One of the most exciting things to come out of Duocon 2023 was the first official look at Duolingo’s brand new music course.
Last year it was all about math, when Duolingo announced the launch of its dedicated math app.
This year, it was music that stole the show.
Ever since the rumours started circulating earlier in the year, people have been wondering about how Duolingo would go about it, how it would look, and whether it’s famous formula could really work in the music space.
I’ve been playing around with the music course for a couple of months at this point, so I have a good sense of what you can and can’t achieve with it.
So, is it any good?
How does it work?
How do you get it?
And will it really make you fluent in piano?
All will be revealed.
Let’s jump in!
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What is Duolingo Music?
Duolingo’s music course is Duolingo’s latest step into the wider world of education.
It takes the tried and tested Duolingo formula and applies it to learning music.
The goal is to learn how to read sheet music — all without needing an instrument.
Currently, Duolingo’s music course teaches how to interpret sheet music, as well as how to play all the notes on a piano.
How to get Duolingo Music
Duolingo’s music course is being rolled out gradually.
To begin with it was only available to select Duolingo beta testers on iOS, however more and more non-beta users starting to get it as well.
Rather than launch the music course in a separate app, Duolingo has incorporated it into main Duolingo app, so you can learn music alongside all your favourite languages (as well as math!).
If you have the music course available, it will show up in your course list. If not, hold tight — as Duolingo is rolling it out to more users every month.
For the time being, Duolingo’s music course is only available on iOS devices. To get your hands on the music course, all you need to do is sign up to be on the waiting list within the Duolingo app (you should get an invite when you open it or enter the course screen).
How does Duolingo Music work?
Duolingo’s music course works a lot like Duolingo’s other courses. The only difference is you’re learning how to read notes on a score rather than words on a page!
Each unit focuses on different aspects of learning and playing music. Some units look at notes individually — e.g. how they sound, where they are on the piano, how to play them — while others look at the more technical side of things, like different note types and lengths.
The levels themselves can be any one of the following:
- Prepare for…
The idea is to acquire the basics of how to play a note before working towards playing a set of songs that make use of it.
Duolingo’s music course comes with a variety of different pre-song exercises.
Locating and playing notes on a virtual piano…
Match the pairs (i.e. a highlighted key with the correct letter or sound)…
Play the rhythm…
Drag to… (i.e. create a note, identify correct place on sheet or piano)…
The goal is to get you familiar with the basics of reading music, while also tuning your ear to all the different notes.
Once you hit a certain point in the unit, you’ll move onto reciting some songs.
This part of the unit typically features a pre-song warmup, where you get to play certain parts of the song in a low-stakes training environment.
Once you’ve worked your way through that, you’ll get to play the song in full.
There are currently over 200 songs in Duolingo’s music course, and there are usually at least 2 or 3 to play in each unit.
After you complete a song, you’ll get a score, which measures your pitch and rhythm.
Essentially, the more correct notes you play, the higher your score will be!
How big is Duolingo’s Music course?
When Duolingo first started rolling out the music course to beta testers, it only had about 36 units of content.
Now, the music course has a solid 69 units, with stacks of different levels to work through.
Unlike Duolingo’s language courses, it isn’t currently split into sections.
The course covers every note on the piano, as well as some of the more technical sides of reading and reciting sheet music.
Duolingo Music review – pros and cons
Although Duolingo’s music course is still in early access, there are still a number of things we can take from it.
Lets take a look at some pros and cons.
What I like…
Let’s start with what I’m liking and loving.
Duolingo’s always been great for getting to know things on gut level. It’s never really gone for the “study” approach.
Instead, you learn by doing.
And it’s no different in the music course. If you’re totally new to reading sheet music and/or playing piano, you’ll notice that after just a few sessions you’re quickly developing an instinctive sense of how things work.
This can include things like knowing what a note is just by hearing it, as well as by where it’s located on the sheet and piano.
The approach is very logical, introducing one new note at a time per unit, before working your way towards applying it in a range of different songs. It gives you a quick sense of accomplishment, but it’s by no means hollow — it really feels like you’re learning.
And the best part? In typical Duolingo fashion — it’s a whole lotta fun!
I’ve actually found myself spending more time on the music course than in my language courses recently (and not just because of writing this review)!
The fact Duolingo has baked it into the main app is also a plus.
While I was a fan of Duolingo’s math course, I wasn’t so keen on it being a separate app. It was a pretty dry, barebones experience, that lacked the charm of the main app.
It just makes sense.
What I’m not so keen on…
Now for what I’m not so keen on…
When I first heard Duolingo making a music course, I expected it would focus mainly on the theoretical side of things.
However, it’s currently really lacking in this respect.
Right now, it’s pretty much devoid of any explanations. Things like time signatures, scales, keys etc, which, to me, seems like a big missed opportunity.
The stated goal of the music course is to help you read sheet music. It does a reasonable job of that.
But being able to play it is a different matter.
There are opportunities to put this into practice with over 200 songs, which sounds good in theory. But the problem is that playing on a phone screen is very different to playing on an actual piano/keyboard.
Most of the time I just end up playing with my thumbs, which is obviously so far from an actual piano-playing experience. And even if I lay my phone on a table and switch to playing with my fingers, the experience is still clunky.
For some reason you can’t seamlessly move from one note to the next, meaning everything you play sounds really choppy and staccato.
As such, you’re only really limited to playing basic melodies that don’t always feel that satisfying.
Conclusion and what next
Duolingo’s music course strikes the right notes in some places, but currently feels a little out-of-tune in others.
As you’d expect from Duolingo, it’s engaging, fun, and very useful for learning basic musical concepts at a gut level.
However, right now, it’s glaringly lacking in certain areas — some of which Duolingo can address in future updates, but there are certain others that won’t be so easily resolved.
As with Duolingo’s language courses, it will be important to utilise other forms of learning to achieve musical “fluency”. In the same way that it’s important to practice your target language with native speakers, I imagine it will also be necessary to get your hands on a piano/keyboard before you really start to make progress.
All in all, Duolingo’s music course is another interesting step into the wider world of education — and I’m really excited to see what they do next!
For more on Duolingo’s music course, as well as everything else Duolingo, be sure to follow me on Twitter/X.