Remember Tom Hanks playing the light-up keyboard in the movie Big? The McCarthy Music Illuminating Piano scales that concept down to finger-size, and adds a learning feature for those times when your piano teacher isn't around. I went hands-on with this $500 keyboard to see how my 12-plus years of piano lessons translated to this high-tech music maker.
The Illuminating Piano is essentially a MIDI keyboard that shows you the correct keys to press by lighting them up. It works in conjunction with a free iOS or Windows app, into which you can load digital sheet music. (McCarthy Music has a partnership with Hal Leonard, which has sheet music for more than 50,000 songs. Unfortunately, you must purchase songs separately; a typical song costs $4).
A player-piano mode in the app -- which connects via Bluetooth to the keyboard -- will play the song automatically, lighting up the keys as they're played. In learning mode, the app will illuminate the proper keys until you press them. Each of the keyboard's 61 keys can light up in any number of colors, which you can also customize using the app. You can control the keyboard either through touch-sensitive controls, or through the app itself.
The keys are semi-weighted and velocity sensitive -- the harder you press, the louder it gets -- but I found them mushier than my own Yamaha keyboard, as well as those of a traditional piano. As a result, I found myself pressing harder on the Illuminating Piano keys than I would have otherwise, and making more mistakes. Still, I could see the usefulness in having the keys light my way toward proficiency.
The McCarthy Music Illuminating Piano is currently on sale for $499; as the company is currently filling pre-orders, those who purchase the keyboard now should expect to receive it in June. The company also sells a tablet stand separately for $40 -- it's too bad the stand is not included. While $500 is on the expensive side -- Yamaha also sells a 61-key illuminated learning keyboard for $235 -- McCarthy Music's Illuminating Piano can tap into a much larger library of music, which should broaden its appeal. Plus, its multitude of colors would make even Liberace stop and take notice.