Note: This article was originally written on January 7th. By January 13th, the app’s login sequence had been updated (with need for an app update!) to replace the four Finger Print login screens with a single screen. Furthermore, after choosing to simply “play” instead of activating the Finger Print services the first time, the app immediately logs into the DoReMi splash page. Therefore, the material in this review about Finger Paint and my frustration with the service (having a three-year-old) are no longer valid, but I’m keeping the material in this review. I think the material shows how a good developer listens to feedback (not just mine–they were addressing the issue even as I published the article) and how quickly they can respond to concerns and suggestions. As a note, my other comments stil stand. Bravo to Creativity Mobile for bringing an improved user experience to DoReMi 1-2-3.
Some time ago, someone from Creativity Mobile (@CreativityMobil) sent a twitter “mention” to the @techinmusiced Twitter account:
I don’t check Twitter messages on that account very often, as it is mainly a news feed for new posts (these auto-generate from WordPress every time I post), or when there is other news worth posting (particularly when it isn’t enough to warrant a full blog post or I don’t have the time to write a full blog post). However, I did see the mention in later December, and I looked at the app (never mentioned, although the icon used for Creativity Mobile’s Twitter account is the icon), and chose to purchase it without asking for a promo code. The app is called DoReMi 1-2-3, and its purpose is to teach kids to play five different songs using a game mode that focuses on repetition of sequences of the song. Those five songs are “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” “Ode to Joy,” “Jingle Bells,” and “The Dreidel Song.” There is also a free play mode, where kids can choose any “background,” any of the five characters, and any of four types of notes (colors, numbers, solfege, or a type of pitch, depending on the character).
The developers of the app have placed a lot of positive feedback about DoReMe 1-2-3 on their website and on the iTunes page. I have some positive feedback as well, but it will come after discussing an element of the app that frustrates me as a parent: the app’s use of a system called “Finger Paint” to track your child’s progress in this app and others. When you enter the app, you see a splash screen for Creativity Mobile, followed by FOUR screens for the Finger Paint service. Finger Paint stresses the use of Facebook, but gives you options to register by e-mail or as a guest. If you choose “guest,” you are treated to an additional screen asking you to register for Finger Paint. And even if you don’t register, you still have to choose an avatar on the final screen…before hitting yet another splash screen for the actual DoReMe 1-2-3 app! If you leave the app and come back, and you had played as a “guest,” you get to go through all those splash screens again.
Let me be clear about this: I don’t like the Finger Paint idea at all. You shouldn’t be forced to go through those screens every time you start the app. And if you have a pre-reader playing with the app (like my three year old), they are NOT going to know what buttons to press to avoid signing up for the Facebook features (which, incidentally, are highlighted in orange, so what are pre-readers going to press?). And to be honest, the graphic images in the entire Finger Paint process are lower resolution and blurry (the actual app is not lower resolution and blurry). Maybe some people like Finger Paint and all the Facebook integration…I do not. I’d prefer that the app follow the practice of many games with Open Feint and Game Center–ask the first time, and then never ask again. But I’d remove it altogether. If my son is using my iPad, I know what he’s doing on my device; it’s a $699 investment that I have no desire to turn my child completely loose with. There’s no reason that this app couldn’t go directly from the Creativity Mobile splash screen to the DoReMi 1-2-3 splash screen.
One other thought: DoReMi 1-2-3 has the ability to be a useful app in education as schools go 1-to-1 with iPads. All the Finger Paint stuff will get in the way of schools being able to use the app in a classroom setting.
It may seem to be ridiculous to talk about Facebook integration before talking about the app itself, but the Finger Paint integration is a big road block to getting to the app and it could be a deal breaker for you and your child.
Now, to the app itself…when you finally arrive at the app, you are greeted by a screen giving you an option to learn one of five songs, or to play freely. If you choose one of the songs, it is divided up into stages. Each stage focuses on a specific sequence of notes of the larger song. Progress is charted through the stage. There are some challenges, as the app takes away indicators such as numbers and solfege as you advance through the stage. At some points, the characters (which you press to make sounds) turn around so you cannot see their faces as they play melodies you are supposed to create. This really ramps up the difficulty of the app. If you make mistakes, those indicators are added back, in the order of solfege and then numbers. Clearly, numbers are considered the “lowest level” of understanding notes.
If you choose free play, you can select any one of five backgrounds, with any of the characters of the five songs. You can choose to have each character sing colors, numbers, solfege, or a pitch. “Pitch” might be not be the best descriptor, because the bears, cows, and elves “sing” in character voices. Parts of the background also interact with the user (you can open the barn, or make the dragon boat talk). You can also record your own songs and play them back. The characters appear on an ascending plane, just as notes appear on a keyboard or music staff.
If you take away all the Finger Paint nonsense, the app itself is quite fun and entertaining. My son, at age three, wasn’t able to “get” the challenges of the individual songs, but he does enjoy the “free play” option. Many of the music apps for children would only offer this part anyway. Can you learn a song through this process? Yes. Can you learn (inadvertently) more about the function of notes in a scale (numbers) or solfege? Yes. But are there things that can be improved from an aspect of music education? Yes. Let me offer some suggestions:
First, at no point are actual musical notes introduced. At some point, you want kids to be able to connect the number, solfege, or pitch with a printed note. I don’t think that you have to have a “big white and black staff” showing the notes on the top of the page, but perhaps some actual printed notes (key of C?) could appear in the background of a scene (in a color) as a note was pressed? In other words, gently introducing the connection between notes and music. Yes, pitch memory and sequence memory is important–but at the same time, so is note reading.
Second, in addition to a lack of connection to actual written pitch, there’s also a lack of connection to written rhythm as well. I don’t know how to go about adding this to the app, but it is something you would want in terms of music education.
Third, there’s room to allow for minor melodies (they are adding more songs in the future).
Fourth, how about adding a fifth type of sound in free play, actual letter names of notes (C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C)? That way, the child could learn colors, numbers, solfege, letter names, or play with a sound. (I’m also not a fan of the top note of the scale being an “8” in numbers. I’d prefer it was a “1”, perhaps a “1” with an up arrow?)
Finally, it would be nice if a (fun) background could be added that placed the characters on a keyboard or musical staff. These are painless ways to introduce children to these concepts.
On a personal note, one of my favorite parts of second grade was a set of musical squeeze toys that my teacher had in the classroom and used to teach us the basics of music. I wish I could remember the name of that music set, but I was excited (and so were my peers) to be introduced to each character in the set who had a back story–and each “squeezed” a note that approximated their name in that magical musical kingdom. DoReMi 1-2-3 has the potential to have the same affect for children in the “iPad era.” The app, minus the Finger Paint business, is great for the home and has potential for educational settings. It is currently available (1/7/2012) on the App Store for $1.99.