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Piano Hero / Synthesia
April 9, 2010 12:13 PM   Subscribe

Want to learn how to play piano but can't read sheet music? Synthesia or previously known as Piano Hero. Synthesia FAQ
posted by MechEng (45 comments total) 86 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh. Hell. Yes.

Seriously. This is something I've been waiting for for a long time.

Ten years from now, the music scene is going to be really, really interesting.
posted by MrVisible at 12:21 PM on April 9, 2010


Nice. I'd been thinking of getting a keyboard, and I've always thought something like this would be really helpful for learning to play. I took lessons as a kid but didn't get very far and haven't done much with it since then.

Does it have a sheet music mode so you can learn to read notes as you play?
posted by delmoi at 12:29 PM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow, this is really great. I've been getting some good music stuff from MeFi lately!
posted by adamdschneider at 12:35 PM on April 9, 2010


If your looking to record / edit a midi try : Anvil Studio

This can then be played back in synthesia.

And delmoi to answer your question the answer is yes, although i believe this comes at an added cost in the learning pack.
posted by MechEng at 12:37 PM on April 9, 2010


You linked the same Linkin Park song/video twice, but there are a lot of other video examples included, even some duets.

To be honest, I'm not really sure how the music scene will change with this. You're playing an actual musical instrument, so you could sit down on any other keyboard and start jamming, if you learned through this program, but from what I see it's just a way to learn music, not a new way to compose.

Does it have a sheet music mode so you can learn to read notes as you play?

There are a couple "note modes" in the learning pack.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:38 PM on April 9, 2010


Looks interesting, but nothing about fingering. (The author admits this is a deficiency.)

Reading music really isn't the big deal it's made out to be, six months of practice will do you. Making your left and right hands do different things at the same time is the real challenge of piano, and that takes more than 6 months of practice... (I know because that's how long I gave it and decided to put it aside till retirement. The good thing about putting myself through that wringer was that suddenly playing the trumpet didn't seem that hard any more!)
posted by phliar at 12:51 PM on April 9, 2010


God damn. For the last year or so I've been thinking about writing an ask.metafilter post looking for exactly this. I want this, I want the learning pack, I want to read sheet music, I want this bad.

I see there's a recommended keyboards page, can anyone offer any more suggestions or vendors with good deals?
posted by The Man from Lardfork at 12:52 PM on April 9, 2010


So this Synesthia, does it vibrate? (link NSFW)
posted by Panjandrum at 12:54 PM on April 9, 2010


Does it have a sheet music mode so you can learn to read notes as you play?
posted by delmoi at 3:29 PM on April 9


It does, in the $18 learning pack. But this isn't the way to learn. You work with this, and you will learn how to play the song they show you, like a robot.

The best way to learn is to hear music and to then try to reproduce it, without sheet music. People don't learn to speak by first learning how to read. And most young children who can play amazingly well don't learn to play by reading music first. They hear a song (a simple one obviously) and then reproduce it.

With rock music, there is an additional wrinkle, which is that for some bizarre reason a lot of it is recorded one half-step flat. I don't quite understand why this is the case, but it is, and it is incredibly annoying. I don't know if there is a way on an ipod to slow down playback or detune half a step (electronic keyboards can do this) so you can play along to these kinds of songs on a piano, but if you have an electronic keyboard, almost all of them have a way to detune al least in half-step increments.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:59 PM on April 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Recording a half step flat makes it easier for the singer to hit the high notes-- a lot of rock singers don't have a great range.
posted by InfidelZombie at 1:04 PM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've been looking for something like this. Very awesome.
posted by Vorteks at 1:06 PM on April 9, 2010


It does, in the $18 learning pack. But this isn't the way to learn. You work with this, and you will learn how to play the song they show you, like a robot.

Well, presumably there's away to add your own songs to the program.

What I like about this is the instant feedback. Sure, you can hear if you're playing correctly but with this you can see exactly what you missed, and what's coming up, exactly when to strike the keys.

Playing something like the piano or guitar is as much about "muscle memory" as it is about musical ability.

I mean, playing "typing tutor" games won't teach you to be a great writer, but it will teach you how to type quickly which will help you write a lot (eventually) and improve. I mean, obviously I just banged out pre-written documents when I was taking typing classes in high school, but that hasn't stopped me from typing whatever I want -- obviously.
posted by delmoi at 1:10 PM on April 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Looks interesting, but nothing about fingering. (The author admits this is a deficiency.)

There are some good piano tutorials on YouTube that walk through the fingerings side by side with Synthesia, which you can then practice yourself on Synthesia. Obviously that only works if someone who knows how to play bothers to make a YouTube tutorial for that particular song, but there are a lot of tutorial videos out there.

The best way to learn is to hear music and to then try to reproduce it, without sheet music. People don't learn to speak by first learning how to read. And most young children who can play amazingly well don't learn to play by reading music first. They hear a song (a simple one obviously) and then reproduce it.

I for one am too dumb when it comes to music to learn this way. I can't identify chords or even individual notes well, and if I play the wrong notes enough I get that stuck in my head and I can't remember what the real song is supposed to sound like. And that's with instruments I'm relatively comfortable with, let alone one I'm learning.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:13 PM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


But this isn't the way to learn. You work with this, and you will learn how to play the song they show you, like a robot.

maybe not the way to learn if you know you are serious about it, but i'd say anything that gets someone engaged in the process of making music is a good thing. something like this could well be the first step to seeking deeper knowledge.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 1:17 PM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


All surface, no depth.
posted by ReeMonster at 1:19 PM on April 9, 2010


But this isn't the way to learn. You work with this, and you will learn how to play the song they show you, like a robot.

In other, breaking news, Guitar Hero pros have yet to become rock gods.
posted by TypographicalError at 1:27 PM on April 9, 2010


I for one am too dumb when it comes to music to learn this way. I can't identify chords or even individual notes well, and if I play the wrong notes enough I get that stuck in my head and I can't remember what the real song is supposed to sound like. And that's with instruments I'm relatively comfortable with, let alone one I'm learning.

Well then, start with basic ear training before you even begin trying to play an instrument. Learning through programs such as this is a bit like memorizing an entire speech in German without learning what the individual words mean.
posted by IjonTichy at 1:31 PM on April 9, 2010


I can see how this would be fun once you already know how to play the piano. I can't imagine a beginner picking out each of those notes one at a time. This program doesn't teach you what fingers to use in various chords and note sequences, and it doesn't teach you to read music.
posted by aesacus at 1:37 PM on April 9, 2010


But this isn't the way to learn.

This is a way to learn. Or maybe more to the point part of a potential toolset for learning. There are a lot of basic mechanics involved in instrumental performance—as delmoi said, the muscle memory that goes with the musical sensibility—and for folks who find the keyboard intimidating despite their interesting in learning to play, something that eases them into playing via some kind of visual guidance can very much be a good thing.

I play stuff by ear and have struggled after the fact to develop a basic competence with written notation and regret not having picked up the formal side of things earlier on. I'm not complaining, I'm quite happy that I do have that facility for playing by ear, but not everyone has that facility or at least a natural low-friction path toward developing that facility on an unguided, DIY basis.

Anything that might help someone enthusiastic about learning a musical discipline advance down that path is a good thing.
posted by cortex at 1:37 PM on April 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


Cool game.
But as far as "teaching" you, it seems harder than reading music. Something about the music aggressively coming at me like that, like some kind of uncaring I Love Lucy conveyer belt, adds this layer of tension that would freak me out more than a metronome and a grouchy teacher sitting beside me.
posted by chococat at 1:37 PM on April 9, 2010


Not loving the forced full-screen. Am I missing the way to turn this off?
posted by sageleaf at 1:41 PM on April 9, 2010


In other, breaking news, Guitar Hero pros have yet to become rock gods.

well, in guitar hero, there's like 5 buttons simulating the guitar...but here's it's a one-to-one with a real keyboard, so that's pretty sweet.

I also think it looks a little intimidating, the wall of notes coming at you, especially for total beginners. but if there's an option to slowww things wayyy dowwwn until you get the right fingering, seems like this would be really helpful. now if only I had a keyboard...
posted by wundermint at 1:46 PM on April 9, 2010


On further reflection, this method also has significant disadvantages when compared to learning via notation. At least notation gives you some leeway for interpretation, especially by varying timing; this program is merciless, and as a result the performance sounds robotic and dull.

Also, I'm surprised at how little my skills seem to transfer to this method. 22 years of playing the piano, and I got the impression by trying to play along in my head that I wouldn't have been able to sight-read Linkin Park using this program.
posted by IjonTichy at 1:47 PM on April 9, 2010


Well then, start with basic ear training before you even begin trying to play an instrument. Learning through programs such as this is a bit like memorizing an entire speech in German without learning what the individual words mean.

Yeah I've done that. I know how to read music, I know in theory what different notes chords are made of, but when it comes time to try to play something I've heard my brain just can't do it correctly. I played in the school band for years as a kid and I could fake my way through a song with the whole band playing but I always had trouble playing songs by myself, even with sheet music. I am the equivalent of a person who "doesn't get math" when it comes to playing music.

For me listening to a song and trying to figure out what notes and chords are in it, and then trying to actually play it decently, is like trying to eat a meal, figure out all of the ingredients, and then make it myself. The only way I'm able to get anywhere without failing miserably is if someone gives me the recipe, or better yet walks me through all of the steps.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:56 PM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


When I learned how to play the piano as a kid, I found the reading to be incredibly frustrating slow-going, but took to learning chords and picking out tunes quickly, and ended up"sight reading" by taking a song I already knew the tune to, playing it by ear on the right hand, and using the sheet music's guitar tabs (with labels) to play chords on the left.

I imagine something like this would be a good way to address that deficiency, although I think it would be more productive if it were designed with standard notation in mind from the beginning.
posted by condour75 at 1:57 PM on April 9, 2010


I have a hard time with music. I'm a visual thinker and no matter how much I try, I seem to be unable to overcome something basic and important about learning music. I strum my ukulele and buy new "LEARN UKULELE!" DVDs, but something doesn't click. I feel like if I could learn how to read music and poke it out on a keyboard, I could- eventually - disassemble it in my head and figure out this nameless thing that I can't work out otherwise.

I've been imagining some kind of typing tutor, Missile Command/Rock Band, kind of game where I have to play bars of music to defend my city just to get me over this hump. I just want to get good enough to stare at some sheet music and get at least a bad, slow but recognizable, Beatles tune plonked out on a keyboard so I can maybe figure out what I'm missing.

This is the closest thing I've seen so far. This, a used keyboard, the learning pack and maybe a book to get me started on fingering is cheap enough for me to give it a shot.

Of course, I know little about music, so I have no idea what I'm talking about. Am I completely off base here?
posted by The Man from Lardfork at 2:02 PM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Anything that separates new students from the godawful sadistic pseudo-cryptography they call "sheet music" is a good thing. That shit ruined me. It killed any love I might have have for making music as a kid.

This "doesn't teach you fingering"? That's your complaint? Are you kidding me? LOOK AT THE SCREEN. For the first time in my life, I can actually see where my hands should be! This notation makes it obvious! See all those notes coming up in that easy to see grouping? Better get your thumb on the lowest note! Oh, look, those two groups of notes are clearly the same shape, just shifted over a few keys. So of course that's just a different key, and of course I should just shift my hands over.

That kind of analysis was utterly impossible for me to figure out trying to read notation that, among a dozen other stupid design decisions, has notes on two clefs that are separated by a space that doesn't actually represent the separation between the notes.
posted by CaseyB at 2:02 PM on April 9, 2010 [5 favorites]



I can see how this would be fun once you already know how to play the piano. I can't imagine a beginner picking out each of those notes one at a time. This program doesn't teach you what fingers to use in various chords and note sequences, and it doesn't teach you to read music.

There are piano tutorials available via HD Piano which use synthesia. Shows Fingering

As well with the program you can slow down the note sequence while learning to make things easier. Bad Day 50% Or Learn one hand at a time as seen in the HD Piano Tutorials.

Here is an example of an easier song done via synthesia.

And the second version of the linkin park song was supposed to be this link This is a review of the software.

posted by MechEng at 2:07 PM on April 9, 2010


Interesting backstory: this project used to be called "Piano Hero" until the developer received a cease and desist letter from Activision. The correspondence has been archived on the website, and is a nice example of a relatively cool headed trademark dispute.
posted by abc123xyzinfinity at 2:11 PM on April 9, 2010


Wow, I should have known the music snobs would be out in force for this one. I think I might go buy me a cheap keyboard later. I "learned" a little bit of piano when I was younger, and can kinda-sorta pick out tunes so I've been vaguely interested in picking up a keyboard sometime. This may make now that time, although 61 keys is pretty weak. But if that's all you can afford..
posted by wierdo at 2:13 PM on April 9, 2010


This "doesn't teach you fingering"? That's your complaint? Are you kidding me?

It's a more specific technical complaint than that. Fingering as a matter of technique is more than "what keys to hit"; it's also about which fingers to use to hit which keys, and in particular how to handle the transitions from key to key in a way that makes it possibly to physically accomplish the playing of a passage with a pair of human hands.

So on that front it is an important oversight and one that it'd be great to see fixed. Being taught how to approach the physical execution of a passage in space and time is important, both for the rote value of performing a given piece and for the general value of developing a vocabulary of physical positions and movements to attack any piece.

So in general I like the idea of this in that it does, indeed, put a direct visual mapping from music to keyboard in a way that I think a lot of people will find far more approachable than traditional musical notation. But complaints about the omission of fingering guidance aren't crazy, it's just a matter of musical jargon vs. the more general lay concept of "fingers should hit these notes".
posted by cortex at 2:16 PM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


The best way to learn is to hear music and to then try to reproduce it, without sheet music. People don't learn to speak by first learning how to read. And most young children who can play amazingly well don't learn to play by reading music first. They hear a song (a simple one obviously) and then reproduce it.

Sure, that's the way to train your ear, which is undoubtedly the foundational skill set for music creation and performance. Nonetheless, ear training doesn't magically teach you how to read, just as someone who speaks a language fluently may be illiterate.

Interestingly, though, with regards to how the ear figures in, a skilled sight reader's fluency is actually predicated on having a large library of small musical patterns committed to muscle memory. A skilled sight reader with a very good ear also has a large library of those patterns committed to aural memory, and so she can use that inner hearing to craft the music more sensitively as she reads. A good ear helps you emphasize the musical syntax of what you're reading more effectively, but the two skills are acquired in basically orthogonal ways.
posted by invitapriore at 2:25 PM on April 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Anything that separates new students from the godawful sadistic pseudo-cryptography they call "sheet music" is a good thing. That shit ruined me. It killed any love I might have have for making music as a kid.

Dude, I survived intact. Criticizing the design flaws of musical notation, however valid, is to piss in a pretty fierce wind, same as with any criticisms you might have of a natural language such as English. It just seems to me like you had a bad teacher.
posted by invitapriore at 2:32 PM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


i would think the big deal here is not using this as a foundation of music knowledge, but rather giving the prospective learner a comparatively early sense of satisfaction in being able to play a cool and recognizable song beginning to end; that takes a good while with traditional lessons. for me, that would be a huge motivator toward taking lessons. (i've played for a long time, self taught by painstakingly working on my favorite pop sheet music; i'm currently trying to fill in some of the gaps from the shortcuts i took along the way, but i've gotten a lot of satisfaction out of it in any case).

but also, though i cannot find a solid link on it, i vaguely recall hearing that in the earlier part of the last century, people did have piano teachers for the purpose of learning a particular song or set of songs, as opposed to taking the full set of lessons. the software would just seem to update that idea.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 2:57 PM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


and i wouldn't undercut the value of stuff like guitar hero; it is not the same as playing the actual instruments, but it does turn you toward deeper musical thinking. the only stuff i like to do in the games is play drums (since it is the closest to actual playing), but i notice that when i spend time on it, my tempo is noticeably more consistent when i go back to the piano. even playing something as simple as lady gaga tap tap revenge on iphone gives me a different perspective on the music and makes me think more about how it is put together.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 3:05 PM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


For those of us who just want to get a little better at messing around, and have no ambition to ever play professionally or even in public, this sort of thing is really exciting.

Yeah, I know I'm doing it wrong. I don't care. It's fun.
posted by MrVisible at 3:12 PM on April 9, 2010


I can't wait to try this with my piano student. She has an ear, and she likes video games, so I bet this will go over well.
posted by emelenjr at 3:13 PM on April 9, 2010


is there a mirror?
posted by mrgrimm at 3:45 PM on April 9, 2010


Thanks for this post! I have an old Yamaha keyboard with a MIDI jack and I was able to get this working almost instantly. The bottom line for me is that sitting down with my Bowie and Beatles sheet music and slowly picking out notes is kind of a chore. As much as I'd like to get better, my keyboard spends a lot of time gathering dust. This little program might change that, and for me that's enough.
posted by chaff at 4:24 PM on April 9, 2010


Hey, this is by my old student Nick. It's been a while since he made "DodgemBall 3D."
posted by rodii at 4:47 PM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


You know what? It's okay for non-artists to paint pictures on Sundays and never try to exhibit them. I would love the opportunity to play keyboard, just for myself. I have tried over and over to connect sheet music with sounds and can't do it. It's okay if nobody becomes Albéniz, Alkan, Bartók, Beethoven, Brahms, Busoni, Chopin, Debussy, Gershwin, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, Rubinstein,Schumann, Scriabin, Shostakovich or Carl Maria von Weber out of the experience.

Piano lessons have always been out of reach of my (beer) budget. Should the enjoyment of playing a keyboard be restricted only to those with means?
posted by b33j at 5:50 PM on April 9, 2010 [5 favorites]


Piano tutor software with noted falling down have been around for eons.

If you REALLY wanted to play piano you'd already have researched and known that. Or just continue to lie to yourselves like you always have.
posted by HTuttle at 10:40 PM on April 9, 2010


So there has already been piano software just like this; they used to sell it at the local Fry's a few years ago. It was oriented for kids -- and it worked the same way, with bugs traveling vertically towards the color-coded keys, eventually turning 90 degrees, and then changing from bugs to notes. I'd conceived of almost the exact same thing years before, but I'm not the kind of programmer that could pull it off, so I was thrilled to see it.

Sadly, I kept putting off the purchase, figuring that my kids weren't old enough yet and I'd get it later. And then the product was gone. But now we have this, and despite the distinct lack of bugs, I'm sure this will be useful.

However, there appears to be no option for turning 90 degrees. If anyone knows where I can still get that software with the good kind of bugs, let me know in MeMail.
posted by davejay at 11:18 PM on April 9, 2010


Oh, and I type 100wpm+, and have since I was a pre-teen, thanks to MasterType on the Atari, which involved a spaceship that blew up approaching letters (and eventually words) faster and faster until your ship was destroyed. Video games like this *can* teach useful skills.
posted by davejay at 11:20 PM on April 9, 2010


So I went out and picked up a cheapie keyboard (velocity-sensitive, but no weighted keys) last night in response to this post. It's fun. Sadly, I haven't been able to get Synthesia working right in WINE. For some reason input is delayed by 2 seconds or so, making it impossible to play the game.

On the bright side, the cheapie keyboard has some nifty (rote) learning aids, so it's already reminded me how to play Fur Elise, which I haven't remembered how to play correctly in 20 years.
posted by wierdo at 3:12 PM on April 10, 2010


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