Archive for September 24th, 2010

Missing innovation at music hardware companies

I bought the Casio CTK-3000 keyboard last week, and it arrived on Tuesday. It’s Friday, and I can ALREADY play the “Bridal March“. I never had any meaningful music lessons in my life, never played the piano before.

Now, don’t get too excited. I didn’t learn to play the short melody by using the piano’s tutorials, or song book that came with. I tried, and it’s impossible. The little LCD screen above the keys is impossible to follow. The keyboard doesn’t have “slow-down” versions of the melodies for me to catch up. The keyboard doesn’t have “light” keys to show me where to press each time. To get these features you need to pay a lot more money than the $140 I paid for. As for the song book, it’s useless. I can’t read musical notation. I’d need to wait another 2 months to first learn and practice the notation, and then start playing songs. And this goes against my instant gratification needs.

I mean, really. After all these years, the Casio and Yamaha engineers that’s all they could come up with? Some tutorial software that looks like it was written with ’80s usability? On a tiny LCD that’s so crammed?

Honestly, the little innovation we’ve seen in keyboards in the last few years kind of tells me that these companies have given up, and they essentially tell you: “go pay for real lessons”.

Well, I was able to go around the keyboard’s limitations, by using the freeware version of Synthesia (I didn’t even have to buy its extra $25 learning pack). Synthesia is like Guitar Hero, but for piano. It’s a game, so it’s fun, it makes you wanna get a better score so it keeps pushing you to work harder, can use a big PC LCD monitor with nice colors to make it easier to follow it, and more importantly, it can slow down a midi piece down to 10% of its speed, so you can catch up!

So I started playing the “Bridal March” with one hand on 20% speed, on Tuesday. Wednesday, I added the second hand. Thursday, I got to 50% speed. It’s Friday, and I’m almost fluent at 80% speed. How kewl is that?

I would have never be able to do this with traditional methods of learning. It would have been much more hard work, and it would have been extremely annoying and tiresome. I would have given up within a few days.

On the side, I’m also reading a music theory book, so I learn musical notation in parallel to learning to play by ear, rather than before or after.

If you have kids, or you want to learn yourselves, I highly recommend this setup: The free version of Synthesia, and any keyboard of your choice that has touch-sensitive keys. Added bonus if your keyboard has a USB port too (otherwise you’d have to also get a midi-2-usb adapter which are not always very compatible).

FCC disclaimer: I’m not getting paid, or work for the companies mentioned or linked. These were all my own purchases and personal honest opinions.