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Piano teaching programs reviews: Practicia

Overview


Price: Free for now. Subscription pricing will take effect when beta period ends, date and price to be determined.

Technical Requirements: High-speed internet connections, iPhone or iPad. Android and desktop versions currently under development.

Website: practicia.com

Customer support: Excellent communication via Facebook @PRACTICIA User Group. 


Pros

  • Works with all instruments, ages, private lessons, or group classes
  • Fully customizable assignments which work with any teaching materials
  • Encourages students to practice in an organized manner
  • Allows teachers to listen in on recorded practice sessions between lessons
  • All uploaded practice sessions are saved in practice history for future listening
  • Tracks individual and group practice trends
  • Provides gamification through teacher-created practice awards
  • Cloud-based file storage 


Cons

  • Only available on iPhones and iPads
  • No offline mode
  • Laden with technical glitches due to beta status
  • Can take up much teacher planning time
  • Development team is slow to deliver many promised features and improvements 


What if you had an easy way to check in on your students every day, to ensure they are practicing effectively between lessons (or if at all)? Well, there's an app for that. 


How it works

Practicia offers a cloud-based mobile technology solution for tracking music practice for students, teachers, and parents. It functions like a combination of an assignment book, a practice journal, a metronome, a timer, and an audio/video recorder. The heart of the app's innovation lies in its ability to easily record and upload students' practice sessions for automatic sharing between teachers, students, and parents.

Designed explicitly to accommodate as wide a musical audience as possible, Practicia can be used for music teachers and students of all instruments in private or group classes. The interface is simple and suitable for students young and old. Unlike most other music teaching apps on the market, Practicia does not limit teachers to the musical content available on its platform. In fact, the app does not even feature any musical content. It is up to teachers to enter in whatever assignments they already use in their everyday teaching.

Creating an assignment in Practicia can be as simple as typing in the title of a composition. For a more enhanced experience, notes and instructions can be attached to each assignment as text, photo, audio, video, or Youtube links. Unfortunately, manually entering every assignment you ever use takes up a great deal of planning time. Once they are created, however, each assignment and its attached instructions are saved in a virtual library and may be reused over and over again for different students individually or in groups. 


When students practice using Practicia, they must first select an assignment found on their in-app assignment list. After you tap "Practice Now," the app uses the device's microphone or camera to record up to ten minutes at one time of audio (or three minutes of video) of the practice session. Upon the student's approval, the recordings are uploaded to the cloud. Teachers then receive access to these recordings in real time and may choose to give comments or ratings based on what they hear. 


Practicia in practice

I first discovered Practicia in January 2016. I spent a couple weeks getting myself familiarized with its features, and then introduced it to my private piano students as an optional tool. I chose to accept whatever response I got from my students without any pressure, and I encouraged greater use of the app only to those students who showed interest. Perhaps due to my hands-off approach, the students who have studied with me for a while showed little interest in trying the app out. Only among my younger and new students could I keep sustaining the flame of interest. For these little ones, the results and reactions to Practicia have been quite positive overall.

After many months of using it as a regular part of my teaching, I have now gathered a good range of user responses. Here are a few portraits of some characters based on my students' experiences:

1) Daisy the Daydreamer loves to play the piano, but struggles to practice effectively due to her absent-mindedness. Her parents wanted to help, but because of their work schedules, they had no simple way of checking whether Daisy's claims that she had practiced were true or not. When I introduced Practicia to them, her parents actually cheered and said, "Now we'll have the evidence!"

Soon after Daisy started using Practicia, we discovered that she did practice as she said, but she only played old pieces she had already mastered long ago. We addressed this issue repeatedly by emphasizing the need to practice newer pieces first, before she can jam to her old favorites. Through her regular use of the app, I am so pleased to say that Daisy has made great progress in her playing since last spring. 

2) Sean the Sloppy Practicer fell in love with the game-like quality of Practicia right away, and he would log numerous practice sessions of his early elementary pieces every week. Despite the frequency, his practicing was often quite messy and thoughtless. For example, he often ignored the full rhythmic values of long notes. To prevent rhythmic inaccuracies, I often requested that he count and clap along while recording in the "With Accompaniment" mode, before he actually plays the piece.

I also found it tremendously helpful to listen in on a sampling of the uploaded practicing before Sean's lesson each week, in order to plan out the issues I need to address. This helps me prevent further careless practicing. 

3) Danny the Diligent Performer always showed up very well prepared for his lessons, so I was initially puzzled at why he would log so few practice sessions on Practicia. It turns out that he would only upload good takes of his pieces, and he would discard all other sessions he deemed imperfect. I have tried many times in vain to explain to him that I want to hear him practice—not just perform—through the app. Nevertheless, not all is lost: in order to get those "perfect" recordings every week, he surely must have listened to his own playing and practiced a great deal! 


Room for improvement

Currently released only in beta mode, Practicia is still under technical development as of the writing of this review. The good news is that all features are free to all users at the moment while in beta mode. The bad news is that there are still many technical kinks to be worked out.

One of its many unfortunate technical flaws can be found in its sign-up process. All new users must sign up for an account on the website practicia.com before using the app. This step cannot be done within the app itself as of the writing of this review. The app is available for free download from the Apple App Store for iPhones only. For iPad users: the app could only be found through toggling the search option to show for "iPhone only."

Another notable flaw is in its lack of a clear in-app notification system. While the options to attach multimedia instructions and comments are fantastic, the user interface does not make any special signs to show when these are added. All of the optional instructions and comments currently hide under collapsed menus, so students often do not know when or where to look for them.

These and many other technical issues have been discussed at length on the Facebook group for Practicia Users. Sam Rao, the CEO and founder of Practicia, is always quick to respond to any technical issues and questions posted on this customer support group. Many additional features and improvements have been promised through these discussions, including the launching of desktop and Android versions. While I appreciate the excellent communication with customers, I am disappointed in the slow delivery of the promised features, which have no expected roll out dates available. 

Conclusion

Overall, I am excited to see the ongoing developments of Practicia and other apps that it may inspire in the future. The ability to attach instructions in many different media inspires me to use new ways to engage my students in listening, playing, and creating music. The whole recording process in short sessions encourages students to be deliberate, organized, and goal oriented about their practice time. While checking in on the recordings and updating assignments weekly does require more of my time, I feel much more informed about my students' playing, and this helps me address their strengths and weaknesses more effectively. The parents of my students have also expressed gratefulness for the comments I offer from time to time between lessons.

Using Practicia has been an exciting and transformative adventure for my students and me this year. I hope you will give it a try! 

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