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MassChallenge finalist JoyTunes endeavors to make learning a musical instrument as much fun as a videogame

Posted by Scott Kirsner  October 20, 2010 10:56 AM

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What makes a great demo?

For me, it's a product that actually works (or at least looks like it does), and that does something you've never seen before. And a back-story about why you developed the product always helps, too.

I finally got a chance to see the demo from JoyTunes last week. They're an Israeli start-up that has been participating in the first annual MassChallenge start-up competition this summer and fall. (An hour or so after co-founder Yuval Kaminka gave me the demo, MassChallenge announced that JoyTunes had made it into the final round of judging, which takes place Thursday.)

Kaminka told me that after watching how intently his 7-year old nephew played with his Nintendo Wii, and contrasting that with how unmotivated he was to practice his recorder no matter how much his mother harangued him, he began thinking about how to blend the two activities. Collaborating with his brother Yigal — a professional oboist — they developed JoyTunes. (The third JoyTunes founder is Roey Izkovsky, a buddy of Yuval's from the Israeli army.)

The concept is pretty simple: instead of a strumming a fake plastic instrument a la "Guitar Hero," music students play a real recorder into a microphone connected to a laptop or PC. The pitch, volume, and duration of the notes they play controls what happens on the screen. Play properly, and you advance in the games on the screen. Miss a note, and you don't. The software costs $35.

The game was developed in Israel, and Kaminka discovered the MassChallenge competition through a random Google search. As a result of participating, he says the company will maintain a sales and marketing presence in Boston even after the competition concludes this week. JoyTunes hasn't yet raised outside funding. The game launched in Israel earlier this year, and in the U.S. in August. (In addition to the Hebrew and English versions, there's also a German version in the works. Germans, he explains, are pretty serious about music education.) Kaminka says that after recorder, the company plans to develop versions of the game for flute and clarinet.

Here's one demo video:

And a few others are on YouTube.

(Two guitar-based videogames, PowerGig and Rock Band, both developed in Boston, also enable players to use real instruments, but the games are not focused on teaching elementary music principles... yet.)

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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