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.


himanshu wrote on September 25th, 2010 at 2:58 PM PST:

Way to go eugenia šŸ™‚ I think, without a lighted keyboard, its pretty hard for newbies to learn to play.

For newbies, i think the lighted keys is the most important feature. experienced musicians wont need it, but its really helpful for newbies.

the software you mentioned seems to work with yamaha’s lighted keyboard. I think it will be great to not look at monitor and play music just looking at the keys šŸ™‚

tOnGAs wrote on September 26th, 2010 at 2:20 AM PST:

I was told once by a music teacher that a lighted keyboard is NOT a good thing. It gives you the bad habit to look at your fingers instead of the score.

Music learning should be _fun_, IMHO. Most teachers have a rigid approach and believe that learning to play can only be the result of long hours of tedious, hard work.

The “fun” was introduced again with games like Guitar Hero and the like.

Anyway, I think I’ll give Synthesia a try. Have to buy a USB-to-midi adapter first.

memsom wrote on September 27th, 2010 at 2:08 AM PST:

Guitar Hero will not teach you how to play guitar. It might teach you to co-ordinate your strumming hand and fretting hand, but that is something you will get with a couple of weeks of practice anyway. The fretting is actually the most complicated part about playing chords – Guitar Hero does not “teach” you this at all. Saying that it even approaches a tutorial is is bit like saying you can be a rally driver if you’re a non driver and you’ve played Mario Kart Wii for a similar amount of time.

This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on September 27th, 2010 at 2:39 AM PST:

Guitar Hero indeed does not help you with the guitar much. However, Synthesia does help you with piano immensely. Playing that game can de-couple your fingers within a month, when it usually takes 6 months of practice.

memsom wrote on September 27th, 2010 at 3:25 AM PST:

I think keyboard lends itself more to this kind of tutorial. Good luck! Looking forward to seeing your progress šŸ™‚

Dan Dennedy wrote on September 27th, 2010 at 1:51 PM PST:

I know many kids are learning new instruments through YouTube. My daughter was learning keyboard while I was sending her to private lessons for guitar (and neglecting her guitar practice). This mashup of Synthesia and YouTube looks great:

Ignazio wrote on September 28th, 2010 at 12:47 AM PST:

I’ve been for years a self taught musician and this helped me a lot because I developed a very personal approach to my instrument. Then, when I thought I knew I could play (…) but felt I wanted to go deeper I started back from the beginning, in a class with kids (I was 20), with traditional methods. It was frustrating but helped a lot. So I learned the basis of classical music, I developed a personal way of approaching my instrument and I continued to study modern music by myself because I had the “tools” to really “taught myself” music. My good ear helped a lot. Making a good video implies a lot of things: the camera, the light, experience, knowledge, a full rig of accessories, and so on… Making music is the same. Internet is a bless and helps a lot accelerating the learning process but composition is an art, is a mix of creativity, knoledge, experience, very good ears, harmony, years of careful musical listening, ear training, etc.
I mean, if you want to have fun at home it’s ok, but if you want to WRITE and record soundtracks It’s a different beast.
Be patient, a lifetime won’t be enough and you will never arrive, this is the most exiting thing šŸ™‚

tOnGAs wrote on September 29th, 2010 at 10:41 PM PST:

For the record, I didn’t say that games like Guitar Hero help you to play Guitar. I’m a guitar player myself, for a while now, and I learned it the hard way (bleeding fingers, etc).

I have just noticed that some friends, who were playing GH a lot, ended up taking guitar lessons with a teacher.

In my country, if you go to a music school, you won’t play any note during the first year. First you get one year of musical theory and then, if you haven’t hung yourself, you may have the luck to play a note or two. NOT FUN AT ALL!

memsom wrote on October 1st, 2010 at 5:17 AM PST:

@tOnGAs don’t fret (wow.. a pun!) Eugenia referenced GH in her entry. You just happened to mention it too. My comment was global, and not directed to you specifically.

Comments are closed as this blog post is now archived.

Lines, paragraphs break automatically. HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

The URI to TrackBack this blog entry is this. And here is the RSS 2.0 for comments on this post.