Pianu — Fun, But Does It Do the Job?

I really like this little app I saw on Reddit, but as a music teacher, I have one serious critique.


I don’t understand why the designers change the keys used to trigger the scale degrees (1–8) of C Major when a song uses fewer notes.

For example, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” only uses six tones, so Pianu makes the 8th scale degree (the octave, or high “C”) “6” on your keyboard. But for “Chopsticks,” it makes use of keys 1–8 because the song calls for all eight tones of the C Major Scale, and the 8th scale degree becomes “8” on your keyboard. Huh? So you have the same tonal relationships (an octave), but two different combinations of keys to create them? How does this make any musical sense? In this way, Pianu is not like a real instrument. It actually distorts the way a piano as well as musical scales in general are understood. And a piano is a very easy instrument to understand… Left is low, right is high, and every key has an equal pitch distance (perceptually speaking) to its neighbor key.

When one plays a real instrument, one expects a low note to sound low, and a high note to sound high, and for the degree of highness or lowness relative to the other notes not to change from the same key combinations/distances/frets.

Until this tool connects tonal relationships to consistent degrees of highness/lowness (scale degrees is the easiest way to do this on a computer keyboard), I wouldn’t recommend this to my students for learning theory and ear-training, and certainly not for learning piano. I would however, recommend it for five minutes of musical fun.

In the meantime, this Interactive YouTube Piano is a nifty solution I’ve created:

It’s really only a thin but crucial layer of theory on top of a C Major Scale. A simplified, virtual piano, if you will. What it does (that Pianu doesn’t) is fuse the sound of the instrument and music theory in a way that connects back to the physical instrument itself.

Still, Pianu is aesthetically pleasing, gorgeous even. I hope the creator keeps making more cool stuff like this. It’s, at the very least, a beautiful, somewhat musical game. It has serious potential to bring in the visual aspect of playing a piano to augment the aural.