Duolingo is an incredibly popular language learning app that can teach you a wide range of languages in bite sized daily lessons. The app is pretty effective in teaching the basics of languages, by encouraging you to maintain your streak by doing a short lesson every single day. I have a four-figure streak that would destroy me to break, so I happily do my lesson every day. Italian? Completed it, mate.
Duolingo has now added two new options to the app, and for the first time, they’re not languages. You can now learn maths, which is unlikely to appeal to many, but you can also learn music. With so many people regretting that they never learned an instrument as a kid, this has the potential to be extremely popular.
But is it any good? I learned piano as a kid, so I tried out Duolingo Music to see if it could actually teach you to learn an instrument. Here’s what I found.
What is Duolingo Music?
Duolingo Music is a new option within the Duolingo app that allows you to learn music instead of languages. It was released alongside another option, Duolingo Math, which teaches you some basic maths skills.
Duolingo Music uses the same gamified methods you’ll be familiar with if you’ve ever used Duolingo to learn a language. By working through the lessons on a daily basis, the intent is to teach you how to read and play music. You get a mix of lesson types, with some asking you to name notes, and others getting you to play along with the music in a format that’s a little like the classic Guitar Hero games, only with a piano keyboard.
What I liked about Duolingo Music
Unfortunately, this section is going to be pretty brief, as there’s a lot wrong with Duolingo music and very little right. The one thing that Duolingo Music is useful for is learning musical notation. If you want to play an instrument by reading sheet music, then you’re going to need to know what all those little dots and lines actually mean, and this is what Duolingo Music is actually good at. You learn the names of the notes, the different lengths of notes, you learn about rests (the gaps between notes), and all of this will help you to be able to read music, up to a point. The flaw here is that the focus is exclusively on the treble clef. That’s fine as a starting point, but if you want to learn the piano, only the music for your right hand is written in the treble clef, with the part for your left hand written in bass clef. Long story short, you’re only learning one of the four main clefs that are used in music, and although it’s by far the most common, there are still three others you won’t be able to read.
What I didn’t like about Duolingo Music
There’s a lot to get into here, as I found some serious problems with Duolingo Music. Let’s break it down a little.
Any instrument as long as it’s piano
When Duolingo was announced, people were excited. There are millions of people out there who spend a little time every day extending their language streaks, and the idea of being able to learn to play an instrument in just a few minutes a day is appealing. However, if you were thinking that you’d finally get to learn that dusty guitar that you bought all those years ago, you’re out of luck.
Duolingo Music only teaches you how to play music on a keyboard. If you want to learn to play the piano, that will be of some help (more on that later) but if you want to learn guitar, or flute, or drums, or cello, then Duolingo Music can’t help. It makes sense in practical terms, as an on-screen keyboard is the simplest way for you to interact with the app, but it will still be a huge disappointment to the majority of people.
You’ll learn one (not very useful) skill
Even if you do want to use it to learn the piano, that’s not quite what you’re getting. Duolingo Music will teach you one skill: how to play a virtual keyboard on your phone or tablet. This is not the same as learning to play the piano. On a phone, the keyboard is too small for you to use anything other than a one-finger-stab technique, so you’ll learn how to prod keys with your index finger. Playing a piano is about using all ten fingers, and that’s not something you’re going to learn with this app. If you try to take your new skills to a real piano, you’re going to find it a real struggle too, as tapping a virtual key is a lot easier than pressing down a weighted piano key.
Even then, trying to find the right place to start playing on a real piano will be a challenge. The first thing I was taught when I had my first piano lesson was where to find middle C. Duolingo teaches you where to find a C (and even this isn’t done very well, with small sections of keyboard that make it hard to work out which key is which) but it doesn’t teach you where this note is found on a piano. If you want to take your new skills to a real piano, you’ll just have to hope you’re playing the right C.
I can play the piano. Not very well, but I can play it. But very often I would lose all my hearts before the end of a session on Duolingo Music, not because I didn’t know what to play, but because I pressed the wrong key on the tiny virtual keyboard. It’s incredibly frustrating to lose hearts when you know what you wanted to play, but you got marked down for your fumbly fingers. The keys on a real piano or keyboard are much larger, so this isn’t really teaching you anything other than how to tap more accurately.
Now you might think that you can get past all of these flaws if you end up being able to impress your friends by playing The Way It Is by Bruce Hornsby and the Range. Well, prepare to be disappointed. I skipped ahead to the very end of the Duolingo Music, and the final boss you have to face after working through 69 units of Duolingo Music? Learning how to play a pretty ropey arrangement of Pop Goes The Weasel. Was it really worth it?
Duolingo Music conclusions
If you want to learn how to read music, then Duolingo Music is fairly useful. You’ll have to get through all the sections where you’re forced to play, but you will learn the names of the notes, about the lengths of notes and rests, about time signatures, and about sharps and flats. You can then use those skills to go and learn a real instrument.
If you hoped that Duolingo Music would actually teach you how to play an instrument, however, then you’re out of luck. You won’t be any closer to knowing how to play that guitar, and even if you always wanted to learn the piano, you’ll only be a small fraction of the way to knowing how to play that too. At best, you’ll be able to play Pop Goes The Weasel with one finger. Maybe Duolingo will improve the app over time, but for now, you’re much better off just sticking to learning Swedish. Hej då!
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