68. Mario 64: The Game that Taught Me the Value of Patience
At the time that my tormented thoughts about the skills of my students were reaching the point of a mania, my daughter got a new toy for Christmas: the videogame Mario 64. A bomb went off in my consciousness! I couldn’t believe my eyes: a child that couldn’t sit in one place long enough to learn the simplest song spent hours in front of a screen and delightedly worked out the precise coordination of her own fingers!
The essence of the game is simple: a little person named Mario has to travel through a chain of different worlds, and has all sorts of adventures. With the help of the buttons on the controller, he clambers, swims, jumps and even flies. And if the gamer can’t control his fingers with enough precision, then Mario “dies,” and the level must be started all over again. To make it to the end means victory! My daughter patiently started the levels over and over again, and with surprising agility perfected the coordination of both thumbs of her hands.
All of this effort, simply to polish a useless ability to the point of brilliance! But if only… If only one could transform the controller from a useless piece of plastic with a couple of buttons into an instrument with keys… This is how the idea arose to make the computer into a helper for beginners in piano playing. It turned out that computer graphics can unite all that is necessary to read music into one: coordination, hearing, vision, and voice. No one had achieved this yet, but so what, everything must be done for the first time.
Johann Sebastian Bach once said that playing the organ involved the simplest activity – all one needs to do is press the necessary keys at the right time. He expressed the essence of play. The ability to press and release the right keys at the right time is at the foundation of sight reading. You can sit next to a student and mumble “play it together, don’t lift your hand,” until you feel sick. Or, you can shift the “working out of the strokes” onto the computer monitor, and allow the student to understand how his coordination works for himself .
This is how the idea for Soft Mozart arose. It needed to develop the hands, vision, and hearing. It needed to substitute for the teacher, so that the student could productively learn to read, play, and memorize music at home. It needed to form the fundamental skills of playing the instrument and singing. And above all it couldn’t require any prior knowledge or talent from anyone. Music hearing, understanding of theory, the ability to play notes, mastering the keys – all of this needn’t be implied, but formed. Here, the computer wasn’t going to be an electronic version of a manual for self-education, filled with an abundance of text and questions. It needed to boldly teach the student to play concrete works, to read and memorize them.