Thomas Grayston is a software developer from Tasmania, Australia. He has produced an excellent app to help piano students learn to associate notes on the staff with specific keys on the piano.
Tell us a bit about your background. Are you a musician or a teacher?
Thomas plays piano and was a music director for church. His wife, Kylie, teaches piano and Thomas helps in her studio from time to time.
Tell us about your app, Note Rush.
Note Rush launched about a year ago and is designed to help students associate notes on the staff with keys on the piano. The app is student-paced, despite the name, to enable even the earliest beginner to think through the process of naming notes and play the appropriate piano key.
The app comes with a variety of themes to engage many interests of students.
How did you start this journey of creating a music education app?
Thomas’s degree is in computing and he is, by trade, a software developer. As a self-proclaimed “terrible sight reader”, Thomas relied on his ability to play by ear to create jazz improvisations more than reading music notation. He also noticed a weakness in sight reading for his wife’s students. In fact, this is a common struggle for many students.
It could very well be one the main reasons many students quit piano.
Using flashcards for practice at home isn’t as productive as you would hope if there isn’t someone in the home who can give the student feedback about their accuracy.
Gamification is bringing game theory and game design to an area where you want to be trained or a concept you desire to learn.
Thomas also earned his master’s degree in Technology-Assisted Training. Specifically, Thomas aims to use technology and apps to help close the feedback loop to inform the user if they are hitting the mark or not.
All games teach the player something. If you make a game where the goals align with an educational goal, players are learning a very useful skill, while having fun.
When I told my students that I was going to interview with you, I asked them what they would ask you and they said,
1. How long did it take to make Note Rush?
The idea was on the back burner for a while. The basic prototype came first and was tested with students. Thomas made tweaks and added additional features. Note Rush was a side project Thomas worked on while he worked his full-time job. All in all, the app took about a year to develop, though it is always evolving and improving.
(Shelly’s sidenote: This makes me think of students as they work on their pieces. We start with the idea of a piece to learn, begin working on the basic foundation of the piece, and gradually add more expression and fluency as our performance of the piece progresses.)
2. Were there other names you were thinking about before you named the app Note Rush?
The first idea for graphics, before ladybugs, Thomas was thinking of using bubbles as notes on the staff. He would have called the app Note Pop.
3. What other backgrounds or themes are you planning?
There are several seasonal themes: Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, etc.
In the future, there might be the possibility of purchasing theme packages with emojis, animals, vehicles, and other collections that would appeal to children.
Do you have an idea for a Note Rush theme that your child would enjoy? Post it in the comments below and I will make sure Thomas hears your idea!
BONUS HACK for Piano Parent Podcast Listeners!
There is a secret basketball theme in the Note Rush app. To activate the secret background, switch to the soccer ball theme and tap on the notehead of the Note Rush logo five times. Viola!
According to your website, www.NoteRushApp.com, you designed this app to replace flashcards for students attempting to join the One Minute Club. Could you tell us more about that?
The idea behind the One Minute Club is the student has to get through a deck of music staff flashcards, naming the note and playing the corresponding piano key, within one minute. Decks of cards can be customized according to the student’s skill level.
The One Minute Club was popularized by Susan Paradis, a fellow Texas teacher. You can learn more about this excellent note drilling exercise at www.SusanParadis.com.
Note Rush Level 3 uses all the notes within the grand staff, excluding ledger lines. This level is equivalent to the One Minute Club.
What kind of feedback are you receiving from teachers?
Facebook has been an invaluable resource for connecting with teachers from around the world. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Teachers have left reviews and shared how Note Rush has been a helpful tool for them and the success of their students with note reading.
Read Joy Morin’s review of Note Rush at Color in My Piano.
Lou Ann Yackley Pope, a piano teacher from Georgia, has an excellent video demonstrating how she uses Note Rush in her studio.
What advice do you have for parents and teachers regarding this app in particular or technology in general?
In terms of technology in general, parents are often concerned with limiting screen time for their children. I would encourage you to evaluate your child’s screen time an set aside an amount of that time for educational experiences that will enhance the activities they are doing, particularly in music, of course.
Use apps as a tool or a means to a greater goal.
What future plans do you have for Note Rush? Do you have more music education apps in the works?
One update this will be released very soon is the Level Designer of Note Rush. This will allow users to select specific notes to drill. The Level Designer will also include sharps and flats.
You can watch for the update announcement on the Note Rush page on Facebook. Or go ahead and purchase the app now and the update will automatically appear when your device processes app updates.
MIDI support will be an additional feature in the future. MIDI support will allow Note Rush to be used with a digital keyboard through the MIDI cable rather than relying on the external microphone.
Another idea is to offer a free version of Note Rush to allow parents to try the app before they purchase. (Shelly says: But you, dear Piano Parent, are a savvy podcast listener and you already know the value of the excellent app. You don’t need a free version! Take my recommendation and purchase Note Rush today.)
Note Rush focuses on only one element of sight reading – cold note recognition. Future apps would focus on other sight reading elements such as piano geography and intervallic note reading.
With which platforms is Note Rush compatible?
Note Rush can be used on Android applications as well as Apple Devices: iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch. Thomas hopes to have it available for Kindle Fire soon as well.
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