These “unprecedented times” have led many people to take up home-bound hobbies and projects. I’ve been cooking more, gardening, embroidering and practicing guitar. I also wanted to get back into piano, which I haven’t played since childhood. But due to the pandemic, taking live piano lessons from a teacher isn’t feasible right now. That’s where the music learning platform LUMI comes in.
With LUMI Keys and the Lumi app, anyone can learn piano at home with no prior experience and without in-person instruction. How does it work? LUMI Keys glow in a bright rainbow pattern and the app prompts you to play along by following the colors, kind of like Guitar Hero.
When the company sent me a LUMI Keys device, I was a bit skeptical. The small keyboard has just two octaves (though you can add on a second one for four octaves), and it looked like a kid’s toy. Could this tiny keyboard and an app really help me brush up on my piano skills? I also wondered if the lessons would be challenging enough. I’ve played Guitar Hero; it doesn’t really translate to actually playing a real guitar.
After a couple weeks of using LUMI, I realized it’s a fun toy for adults, too, and more than that — it’s stimulating, productive and quite relaxing (which was necessary around election time). Now, facing a long pandemic winter doesn’t seem quite as daunting when I can play my way through the LUMI Library of songs.
The LUMI Keys device feels well-made. It’s portable and rechargeable with a USB-C cord. The keys are about 7/8ths the width of regular piano keys, so adult hands can maneuver fairly easily. Like I mentioned above, you can snap two devices together to create a four-octave board that’s supported by the app. More devices require special desktop software.
The LUMI app is cleverly designed and easy to use on a tablet or phone. There are more than 60 free interactive lessons, exercises and challenges that score you on how accurately you follow the colors/notes. Follow along with video instructors, then take your turn. Practice chords and scales, play simple melodies and basslines and learn concepts like time signatures, pitch and dynamics. More lessons are available with the LUMI Complete subscription ($79 a year).
Even though I learned piano as a kid and am well-versed in music theory, the tutorials were helpful in clearing the cobwebs from that part of my brain and exercising my fingers in that way again.
Once you’ve completed the lessons, you can move onto the LUMI Library of songs. The free Essential package comes with 40 songs, while the Complete tier offers more than 400. The lineup ranges from classical to classic rock. I played a diverse range of songs, including Bach’s “Minuet in G Major, Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy,” Beyonce’s “Halo,” Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’,” Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” and the Jurassic Park theme. LUMI says it adds new songs all the time, and I spied recent hits like “Sucker” by the Jonas Brothers” and “thank u next” by Ariana Grande.
But for as good as that all sounds,the LUMI app is still quite buggy and prone to crashing. I found it frustrating, though not a dealbreaker. Let’s hope LUMI’s engineers keep rolling out fixes.
LUMI comes from ROLI, the London-based music technology company that also developed the Seaboard keyboard. It was funded through Kickstarter and is now available to order on the LUMI site, just in time for the holidays — whether you want to give it as a gift or just treat yourself. The special launch bundle, including the keyboard and a yearlong LUMI Complete subscription, is $299.
I was lucky enough to receive a review copy, but I’d buy a LUMI in a heartbeat. It was a fun, no-stress, socially distanced way for me to brush up on piano. Beginners should find it a breeze for getting started in their own piano-playing journey. Now I’m off to bake some sourdough and learn how to play Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Enough.”
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