This rainbow bright Lumi teaches piano with video gamesMarch 1, 2021
No question, Lumi is a piece of tech that just makes you feel happy. This pint-size piano keyboard lights up like a rainbow, with a RGB LED illumination for each of its 24 keys. But the fun goes beyond the looks with Roli’s creative new instrument. It pairs with an app that teaches music lessons through video games, interactive video lessons, and tons of chart-topping hits.
And now, just a few months after it began shipping the first models to Kickstarter supporters, the Lumi app is adding new features, including a platform-jumping style game it calls Springboard. Players need to read the music on the app screen and hit the right key in sync with the song to get your hero to jump from note to note. It’s an irresistible challenge when the songs you’re trying to match are Van Halen’s “Jump,” or Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.” Practicing doesn’t feel like practicing when it’s a game.
I spent a few weeks with Lumi, along with an early beta version of the Springboard game, which is set to arrive this week. The keyboard itself costs $299 (also £299 in the UK), and with it comes a selection of video courses and music.
But to unlock the full suite of more than 100 lessons, songs and challenges, you’ll need a subscription to Lumi Complete. Roli is running a promotion now that lowers the cost of access to $29 for the year when you buy a Lumi keyboard. That’s not bad at all when you see the quality of content and interactive lessons. The normal subscription cost is $79 for a year.
Lumi costs more than some full-sized keyboards, and yet it isn’t even a third the size. But what you’re paying for here is the app and it’s creative, color-synced approach to teaching you music — not to mention a huge library of songs and music to read. Sure there are classical works, but it also has hit songs from every decade — even fresh pieces from artists like Billie Eilish, Dua Lipa and The Weekend. Lumi itself doesn’t have a speaker to make sounds — it only works when Bluetooth connected to a mobile device running iOS or Android.
Lessons with a live feel
So let’s get into the lessons, since that’s what Lumi is all about. The courses are very well designed in bite-sized chunks, with teachers getting you familiar with keys and fundamentals of scales and cords and timing. But you’re not just watching a video. As the teacher talks, the keyboard lights up to show you what they are doing, and the video will seamlessly pause to wait for you to hit the right note to move forward. In doing that, there’s this feeling that the teacher is there with you at every step, so you can go at your own pace.
These are not exactly traditional piano lessons, since they reference notes on the keyboard as colors. (“Hit the red key. Now the blue key.”) Of course with a rainbow keyboard you’d expect them to talk about colors, but the teachers do jump into the names of the notes as well — and how to read notes on a staff. It’s all designed to warm you up to the idea of where to put your fingers.
I took piano lessons for many years in my childhood. I was skeptical about how much an app could teach compared to an in-person instructor, but Lumi left me impressed. The teachers are very inviting and I liked the pacing and structure of the courses. And they keep it entertaining for all ages. In your first lessons you’re not just playing “Three Blind Mice” — you’re playing along with sea shanties and the overture to the opera Carmen. You may only be playing a couple notes at a time at first, but backing tracks keep the rest of the song going to give it a lively experience.
What Guitar Hero wishes it could be
Every lesson has these challenges that will be familiar to anyone that has played Guitar Hero or Rock Band. Color bars fall down on the screen, and you have to play them on the keyboard at the right time, with keys lighting up to indicate which to play next. I played plenty of Guitar Hero back in the day, but it still took a little rewiring of my brain to play with notes falling down instead of reading notes written on a staff. But it’s cool they are getting your brain to think about music with games in different presentations.
The courses do teach how to read music in a traditional way, and you can take your practice to a number of songs. You want plain sheet music? They have that. But there’s also these hybrid creations of colorful notes on a staff, with note names written on the circles. I was sight-reading much faster than I would normally.
I haven’t regularly practiced piano since my high school years. I know the fundamentals and how to read music, and yet I’m very rusty. But something about Lumi’s approach swept the cobwebs out of that music corner of my brain. I loved the innovative challenges. After a few sessions I could just walk over to the full-sized keyboard in my living room, pull out the same Bach piece I was toying with with in the app, and just play with confidence. That’s a great feeling.
Grows with your skill level
The Lumi team continues to add lessons — and even with a small keyboard, they do cover some two-handed lessons. But I found most of it to be a one-handed experience. That said, it can be expanded. Multiple Lumi keyboards can snap together magnetically. Although I don’t see many folks dropping $600 to get another two octaves out of it right away, the bigger take away is that Roli wants this to be an expandable tool for writing music. The Lumi is a fully functioning midi keyboard, so you can compose with it. The keyboard is compatible with most digital audio workstations and plugins.
Roli is known for its unique electronic musical instruments. You may have come across its light-up touchpad Apple stores before. Roli also makes a pro version of the Lumi called The Lumi Keys Studio Edition, which is more for experienced users to compose music, rather than the learning device I tested. The idea is that you could connect Roli’s other instruments to the Lumi to expand its potential, and I like that thinking when you’re making an investment in something like this as a music tool.in
It’s still early days for the Lumi, but out of the gate the team made a quality experience here. You could think of it as a Peloton for piano. You’re at home more often, you want to strengthen your mind with creative activities. Maybe in-person music lessons are not an option for you right now. That makes this the perfect time for something like Lumi to arrive. It doesn’t completely replace a live teacher all the time, but I like how this is a great system for getting you into the basics and making practice fun — not to mention it’s kid-friendly while also engaging for adults.