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Review: LUMI teaching keyboard – it’s kind of like Guitar Hero, but for keyboards

At $300, the Lumi Keys keyboard from Roli isn’t cheap, but then neither is the experience that you get.

lumi keyboard
Image: Joe Rice-Jones / KnowTechie

[letsreview postid=”134947″]

If you’re getting cabin fever, starting a new hobby or learning an instrument is a great way to save your emotional and mental health. If you’ve ever wanted to learn a musical instrument other than the button-mashing guitar from rhythm games, Lumi Keys from Roli might be just what you’re after.

This learning system consists of a colorful, light-up keyboard and mobile app, so you can gamify learning how to play the piano while picking up musical theory along the way. Once you master the lessons, you can plug the keyboard into your computer, and use it as a MIDI controller for music production software. Is learning piano really as easy as Roli makes it out to be?

Wait, so it’s Guitar Hero but for keyboards?

lumi keyboard and app
Image: Joe Rice-Jones / KnowTechie

Roli is known for quirky interfaces for music production, and the Lumi Keys is its first consumer-focused device. It’s hard to not fall in love with the colorful keyboard the first time you turn it on, with an RGB glow that any gaming PC would be proud of. Each Lumi device has 24 keys, for two octaves of range, with octave-shift buttons so you can play the full seven octaves on the same keyboard.

If you want a larger keyboard, you can magnetically attach more Lumi devices to each other, or you can also attach any of Roli’s Blocks range to create a full production setup. That “DNA” connector, as Roli calls it, handles power and data, so you only need to connect one device via Bluetooth to your tablet or smartphone, saving you the headaches of multiple devices.

lumi keyboard
Image: Joe Rice-Jones / KnowTechie

That Bluetooth connection is solid, and I didn’t notice any perceptible lag between my keypresses and them registering in the app. To keep that stability, Roli opted to only allow you to listen via your device’s speakers or wired headphones. Better dig out that dongle that came with your mobile device, especially if you’re planning on playing in a noisy area.

Intended to guide new musicians through getting used to a keyboard, the accompanying app has two main sections, Learn and Play. The app has two tiers, Lumi Essential (free), and Lumi Complete ($9.99 a month or $79 annually). Paying for Complete unlocks 600+ contemporary, copyrighted songs to play along with, 100+ classic and folk songs, 130+ interactive lessons, and 380 exercises. You also get more content every month, so it’s well worth the cost. Essential will get you going though, with 40 classic songs, 60+ lessons, and 72 exercises.

It’s worth noting that buying Lumi right now gets you a $50 voucher that converts to a full year of Complete, so you can dive right in to all of the content. You also get a Snapcase for protecting the keyboard when stored or transporting it, and free shipping.

lumi keys app showing cascade learning mode
Image: KnowTechie

Fans of rhythm-based games will immediately feel at home with Lumi’s first learning mode, Cascade. Notes drop down from the top of the screen, lighting up the corresponding key on the hardware keyboard, while the app gives you feedback on your timing. This works great, but I’d love if the app told me which of my fingers I’m supposed to use for each key, as that’s needed for progressing as a musician.

The lesson section of the app does cover fundamentals like fingering and hand positions, but I’d still like to see it on the Play sections, in lieu of having a physical tutor peeping over my shoulder.

So, did I actually learn anything?

lumi keyboard
Image: Joe Rice-Jones / KnowTechie

Like many, I took piano lessons in grade school, as well as playing clarinet in the school band. I can’t really remember any of what I learned, although the interactive feedback loop of Lumi is starting to create muscle memory again. It’s been more immediate this time around as well, as Lumi adds color into the equation, so C is red, D is orange, etc; giving my brain another point of reference for each key/note pairing.

I haven’t really progressed past the Cascade mode yet, but I’m getting better with every session and more importantly – I’m enjoying myself. There’s something about the bright, glowing keys of the Lumi Keys that makes me want to practice, in a way that no instrument I’ve spent time learning has before.

The only annoyance (other than my general ham-fistedness) I’ve had with the Lumi Keys is that the advanced two-hand arrangements are made harder by the compactness of the keyboard. These would be much easier on a child’s smaller fingers, or on two Lumi Keys snapped together. You do have the option to play left- or right-hand parts individually, which is a smart move by Roli.

Roli also just added a new game mode to the Lumi app, Springboard. This further gamifies the learning process and I’m looking forward to diving into this as I keep on learning.

So, should I buy the Lumi Keys keyboard?

At $300, the Lumi Keys keyboard from Roli isn’t cheap, but then neither is the experience that you get. The colorful, quirky keyboard starts you on the road to the muscle-memory needed for piano playing, then scales up to less hand-holding as you progress. The best part? It’s completely portable, with about four hours of battery life, so you can practice wherever you feel most comfortable. Add to that Roli’s commitment to adding more content and modes, and you’ve got a learning system with a long life.

Oh, we recommend you use a tablet with the Lumi Keys, as the on-screen notes almost line up with the physical keyboard. You can use a smaller device but the experience on a tablet is more user-friendly.

Editors’ Recommendations:

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Maker, meme-r, and unabashed geek with nearly half a decade of blogging experience at KnowTechie, SlashGear and XDA Developers. If it runs on electricity (or even if it doesn't), Joe probably has one around his office somewhere, with particular focus in gadgetry and handheld gaming. Shoot him an email at joe@knowtechie.com.

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