There are any number of apps and online courses to support and inspire the amateur pianist, from simple score readers which enable the user to read from an iPad or tablet to more involved applications which offer an immersive learning experience, complete with video demonstrations, audio samples, contextual information and clever widgets embedded within the score allowing the user to follow and read the music more easily. Technology has advanced significantly since the early, simple score reading apps, and now it is almost obligatory to offer users ‘added value’ in the form of additional features.
OKTAV, a recently-launched score reading platform developed in Austria, is at the immersive end of market and its USP is that by collecting information about the user’s musical preferences and ability level, its algorithm will offer suggestions of ability-appropriate music which the user might like to learn (for example, when I inputted my own details, the system suggested, amongst other works: Bach – Goldberg Variations & Italian Concerto; Beethoven – ‘Pathetique’ and ‘Tempest’ sonatas; Lili Boulanger – Cortège; Ravel – Valses Nobles et Sentimentales),
One of the difficulties many amateur pianists face, especially those who are working independently of a teacher, is finding repertoire which is suitable for their ability level. With the vastness of the pianist’s repertoire, finding new music to play can be a daunting prospect and many online sheet music sites do not grade the repertoire on offer. Oktav makes this process far simpler with its recommendations – and in addition to personalised repertoire suggestions, Oktav also contains playlists of ability-specific repertoire, organised by theme or genre.
Each score includes video and audio clips to support learning – an overhead view of the piece being played, a performance of the entire piece and a digital diagram of the music being played (which I found confusing rather than helpful, but then I’m an advanced pianist with good sight-reading skills!). These videos are drawn from YouTube and other sources and are of variable quality, though it is evident Oktav has striven to select the best versions. (Compare this to the Tido Music app which has specially-commissioned videos from leading pianists, filmed from three different angles to give the user an all-round view of the keyboard and the geography of the music, plus a short introduction by the pianist offering insights in the music and suggestions for practising).
Users have the option to download and print a score (2 free scores per month) and/or can save to their personal library. And in order to help the algorithm in its suggestions, users may indicate whether they want to learn or have already learned the piece. This guides the algorithm for future repertoire recommendations. Obviously, the more specific the user is in indicating their musical tastes and ability level, the more accurate the recommendations are likely to be. The system prompts the user to input these details when first signing up to the platform, and the longer you use the platform, the better the recommendations.
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of Oktav is the wide range of repertoire on offer, from the core classical canon to songs from the shows, pop music, film scores, jazz and contemporary “crossover” repertoire. Currently, the site has c.10,000 arrangements available with around 200 more being added each week. Oktav also has an arrangement with music publisher Barenreiter who supply high-quality content, including fingerings. For ease of browsing, repertoire is organised into categories, and the site is attractively designed and very easy to navigate.
Full access to the site costs €9.90 per month. Visit the Oktav site for further information