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Music DS offers genuine tuition, inspired from montessori and Japanese know-how. While players have to work quite hard, the pay off is real musical learning.
Music walks that tricky line between educational tool and play thing. Although the likes of Sim City have made this space plausible - starting life in University Geography courses - it is still hard to create an experience that gives the player enough fun to want to keep learning.
Other Nintendo DS music games like Easy Piano have come close, but none have grasped the education nettle as firmly as this.
First off, it's good to see developers taking on tasks like this, rather than churning out 'anyone can play' rhythm action games. While they are fun, their lowering of the creative barrier means that when everyone can play, in some ways no-one can - certainly there is little reason to persevere and excel.
Music offers a series of lessons that introduce you to the basics of music creation. Players are here learning proper technique as well as reading real music. This is where we see Shiro Tsuji's experience coming to bear. Although this is at a beginner level, there are certainly overtones of his music lesson experience at university, solfege and choral level.
Once you are past the first stages, things do open out and move towards a more playful learning style.
Each lesson is easy to understand and well written - although there is quite a lot of text to read for younger players. Also, those that naturally favour experimentation rather than talking-head instruction may balk at having to go through a number of lessons before being let loose on the free play performances.
I found this a little at odds with the game's US title. Montessori Music suggests to me that, like that educational method, there would be more learning in practice as opposed to written instruction. As I understood it, the Montessori method aims to enable experimental observation to bring about, sustain and support the way they learn naturally.
Once you are past the first stages, things do open out and move towards a more playful learning style. Here we find the headlined hands-on repetition as we leave the musical grammar explanation behind and students can start to acquire some pretty heavyweight theories.
The achievement here is that it still feels enough like a game to be fun. There are some really magical moments here as students realise they have just learnt a whole piece of music they previously thought too hard for them. Many games would leave things here, but Music impresses by providing plenty of reasons to return. In addition to the mini-games and sound quizzes there is a great reference book of some 400 musical terms.
Music for All quietly gets on with the business of helping people learn and discover music for themselves.
As things progress players can practise their new knowledge on a range of instruments like piano, guitar and drums. This is a million miles away from the likes of Band Hero, Guitar Hero or Rockband, but happily so for the educational market. By treating the exercise as a genuine opportunity for learning, Music offers people the chance to try their hand at the real world of music.
Music won't grab headlines like the big budget rhythm action games. What it will do however is quietly get on with the business of helping people learn and discover music for themselves.
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