Learning to play piano—or any instrument, for that matter—is difficult. It requires learning a totally new language, an understanding of music theory, and practicing for hours every day to sync your brain with your muscle memory. I should know: I badly play a Nord Piano 2 I bought years ago, a red 88-key beast that can exquisitely reproduce the sounds of a royal grand piano or a funky electric keyboard. Playing it is an amazing sensation, a pure joy—a joy that required sweat and tears over the years, beginning when I was in primary school.
Inventor, designer, and musician Roland Lamb knows about that immense joy and suffering of playing an instrument. It’s the basis for the latest product from his company, Roli, which debuted an innovative synthesizer keyboard called the Seaboard in 2015. Roli’s new product is an instrument designed to eliminate the “language barrier” that stands between many would-be musicians and their instrument. The keyboard and accompanying iOS and Android app, called Lumi, is designed to teach anyone to play piano without having to get into music notation and theory. But beyond that, like Roli’s first product, it’s also an amazing instrument for professional musicians (more on that later).
Lumi, as its Kickstarter page describes, is “an illuminated keyboard and app that lets you play great songs and learn music as you go.” It does this with a keyboard that lights up with bright colors to identify notes, which correspond to the colors used by an app of the same name. The app teaches you songs using those lights, showing the incoming notes traveling across the screen like a minimalist Guitar Hero or futuristic Casiotone.
Like Guitar Hero, the Lumi app also allows you to jam with real bands that publish music with Universal Music Group and Sony. “That emotional connection that you have with music is really important to nurture and sustain in the learning process,” Lamb told Core77. The idea is that users learn music playing their favorite songs, rather than playing a Mozart sonata (unless they really love sonatas, of course).
While there are plenty of reasons to be wary of crowdfunding in general, fear not: Lamb also invented and manufactured the Seaboard, a unique synthesizer that doesn’t have traditional piano keys but soft, touch-sensitive keys that react to your hand movements, like wiggling your finger to get the same vibrato you would get with a string instrument. The Seaboard was so unique that it immediately received interest from professional musicians like legendary jazz pianist Herbie Hancock and famous film score composer Hans Zimmer.
Like the Seaboard, the Lumi can be used by professionals, too. At its core, it is a MIDI keyboard that can connect to any software, from Garage Band to Logic. Pros can use it to compose music and also perform live. Roli claims that it is perfect for live performances, too, due to its high visibility under any lighting conditions (made possible by the Fresnel Lens-inspired design of the keys, which distribute enough LED light across the entire key to make it bright in dark environments but also under direct sunlight).
The Lumi has another very unique feature directed to professionals or amateurs who want to get more serious after learning a bit: It’s the world’s first keyboard that is modular and seamlessly expandable. Thanks to an edge-less design and patented magnetic connectors, you can attach any number of Lumis to create a full 88-key keyboard by just placing them next to each other. The resulting expanded keyboard will connect to your iPad, Android device, or any computer music program using Bluetooth.
The $250 keyboard—which only launched on Kickstarter a few days ago—is already fully funded and, according to the company, will start shipping in October of this year.