Tech review: One Light smart keyboard teaches piano with lights

The One Light smart keyboard uses LEDs to help you learn the piano. PHOTO: The One Music Group
The One Light smart keyboard uses LEDs to help you learn the piano. PHOTO: The One Music GroupPHOTO: THE ONE MUSIC GROUP

I failed to pass my Grade 8 piano examination despite two attempts. By the time I called it quits, playing the piano had turned into a chore. There were more exciting activities for a teenager, like video games and football.

I am, thus, hesitant to inflict such a fate on my children. Not to mention the high cost of paying for lessons and buying a piano.

The One Light smart keyboard could be the answer for parents in similar straits. Or adults looking to pick up the skill without making a huge commitment.

While it looks like an ordinary 61-key digital piano, it has one trick - an LED lights up underneath each key to indicate the next key to hit.

The idea is that novices can quickly learn how to play the piano by following the lights, which are controlled by The One Smart Piano companion app (available for iOS and Android). Install the app on a tablet or smartphone, connect the latter to the keyboard using the bundled cable and you are all set to go.

I recommend using an iPad for its larger screen. Also, the bundled cable for Android smartphones will probably not work with newer models because it uses the micro-USB interface instead of USB-C.

The LEDs come in two colours - red means the key should be played with your right hand while blue is for the left hand.

In the app are video lessons to get you started on the basics, such as the correct hand shape and position.

  • FOR

    • Suitable for beginners with video tutorials and LED lights

    • Rhythm game spice up the tedium of practice

    AGAINST

    • Keys are not weighted

    • Pricey here compared to other markets

    SPECS

    Price: $895.25 (from Lazada.sg)

    Platforms: iOS and Android

    Number of keys: 61

    Weight: 5kg

    RATING

    Features: 3.5/5

    Performance: 3.5/5

    Value for money: 3/5

    Overall: 3.5/5

I was initially impressed by the appearance of world-renowned pianist Lang Lang - an investor in the firm that makes this smart keyboard - in the first video lesson, but he was present in only two of the eight lessons in the app. On top of these lessons, there are over 100 videos that teach you how to play the piano from the Hoffman Academy, though the same videos are available on YouTube.

My 7-year-old daughter, though, did not care about the tutorials. Instead, she instantly gravitated to the Games section, which has a collection of rhythm games that are inspired by rhythmic video games like Guitar Hero.

Hit the right note at the right time to get a rating (out of three stars). The app also says how you have fared compared to other users.

I found the visual cues for the rhythm game to be slightly behind the tempo of the song, which made for a jarring experience (and a less than perfect rating).

While my daughter could get away with tapping with one or two fingers at the lower difficulty level for these rhythm games, this was not possible for the harder levels. Although the keys light up in advance, there is insufficient time to react. It is also difficult to see the lights under your fingers when you are trying to play a song.

The app also has a decent catalog of sheet music that tracks your progress using visual indicators as you play the music using the smart keyboard. But this tracking feature is extremely strict - it will stop if I hit even a single wrong note, forcing me to backtrack or to skip ahead by tapping my preferred position in the music sheet.

In addition, the free sheet music are usually classical titles - pop songs cost $3.99 per title. Also, some songs are written for the manufacturer's other full-sized 88-key pianos, so you cannot play it properly on this smaller keyboard.

But my biggest beef is its keys, which feel light without any heft, unlike an acoustic keyboard. As a result, the keys are easy to press, but this may not help learners build up the finger muscles required to play an acoustic piano, where the keys have varying levels of weight.

At almost $900 from the official distributor on Lazada.sg, the One Light is pricey, especially when a 61-key portable Yamaha keyboard is about $500 to $600.

It does not help that Amazon.com is selling the One Light smart keyboard at US$219 (S$296). This fee, though, excludes the cost of a freight forwarder because Amazon does not ship it directly to Singapore.

I recommend checking out the One Smart Piano app before deciding if the keyboard is for you.