DISCLAIMER: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew
Sadly, this is my last official review as a member of the Homeschool Review Crew but if there was any review to go out on, this would be it. This is a product that we have really enjoyed with our kids. For the last few months, we have been doing music instruction in our home with Practice Monkeys, an online music instruction program that offers violin, piano, cello, guitar and even offers a self defense course.
About Practice Monkeys
Practice Monkeys is a browser based source for all ages to learn how to play musical instruments as well as an available self defense course. Using the Suzuki method of learning, the website is the work of veteran violin teacher Mrs Van Kleeck,. The website offers both Live group classes as well as recorded lessons that help students master their instrument and subscriptions allow students access to both live and recorded classes each week.
Classes offered are:
- Violin Classes through Book 7 Suzuki
- Piano Classes through Book 3 Suzuki (Books 4–7 are in development)
- Guitar through Suzuki Book 2 (Books 3–7 are in development)
- Cello through Suzuki Book 3 (Books 4–7 are in development)
- Self Defense (Not Suzuki based)
The live classes are streamed four times
each week in early afternoons while the recorded classes are available
from the website 24/7 and can be accessed at the students convenience.
The website is well organized and easy to navigate. After enrolling and being granted access to the appropriate level lessons for your student, parents will find a treasure trove of information, mostly in the form of very concise videos, such as how to tune the instrument before each practice, demonstrations of the skills the student will be working on, how the parents can help the student throughout the process and how often the student will need to work with the instrument. Along with these videos, the weeks four previously recorded lessons are also accessible as well as PDF downloads for practice sheets and skills checkoff lists for the level your student is working at.
The subscription price is considered a family price and you pay for the
instrument rather than the student. This means that if you have
two students who both on the violin, you would only pay the one price for both students. Also, Assessments for
progression to the next level is a separate purchase and would be per
Live classes allow your child to interact in real time with their instructor. By using the computers camera and microphone, the instructor is able to see and listen to the students during the class time and make suggestions, corrections or praise the student during their class time.
For this review, we enrolled Garrett in the violin course and Ashleigh was enrolled in Piano.
The first step of their journey was a one on one assessment with Mrs Van Kleeck. This assessment was simple to schedule thru the website and allowed for both kids to interact with Mrs Van Kleeck and allow her to see where they stood with as far as experience and knowledge of their instruments. The assessment was on a Saturday morning and took roughly 15 minutes per child. I found this assessment to be a great starting point for the kids as it allowed them to also understand what to expect out of the classes. Mrs Van Kleeck did a great job explaining to the kids what the kids would be expected to learn for each level they would be working at. At the conclusion of the assessment, Garrett was placed in Violin 3 while Ashleigh was placed in Violin 1. (Note: Ashleigh was offered the opportunity to be placed in Piano 2, but she chose to be placed in the lower class).
Once the kids had each been placed in their levels, we were able to access the "Treehouse" for those classes. The Treehouse has all the information for the course available for the student and parent. There were instructional videos that introduced the kids to the different music pieces that they would be working on which really helped them to understand the various techniques these pieces used. These videos were especially useful when it came to Garrett, who could quickly pick up a piece of music but didn't necessarily play it using the technique. Having access to these videos allowed for us to go back after Garrett had a good understanding of the notes for the piece and then focus on the technique he needed to be using. The Treehouse also contained a checklist of what skills they would need to master in order to know when they would need a new assessment to progress to the next level, as well as the schedule for live classes and links for previously recorded classes.
That Monday, we were ready for live classes. These classes are conducted via Zoom, last roughly 15 minutes each, and included all students from that level who logged in that day. Students are expected to attend either a live class or view a previously recorded class, and then practice on their own for another 15 minutes on their own after the class. During the live classes, the students receive instruction from the instructors as well as feedback on what they can do to improve. For example - Garrett has a habit of not keeping his wrist straight while playing. There were a few times during class that the instructor would bring this to his attention for him to correct it. Below is a video of Garrett during class time being asked to play a piece for the class, where he is helped with an issue he was having as well as being given instruction by Mrs Van Kleeck. (Wide view for the privacy of other children in the class)
Both kids jumped into live classes enthusiastically and both found the classes enjoyable. However, Ashleigh quickly lost interest and getting her to do classes proved to be stressful. Garrett however, quickly picked up his instrument and jumped in both feet.
For the majority of his time, Garrett attended live classes, occasionally if his other lessons ran late he would view a pre recorded class. These classes were taught by either Mrs Van Kleeck or another instructor, Mrs Deb Peterson. Between the classes, the videos available on the treehouse and his practicing outside of class, he quickly picked up the music that he was expected to learn for Level 3. After a month of classes, Garrett was told by Mrs Van Kleeck that she believed he was ready for an assessment to see if he was ready to progress to Level 4. Scheduling this assessment was much the same process as scheduling the original placement assessment.
For this assessment, Garrett met one on one with Mrs Van Kleeck. He was asked to play 4 pieces of music that he had been working on, showing the proper techniques that were in the videos and taught in the classes. Again, we found Mrs Van Kleeck very kind, friendly and encouraging and Garrett got thru his assessment no problem, which took about 15 minutes. Mrs Van Kleeck said he was ready for Level 4 Violin and then took another 10 minutes or so showing him the music he would be learning as well as displaying a more advanced way of holding the bow and a few new techniques that he would be focusing on during Level 4, such as lifting his bow and circling it around to play a different note. After the assessment was completed, his Dashboard in his Treehouse showed that he was now Level 4, giving him access to the videos for that Level, much the same as when he was in Level 3.
|Garrett during his Assessment with Mrs Van Kleeck|
Level 4 has begun teaching things such as music theory to prepare the students to begin reading music. So in addition to learning the pieces that are required for the level, he has also had to begin memorizing which notes are on each scale played per string, ect. For example - the G Major scale on his first string consists of 8 notes - G A B C D and F# while the A Major Scale is A B C# D E F# and G#. His responsibility for this level is to memorize each of the 4 Major Scales and begin putting those together with what he is playing, so as he plays each note of the scale, he has been saying what that note's name is as he plays it, as well as working on the music pieces he has to learn for the level.
Overall, Practice Monkeys has been a wonderful experience for Garrett. We found both Mrs Van Kleeck and Mrs Peterson to be wonderful instructors and Garrett's definitely done well under both of their instructions. I honestly wish Ashleigh would have put more effort into piano and she did say she found the instructor (I did not catch his name but he was really good!!) fun and she enjoyed the class, she just didn't have interest in piano, and I didn't force it. However, I am very pleased with Garrett's progress and I look forward to seeing how far he will progress using the classes. I also found it interesting that during the course of this review, we met a young lady who played the guitar. After finding out that Garrett was learning violin, she offered Garrett the opportunity to strap the guitar on and play around with it. So, who knows, since Practice Monkeys offers guitar classes, maybe that is also in our future ;)
On a final note - Instrument classes can be expensive. On our previous base, violin instruction was 60 for a half hour of instruction and I find that tends to be a pretty average price. Even meeting with an instructor once a week for 30 minutes 4 times a month, that is $240 a month, more if you opt to have instruction more than 1 time a week. Practice Monkeys offers their classes for $49/month and again, if you have two or more students playing the same instrument, that $49/month covers all. For that price, you get 1 full hour of instruction per week (4 fifteen minute sessions on M-Thur) for the entire month, making it very cost effective. Not to mention that the recorded classes they can access for even more instruction. Because Garrett has done so well with the classes, we will gladly be paying out of pocket for the monthly tuition so he can continue because even on a single income military budget, the price point is within our budget and we recognize the value we are getting.
We highly recommend Practice Monkeys and suggest that if you're interested, take advantage of the ability to try their course for free (yes, Free!!) to see if it will work for your family. Info on how to do this can be found in the FAQ on the Practice Monkeys website.
Members of the Crew have been using Practice Monkeys in their home to learn Violin, Piano, Cello, Guitar and Self Defense in their homes. Click the banner below to read their reviews today.