playing in multiple key signatures
By the end you’ll also be playing some simple pieces with both hands too – this doesn’t focus on the right hand too much, like a lot of traditional piano learning.
So yes, it’s a lot, and those who were hoping to avoid music theory will be sadly disappointed. But this Bootcamp (the longest bootcamp in all the levels) really does aim to provide you with all the tools needed to read music and tackle pieces.
I would estimate that each section could take you anywhere from 3 to 30 minutes to complete, depending on how quickly you learn.
But don’t worry – Playground Sessions’s live feedback and play-along features make all of that music theory much easier and more fun to swallow.
When you’re given a playing exercise, a screen like the following appears:
When you press the ‘Play’ button, a voice and metronome will count you in, and then you do your best to play the notes in front of you, along in time with the backing track.
You’ll easily be able to tell what notes you’ve gotten correct or not, as the screen will highlight them green and red accordingly:
It’s a really fun video-game aspect to the course, as well as being useful live feedback – and you can repeat these exercises as many times as necessary until you get them right. There’s a good range of practice songs included here, from classical favorites like ‘Fur Elise’, to classic pop standards like ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’, and more recent hits like ‘All Of Me’.
Many of the exercises also include backing tracks of famous songs or pieces, incorporating them into the exercise, which I thought was a brilliant touch – playing Middle C’s over and over again becomes a lot more enjoyable when you’re playing it along with the theme to ‘2001 Space Odyssey’!
I thought this section might have benefitted from more videos showing shots of people’s hands playing the pieces and exercises.
The exercises rely a lot on the numbering system, as shown in the screenshot above – where you number your fingers 1-5, and the notes are numbered 1-5, and you play the numbered notes with the corresponding fingers.
People who are more visual learners may initially struggle with this system.
I also thought the ‘Orienting Your Ear’ section in this Bootcamp was a great addition. This video patiently takes you through learning to recognise notes from music you’re hearing, sing them, and find them on a piano.
This is the starting point from which a musical ear develops, which ultimately leads to priceless skills like being able to instantly recognize chord progressions, and pick out pieces quickly.
For some people, these ‘ear skills’ come very naturally and quickly, and they’ll likely whizz through this section, but for those who need a little help, it’s very valuable.
The Rookie section is less of a ‘playing first’ approach compared to other courses, and it doesn’t go lightly on the theory, but the entertaining and interactive manner it’s presented in balances it out nicely.
The Intermediate Section
The Intermediate Bootcamp course focuses a lot on chords – this may be a good place to start for those who feel confident in their grounding of music theory. It covers…
- How chords are built
- Chord inversions
- Broken chord patterns
- Some syncopated, triplet and swung rhythms
It’s less theory heavy than the Rookie section, but there’s still some tips on key signatures and notation, as well as some practical instrumental advice on using the piano pedal.
There’s 63 sections in the Intermediate Bootcamp, so there’s still plenty to work through, though not as much as in Rookie!
Intermediate also builds on the musical ear skills started in the Rookie course, with a section on how transposition works (oh so annoying, but oh so necessary for many musicians) and a section on hearing chords.
There continues to be a wide range of songs, from the theme to ‘Game Of Thrones’ to ‘Losing My Religion’ and Justin Bieber’s ‘Sorry’.
The Advanced Section
The Advanced section gets more into the final details of playing and musicality, and would be suitable for any players who have a good understanding of playing and theory, and really want to make their playing shine. At 25 sections, it is the shortest bootcamp by far.
The Advanced Bootcamp takes you through such topics as…
- 16th notes, standard and tied
- 7th chords – major, minor, dominant
- Playing parallel octaves
And for musicality tips, it introduces the concept of ‘voices’ – the idea that musical textures can be broken down various ‘voices’ or melody parts, and how to decide which bits of melody to emphasize when, as a player.
It’s not something I’ve seen covered in a piano course before, but it’s definitely useful for those really wanting to take their playing to the next level.
Songs covered include, ‘The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’, ‘What A Wonderful World’ and ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling’.
Playground Sessions’ song library is where the app really shines – there’s just so many to choose from!
There’s unlimited access to the songs, having done away with a previous system of ‘song credits’. There’s TV and film themes, classical music, jazz, traditionals, and pop songs from every recent era right to the modern day. There’s even a few non-English language tunes!
And with each song featuring several arrangements of varying degrees of difficulty, there’s hours to be spent here trying out songs, and returning to try harder versions of them as your skills improve.
Each song gives you the option of which skill level to try, as well as whether you just want to play them as a pianist or with a band backing track.
And don’t worry – the songs are broken down into small chunks to learn each section, with the right and left-hand parts alternating before you put them together. Though of course, if you’re feeling confident, you can always skip ahead to the ‘Full Performance’!
This is also where the video-game aspect comes most into play – after each attempt at each section, the app will give you a rating based on how accurate your playing was, and some points to add to your overall level.
You can keep track of your total points on the Dashboard, and see how many points you need to reach the next level. It will also show you stats on how much time you’ve spent playing and your overall playing accuracy – a good motivator for anyone who loves numbers and levelling up.
All these stats and analytics are also a new and updated feature, for anyone who’s looked at Playground Sessions before.
The Courses section is a good option for anyone getting a little tired of the Bootcamp and wanting a reprieve, and for those wanting to challenge themselves with something more specific. There are Courses for every skill level, containing anything from 3 to 50 lessons.
The ‘Holiday Medley’ challenge will be a sure favorite to brush up your seasonal repertoire, and Advanced players can really get stuck in to the ‘The Virtuoso Pianist’ to improve their finger dexterity.
And any big classic music fans will get a kick out of the section by Mike Garson, best known as Bowie’s pianist.
It’s a mixture of some more technical tips, as Garson breaks down a few famous pieces to look at their musical construction (yes, including some Bowie songs), as well as some tips on things like stage fright, improvisation, and some bonus rock’n’roll anecdotes.
- Wide range of songs to appeal to all
- Live feedback showing your playing accuracy
- Range of teachers and contributors
- Points system make it more like a fun video game
- Analytics track your progress
- Not just lessons – a lot of material for your money
- The amount of material and focus on theory may be intimidating for some
- Monthly subscription payments may not be financially feasible for all
- The technological focus and lack of a live teacher may be a turn-off for some
Playground Sessions is a very impressive course, that utilizes technology brilliantly to work hand in hand with learning the piano.
There’s a wide range of songs to appeal to all ages, and it covers all the key parts of music theory and piano playing, as well as much more.
It’s a lot of self-motivation and quite an intimidating amount of material to cover, but the feedback and points system adds an element of fun to it all, and will particularly appeal to young players.
Can you Do a review on HDpiano ?
Is there anything in particular you’d like to know about HDpiano?
It seems that HDpiano only offers video tutorials for learning popular songs, so there isn’t much to be reviewed there. You can get an idea of their song teaching style by checking out some of their song lesson demos available on YouTube for free.
With that said, if you’d still want to go deeper and learn the ins and outs of their platform, do let us know. We’ll consider reviewing the HDpiano in the nearest future.
First off, thank you very much for your extensive reviews! I´ve gone through every single one of them.
I´m a complete rookie, I´ve never learned how to read a single note nor have I ever played piano, but I wish to start, and I wish to do this on my own.
I´ve already bought an 88 key digital piano, and based on your reviews, I think that Pianofall is a must for learning the fundamentals (right?).
However, I wish to complement it with a more interactive app too. My goal is to be able to read music sheets (not hardcore of course) and have a good general knowledge to be able to play casual songs in my home.
I´ve been able to narrow it down to the Skoove and Playground Sessions based on your comments. Between these two, which one would you recommend? Which one would you say has better lessons and also better ways of teaching? Or would you recommend a different one?
I would really really appreciate your feedback.
Thank you very much in advance.
Sorry, I meant between Skoove and Flowkey.
Hi Christian! I’m happy to hear that you found my reviews helpful. Pianoforall is an excellent choice for learning the fundamentals of music and for just being able to sit down and play. It’s not super strong on reading music though, so an interactive program that helps with that is a good idea. My favourite interactive method is Piano Marvel, but it’s really classical-music heavy (which doesn’t sound like what you’re after) and probably a little more intense than you need if you already are using Pianoforall. Between your two choices, I would go with Skoove. Its curriculum is complementary to Pianoforall (focus on chords/jazz etc) but it definitely makes sure that you can read music. It also has a good song library for beginner and intermediate students (you might want to supplement it once you reach the advanced level).
Thanks for your comment, and hope this helps!
Hi Giselle! I was almost going to go with Playground Sessions but after reading your review, it may not be what I’m looking for. I’m an adult and played when I was a kid and am starting up again. I’m at around intermediate level. I am looking for a totally comprehensive program….as close to in person lessons as possible. I’d like to stick with one program if I can so I’m looking for one that reaches advanced levels. I am interested in some classical but want to learn Jazz and Blues as well as current material. I am not so good with just picking up a book and learning on my own. The interactive programs are my preferred method of learning. What do you recommend? Thanks!
HI Gselle, I was frustrated as a child learning organ from a music teaching center (Lyon & Healy) but I never fukky understood that the organ was an extension of the piano and that both left and right hand coordination are key to being able to play both piano and organ well. Fortunately I also learned guitar and alto sax so I kept a bit of basic music theory and sight reading. I want to get back to basics playing piano correctly. I really liked the fact that Playground Sessions allows you to buy the leaning package outright instead of going thorugh monthly payments because I know that I wouold be using it frequently. HOwever if this package is more elementary, maybe I should move up to Skoove or PIano Marvel.
Both Skoove and Piano Marvel have free trials, so it may be worth checking them out, and if you don’t like them, well, then they aren’t for you. It’s really hard to recommend something because what works for one person may not work for another, so the best way is to try the app for yourself and see if you like it.
Hi Gisselle, I am a beginner piano learner and I like to take a program as close as having a private lesson. I learn pretty quickly and practice everyday. I also play persian tar and know how to read it’s music sheet. I only play as a hobby and still learning. What is your recomendation for me as far as which program to take to learn piano?
So hard to choose! Flowkey seems to include notably more advanced levels of playing in the song selection (was just listening to some of the “hardest” songs in both Flowkey and Playground for comparison purposes), but on the other hand Playground can be had for a lot cheaper, the lifetime subscription especially, since it’s included in their various discount sales. Of course, Playground has a limited number of songs without extra cost, while Flowkey includes the entire catalogue. But then again, Playground allows printing sheet music and seems to have give more “feedback” via the gamification. Ugh!
Something I also pondered though is that if I manage to get Playground a lot cheaper – I’m hoping there might be an even bigger Black Friday sale – and then end up learning all it can offer, at that point spending again on something else wouldn’t be so bad, because it would mean I actually stuck with it long enough to get that far, which would be a win in itself. Or could just move on to playing entirely from sheets at that point, too.
The variety of options can be overwhelming, I know, but hey it’s also a good thing, right? If you don’t like one app, you can always try the one with a different approach, and so on. If it’s your first time dealing with piano apps, you might want to hold off investing in a lifetime membership and get a 1-month subscription first to get a taste of the app, and then decide if you want to commit to a full membership.
So far I’ve tried to some extent Yousician Piano, which I liked, and Flowkey. Both 7-day trials, but with Flowkey I only really did like an hour on the first two days, then didn’t touch it. I didn’t really like it much. I felt it lacked any feedback, and also at least the Android version wasn’t “smooth” – to prevent the song from stopping in “wait mode” you had to play the note waaaayyy too early, otherwise it’d halt. Then it also took like a good moment to resume from said halt when you did play the note. It’s really hard to keep up a good rhythm/timing. And the courses have “forced” wait mode lessons, so there’s that even if you don’t have to use it for the full songs. And of course on the slower tempos the app’s piano sounds reaaally bad.
Playground has the problem of no proper trial, although I was able to check some videos etc in the Windows client for some reason. However the big problem is that it requires MIDI, and my old keyboard doesn’t have USB connection. I bought an adapter but of course with my luck it didn’t work right – stuck keys, no keys registered, etc.
Anyway, I don’t like the one-month subs even for testing much because they’re so expensive. For Playground for example a single month is already 10% of a discounted lifetime sub, such as the Halloween sale was (and I’d imagine Black Friday will be). I might just sub for Yousician, but I’m a bit worried about the lack of actual song content, especially without the more expensive Premium+. And with it, too, only the yearly plan has a reasonable cost per month (and to my understanding you actually pay monthly unlike with the others, so not the entire year at once; for me monthly is a lot easier to do financially). Too bad the training time per day for the free mode is nonexistent (thought at least it HAS a free mode).
Don’t bother with this program. The intro to songs are so hard and usually recognizable you can’t score well or get to the melody. I really don’t like most of the purchased arrangements. They should let members give feedback on the songs they purchase or let the purchaser hear the full song not just a snipit of it. A selfish program made to make money on the back side of people who really want to learn. Life time member and the only reason I still use it once in a while
I really like PLayground Sessions, have been using it for a month now!
Which one of these are good for a piano beginner with emphasis on jazz?
I just picked up a keyboard to learn voice leadings, reharmonizing melodies etc. I am a complete beginner for piano, but have been playing melodies by ear for many ears, and know decently well about music theory, even jazz theory (in theory!) but don’t know how to use correct fingerings for piano etc.
Pianoforall might be worth checking out. There are several ebooks dedicated to Jazz and Blues there. You can read our review of Pianoforall here.
There’s also a great YouTube channel called NewJazz with some free Jazz lessons and a lot of useful information about jazz improvisation.
These reviews should include also reviewing the IOS app as well. In this day in age, most everything uses a tablet. In saying that, currently the IOS app rating for Playground Sessions sits at 2.7!!! Also they have not updated the app for over 2 years!!! That is unacceptable!!! I would think that would affect your rating system. If you look at the Flowkey and Simply Piano apps, they have been updating their software monthly and their ratings are much higher.
Let me know what you think, as a end user I would have no choice to scratch this one off the list.
That’s a great suggestion, Mike! Makes perfect sense. It’s just with these reviews, we’ve been more focused on the learning tools themselves and the curriculum rather than the tech implementation. But, I agree, when the experience is not smooth, it doesn’t matter how good the lessons are. We’ll definitely consider this for our future reviews.
Also, if I’m not mistaken, Playground Sessions are currently working on a new tech platform, which should make the learning experience much more enjoyable and bug-free.
Thank you for the review! Piano Sessions sells a 61-key semi-weighted keyboard bundle at a “killer” price of $149. It is said to be “designed and optimized for Playground learning app” and includes a one year’s subscription. The deals seems too good to be true, and usually that is the case. Do you have an opinion on this keyboard? Would it be a waste of my money? The fully weighted keyboards you recommend elsewhere on your site sound amazing, but may be an overkill for me. I just want to learn the basics and to practice pop songs in silence without disturbing the household. Once I am better at it, I already have an acoustic upright to move up to.
Well, anything could work when you’re just starting out, even drumming a virtual keyboard at your desk would be better than nothing. Personally, I’m skeptical when it comes to keyboards like this. For $149, it’s quite unlikely that you’ll get anything more than a keyboard-shaped toy. Have you checked out this keyboard guide? There are some decent options that you can get for less than $300. In particular, the new Yamaha PSR-E373 is pretty impressive, considering its price.
I have not seen much in the way of JAZZ Education or playing arrangements with music that is Jazz orientated – did I miss something?