Whether you’ve always wanted to learn an instrument or just need more incentive to practice, new music tech is making it easier to learn how to play the piano, guitar and even the handpan.
There’s tech that can help you cook, water your plants or optimize your morning run, but until recently, there were only books, apps and YouTube videos if you wanted to learn to play an instrument without reaching out to a real-live instructor.
That’s all changing as tech companies update the process of learning to play an instrument.
“We now have software competencies that can drastically improve an industry that literally hasn’t changed for centuries,” said Sandy Diao, Head of Growth at The ONE Smart Piano, a keyboard that teaches users to play. “It’s our duty to infuse music education with technology.”
Here’s how tech companies are bringing music learning into the twenty-first century.
Even if the caricature of an overbearing teacher brandishing a ruler is an outdated view of piano lessons, would-be students can take up the instrument without fear.
“We are offering a new way to learn music that tackles traditional obstacles such as financial barriers, boring lessons or packed schedules,” said Diao.
The full-sized ONE Smart Piano features an 88-key hammer-action keyboard that includes LED lights on each key as well as three pedals. For the learner-on-the-go (or one with less space), the ONE Light Keyboard is a 61-key portable light-up keyboard with built-in MP3 speakers and a microphone input.
After connecting an iOS or Android device to the piano, users can access several tools through the related app, including LED-guided sheet music (the indictors on the keys reveal which note to play), interactive video tutorials (that also light up the keyboard) and games that encourage students to practice.
“Lessons can get tedious,” said Diao. “The games are designed to bring an element of fun to music practice.”
The One Smart Piano recently exceeded a $25,000 fundraising goal on IndieGoGo by more than 1,300 percent, and will begin shipping to US households this fall. The piano can be pre-ordered for $1,499.
For students that already have a piano or keyboard gathering dust at home or those who just want to test their playing skills before investing in one, HP Sprout’s Pianotime app may help.
Pianotime was developed for use with HP’s Sprout, a PC that incorporates Intel RealSense camera technology, scanner and projector, but this new tech music app also works with other computers using a mouse, keyboard or touch-screen device.
“Someone who wants to play the piano doesn’t have to actually buy a piano or a keyboard; instead they can pick up their tablet or open their computer and have all the functionality of a piano at their fingertips using Pianotime,” said Nick Lamb, Founder of Revel Software, the company that created the app.
Using an app can also decrease performance anxiety when compared to working with an instructor.
“Non-traditional ways to approach music don’t focus on the student being perfect and mastering techniques,” said Lamb. “Instead they engage learners in a fun way.”
The Pianotime app features 36 responsive keys, four octaves, a configurable metronome and a multi-touch keyboard. Users can record and playback unlimited songs so they can monitor their progress, critique their own performances or share what they’ve learned with friends.
Other apps can help players practice and improve as they learn: Piano Dust Buster 2 is game-focused, Steinway’s Etude places an emphasis on reading sheet music and Piano Notes! uses an old-fashioned flash card approach.
Students with a yearning to make music with a less-traditional instrument can now purchase the Oval, the first digital handpan.
Handpans are a relatively new group of musical instruments that spawned from the creation of the hang in Switzerland in 2000. The flying saucer-shaped Oval brings a high-tech twist to the instrument with eight pressure-sensitive, multi-sensing pads with velocity and X/Y location.
The Oval is both a digital instrument and a controller that can be connected to a computer and is compatible with any software or device that supports MIDI. It can communicate with smartphones, tablets and computers and can be linked to a DAW like Ableton, Logic or ProTools.
These features are really cool for someone who’s spent a fair amount of time in a studio and understands what all of the above are, but what about the amateur music maker?
New users can take advantage of the Oval’s custom app to learn simple songs via a variety of methods, such as follow-along mode, metronome mode or musical games. They can also connect with other Oval users for feedback, demos and downloadable tutorials.
As an added incentive for learning, users who complete the challenges can access more sounds and features for their Oval, as well as earn global and local rankings for their game scores.
Open-minded learners can also use tech to learn instruments like the synthesizer (through the Bebot – Robot Synth app), the drums (via the Drum Kit 2 app) or even the trombone (courtesy of iBone’s Pocket Trombone app).
Following a successful Kickstarter campaign, the first Ovals are expected to be delivered in March, so musicians still have a chance to order a device and start working toward handpan mastery.
While the piano is impressive and the handpan unique, few instruments are as cool as the guitar, and there’s a high-tech alternative to learning to play that as well.
Minneapolis-based tech company Zivix just released its award-winning “SmartGuitar,” the jamstik, in 2014, but they are already following it up with a second generation of the device, the jamstik+, after raising more than $800,000 via a Kickstarter campaign.
Both versions of the device use finger-sensing technology paired with an on-screen display.
“Because we ‘see’ your fingers, we’re able to really exploit that data in a number of ways,” said Chris Heille, Lead Music Product Specialist for the jamstik+. “For instruction, the benefits are pretty obvious. You get an easy-to-follow interface that makes the process of learning fun and fast.”
Improvements in the new version of the device include a magnetic pickup for pick detection and Bluetooth technology, which Heille said allows the developers boost speed.
“The original jamstik model used a mechanically-coupled design to detect the user’s picking,” said Heille, noting that the goal was to mimic the experience of playing an electric guitar with your picking hand.
“While it worked well, we believed we could get a more natural feel in our picking detection by going to a proven ‘old school’ method, the magnetic pickup.”
This means everyone can benefit. Seasoned guitar players can treat the jamstik+ as a compact option for practicing their craft on the go; new players can use the device along with the jamTutor app series to learn how to play.
Users can learn open string chords (commonly referred to as ‘campfire’ or ‘cowboy’ chords), barre chords, some scales and the ability to read TAB. The jamstik hardware uses an integrated jamTutor software system to help users get the hang of the instrument.
“Since they’re using real guitar strings and playing on real frets, we’re confident — and users have reported — that skills learned on the jamstik are easily transferred to a real guitar,” Heille said.
While jamTutor is designed for use with the jamstik, various apps help budding guitarists learn to play directly on a standard guitar.
The Guitar World Lessons app offers access to hundreds of lessons from the Guitar World archives, TabRider’s Guitar Lessons listens to a user’s playing through their device’s microphone and provides instant feedback, and the CoachGuitar app uses colors to make learning easier.
Of course, whether using a traditional or high-tech learning method, new students of any instrument should keep their expectations realistic.
“While we never claim that jamTutor will turn you into Eddie Van Halen or Jack White overnight, it will get you up and running very quickly playing guitar,” Heille noted.
“Many users are playing their first chords within minutes of using our apps and hardware.”