Piano Man

Ed Zitron 4 min read
Piano Man

I have started learning piano with Lumi, and I’m really enjoying it. It works at first kinda like Guitar Hero - you hit the keys that are on screen in time with the music, and the keys themselves light up to tell you what to do. I breezed through the first 30-40 lessons fairly quickly, and I can feel myself getting better - the instructors are really good, and I really enjoy the actual playing of the music and the weird gamification they’ve added around early/late/good/perfect hits of notes.


It’s definitely become a lot less fun as I’ve progressed to the music theory stuff, which is where traditionally I’ve found myself give up on piano lessons. Their approach is guided and easy to follow, but has two core issues:

  1. You can’t fail a class.
  2. You can’t repeat an exercise from a class without watching the preamble beforehand where the person walks you through the exercise itself.

I think that part of my issues are also that, well, I’m learning piano, and this isn’t like getting better at Guitar Hero. I think I expect myself to get better far faster than the human brain can actually get better at something, and that one learns things like piano extremely slowly in comparison to basically anything else. I’m effectively teaching my brain how to do stuff that it does’t know and doesn’t necessarily want to know how to do.

A lot of the reviews, as well as people on Twitter, claim that the product is limited due to only having two octaves, which is true until you actually think about how people learn piano. Yes, you have to learn octaves and, yes, you really need a lot of them to truly “learn,” but I feel as if these people aren’t remembering the actual core issues of learning piano - teaching your hand to know that a C is a C and actually playing music with it. I feel like Lumi does a really good job at teaching that, and my judgment/expectations are much higher of the software (and perhaps myself) than they should be. I’ve really started to trip up on some of the later lessons that require you to read their sort-of-sheet music (versus the Guitar Hero style interface) because, well, it’s new, and doesn’t really tell you where things are beyond the keys lighting up.

This difficulty is compounded by the lack of being able to repeat lessons without the videos - if I was able to repeatedly hammer these lessons in, I think I’d do a lot better. But I’m also on day four or so of learning, and I am significantly better than I was on the first day. I am also expecting myself to pick up something (assigning sounds or letters to key presses) that I have had significant trouble learning before, at least four times in my life. It’s not easy! I hate that everyone else picked it up so easily, and I did not! I want to be good at this! Why am I not able to play everything yet!

There are a few pretty clever things they’ve done in it too - it seems at first like the note colors are arbitrary, but they all apply to each note, which my brain is JUST starting to get attached to.

I am curious to see if this works. I’ve found myself extremely frustrated with it at times, but I want to be clear that this is my general frustration with myself - my dyspraxia makes things like this about seven times more difficult, and things that most people pick up easily are usually difficult. But I was also able to learn how to type really, really fast and accurately, so I think there’s hope.

One particular wrinkle with the app I’ve noticed is that notifications drive it completely insane. If you’re like me and, say, have a few Nest cameras with fairly aggressive notifications, you’re gonna have issues keeping it from having random hitches.

That being said, having played with it a little bit on an iPad I have from a few years ago, I’ve found the experience to be a lot better than on an iPhone, and I think that’s really the ideal setup. This thing is also gloriously separated from the notifications that dog my phone, so I’m wondering if the experience improves as I go.

Either way, I am stuck on this shit, I will not give up not because I am a steadfast, smart individual, but because I’m a stubborn asshole, and I will force myself to do it unless it is 100% obvious that I cannot improve.

Crucially - and to answer some people’s criticisms - the reason that this has stuck out as “something that works” versus things I’ve tried in the past (actual lessons and Playground Sessions) is that the user experience is simply better. I don’t have a cable, I don’t have a giant keyboard, I have a cloud-based account with stages and feedback. I can be up and playing in 10 seconds, I can try stuff quickly, I can see if I’m hitting the right keys - it just works. I’m also fairly certain that the iPad-based learning will help just because of the lack of distractions, and the bigger screen generally feels like it clicks more with the experience.

Anyway, I’ll keep updating, because I have to write every day anyway.

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