Rhinegold Photo credit: Junshien Lau

Cameron Bray

Editor

Review: The ONE Light Keyboard

4:00, 26th June 2019

Self-learning is not a new concept when it comes to musical learning, indeed I have been teaching myself to play guitar for several years on top of my existing musical training. Each year, new advances in technology has put learning at our very fingertips – a brief look at the App Store or Google Play Store reveals a host of educational apps, each promising a path towards self-improvement. As someone who believes in the democratisation of knowledge, it’s been great for me. Whether I’m learning Portuguese using Duolingo or taking part in a MOOC on transforming education in challenging environments, I am always looking for innovative ways to teach myself more. So, when the ONE Music Group got in touch with me regarding its range of keyboards which are aimed at self-learners, I wanted to see one for myself.

Hardware

It’s all packaged quite nicely and looks lovely when it comes out of the box. It’s clearly of a good quality and has been thoughtfully designed, looking more aesthetically pleasing than similarly priced keyboards. The one that I was sent was your standard black but it does come in white gold and pink if that’s more your style.

Along with the user guide, which I found to be concise and comprehensive, there were a number of wires – micro USB, USB-C, Apple Lightning – to connect the keyboard to a phone or tablet, along with a standard USB which allows you to plug it into your computer and use it as a MIDI input device should you wish to do that. I tried it out and had no issues getting my laptop and DAW to recognise it. The power lead comes with an international plug but a UK adaptor was also included in the box.

It’s a pretty standard 61-key keyboard, with a flip lid where you can rest your device while its connected via the app – I tried putting some sheet music on it and had trouble getting it stand up straight which was a shame as it limits what you can do without the app. The keyboard comes with 20 different sounds built in, which are accessed through a single button which you have to cycle through. An ordered list of the sounds is found in the user manual but it was quite sluggish to have to go all the way back around to return to a sound that I liked. The sound quality itself was quite lovely though and definitely on a par with keyboards in this price range.

The keyboard does allow you to plug in pedals but these, and a stand, cost extra. You can buy these elsewhere but the company does sells its own on the website and there are even some bundle deals to be found.

Software

The app is available on Apple and Android devices (I am firmly in the latter camp) which is nice to see. I was running it on my personal and work phones, the latter has a bigger screen which was slightly easier to use but I found it simple to use on both devices. I would recommend a tablet as the way to go though.

One you’re plugged in using one of the supplied cables, it is so simple to get started. A notification will pop up on your phone asking if you want to give the app access and once you’ve accepted, you’re all good to go. Throughout my entire time testing this out I never had a single connection issue across my two phones and my laptop – the cables it comes with are of a good quality and a decent length meaning that you should have no issues.

There are four options within the app: A sheet music store, crash course, video tutorials, and games. I chose to dive straight in to a crash course. You’re presented with a list of song options, including Greensleeves, Ode to Joy and Auld Lang Syne, which are arranged into three levels of difficulty. Each crash course takes you step-by-step through a single piece, teaching you each hand’s part separately before bringing them both together for the final lesson. The way it works is quite clever, lighting up the key that you need to press to progress to the next one and then getting you to repeat the patterns until you can play it well – you can change the tempo of the piece with a swipe of the screen. I thought this was quite a nice way to learn and meant that you could progress at a steady pace as you’re not allowed to proceed until you manage to play a piece with 80% accuracy three times.

I gave a few of the crash courses a go and found them to be adequately pitched for the level suggested by the app. Anyone with enough time and patience would find this useful but I can’t imagine anyone younger than mid-teens having the discipline to stick with it – certainly none of the five- and six-year-olds I’ve taught piano to would have been anything but distracted by the lights!

The tutorial videos provide a grounding in the basics of piano and should help the novice get their bearings. Many of these feature the world famous, and friend of Music Teacher, Lang Lang who takes you through the basics using the company’s digital piano (i.e. not this product). It’s a nice touch seeing him here though he appears to have been dubbed over which is a little jarring if you’ve heard him speak before.

In addition to basic tutorials, there is a huge library of Hoffman Academy videos which take you through steadily more complex things, such as chords and scales and reading bass and treble clef notes. Again, if you’re committed to learning, having it all here in the app is very helpful but it requires a higher level of discipline than having in-person lessons.

Once you’ve got through the basics you can find a range of sheet music to play a lot of public domain music suits alongside paid for content priced between $2-4 (£1.60-3.20). These all work with the light up feature and allow you to immediately play through the piece so you can feel what it’s like to play your favourite songs.

It’s not clear what your options are once you’ve purchased the sheet music – I couldn’t see an option for downloading any of the free ones and it would be a shame if the purchase was locked into the app when getting it directly from the publishers would give you more freedom. Admittedly, this option wouldn’t be compatible with the app and the light-up keyboard so it really depends what your intentions for learning are. I had a lot of fun getting stuck into ‘Let It Go’ and some John Legend.

Summary

If you are just wanting to learn the basics of piano playing to get a feel for it and then jumping into private lessons at a later stage then this would be a good jumping off point. I found the games and exercises to be the most useful part of the app, allowing me to improve my dexterity and reaction time in response to the lights – unlike something like the Guitar Hero or Rock Band games, this keyboard builds practical skills which are necessary for piano playing. I’m a big fan of gamifying learning and this scratches that itch for me and makes me want to get better each time.

I’m not confident that I could recommend it for a young player but if you’re a committed enthusiast or an instrumentalist looking to expand your repertoire then it’s worth considering. You can get pretty far with this keyboard and app and it could open up the possibility for you to do basic accompany for your students.

The ONE Smart Piano Light Keyboard can be purchased directly from the company’s website, priced at $299 (£245).

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