Charanga Keyboard Coach

Reviewed by: Matt Carson, send e-mail
Published by: Charanga Ltd., go to the web site
Requires: Pentium PC 233MHz or faster 256 color monitor supporting 800x600 resolution, Windows 98/ME/2000/XP, 16-bit Sound Blaster compatible sound card, 8x CD-ROM drive, 64MB of RAM
MSRP: $49.95

Being an avid musician has its drawbacks. The most noteworthy example I can think of right now has, rather unsurprisingly, much to do with the product under review - Keyboard Coach. The connection between the music industry and the digital age has been apparent for many years, exposed in various forms through recording, creating and even illegally formatting music (download/burn any CD's lately, folks?). Only recently, in the last several years, have any of these specialized programs become, well, less specialized.

Now, perhaps it's my purist view of music or perhaps it's just the fact that when it comes to how I was taught, you could say indeed that I'm from the old school. But the fact is, it's difficult to teach someone how to play an instrument using a computer program. That being said, Keyboard Coach is still a wonderful concept. Using MIDI ports and/or USB cables, you connect your keyboard to your computer and then follow along with the lessons provided in the Keyboard Coach software.

In terms of what the program actually does, Keyboard Coach is certainly an achievement. With various different options that allow you to play catchy tunes, play music by ear, play solo and even use your skill to jam with a digitized 'band', Keyboard Coach keeps the elements simple and the learning curve shallow. There are cues for you which help your timing, a keyboard guide which helps you familiarize yourself with the keyboard layout and even the option to create accompaniments and mix tracks.

There is no printed manual supplied. There is an online help guide and most of the layout is intuitive. However, a nice tutorial, written in a small Appendix a couple of pages long would have been nice. Users are left to wander around on their own, thus making the learning curve unnecessarily steep. This is, of course, assuming you have the time required to experiment with and learn the program.

The installation of the software presented some problems. Keyboard Coach installed DirectX 8.0a over version 9.0, without asking me! Perhaps it's just me, but when I install a program, I am usually under the assumption that I am installing the program stated at the install screen, and NOTHING ELSE, unless I specifically choose otherwise. At any rate, I finished the install, restarted then re-installed DirectX 9.0. I opened the program, and began fooling around, looking through the help system. I didn't get far. After about ten minutes, I received a lovely, shimmering blue screen exception error. Upon returning to windows, Keyboard Coach had mysteriously disappeared. When I tried to load the program again, it simply would not finish loading after the the splash screen appeared. I got an idea and loaded up DirectX 8.0a, thinking that perhaps the program was optimized for it. No dice. After restarting, I was once again able to get into the program, but not without it crashing again within ten minutes.

I scoured the Charanga web site for tech support and things were surprisingly lax. The only real support they have is a standard charge-by-the-minute phone line (there's no way I would ever pay someone, on top of what I paid for their product, for problems that should have been corrected during development). It's really unfortunate that the program seems to be suffering from a lack of QA testing. The apparent lack of testing is reflected in the lack of support, and the lack of support is reflected in the product itself. Perhaps the day will come when a well-designed program of this type will be able to take the place of a flesh-and-blood teacher with years of experience, but that day is not today and that program is not Keyboard Coach. Charanga has a great idea which their developers need to refine. I'm looking forward to a new and improved future version.

(Ed. Note: We sent the software to another reviewer - a local music teacher. She was able to install and use Keyboard Coach for up to an hour at a time, but always encountered a crash which forced her to stop. Matt used a Pentium III/450MHz machine running Windows 98SE. The music teacher used a Pentium III/1GHz machine running Windows XP Professional).

Letters to the Editor are welcome and occasionally abused in public. Send e-mail to:




© Copyright 2000-2006 All rights reserved. legal notice
home | previous reviews | forums | about us | search | store | subscribe


Forums Search Home Previous Reviews About Us Store Subscribe