A Personalised Sheet Music App for the Amateur Pianist

oktavThere 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 music 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 relatively new score reading platform developed in Austria, is at the immersive end of market and its unique selling point is that by collecting information about the user’s musical preferences and playing 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; and Ravel – Valses Nobles et Sentimentales).

Ravel: Valses nobles et sentimentales (version for piano)

One of the difficulties many amateur pianists face, especially those who are engaged in self-learning or working independently of a teacher, is finding repertoire which is suitable for their ability level. This is particularly true for pianists in the intermediate ability range. 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 which simplifies the search and selection process even further.

Each score in the app 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. 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 also have the option to download and print a score 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 10,000+ arrangements available with around 200 more being added each week. Oktav also has arrangements with music publishers Barenreiter, Faber Music and Alfred Music Publishing, amongst others, 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.

Oktav seems keen to support the amateur pianist through its app and I believe a platform such as this can be incredibly useful to those people who wish to learn and explore music independently, but who may be confused by the wealth of repertoire on offer.

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