Monday, February 2, 2015

The McCarthy Music Illuminated Piano: A Shortcut to Keyboard Stardom?

Posted By on Mon, Feb 2, 2015 at 4:00 AM

The McCarthy Music Illuminated Piano - L.J. WILLIAMSON
  • L.J. Williamson
  • The McCarthy Music Illuminated Piano

If you've ever seen Casablanca, you remember Sam the piano player. His fingers would glide over the keys as he simultaneously carried on a conversation with Ilsa, scanned the room for his boss, or sang, rarely needing to even look down at his hands as he kept the whole room entertained.

In reality, actor Dooley Wilson, who portrayed Sam, couldn't even play the piano. He sang while mimicking the movements of pianist Elliot Carpenter, who was likely focused on the work of playing the tunes.

But the fantasy of playing the piano with ease remains a seductive one. The latest product designed to capitalize on this daydream is the McCarthy Music Illuminating Piano, shown last week at the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) trade show in Anaheim, California.

The Illuminating Piano has keys that light up, showing you which key to put your finger on next -- left hand blue, right hand pink. The 61-key piano is designed to be used with an iPad, which plugs in to the keyboard, displaying sheet music and circled notes that coordinate with the lighted keys. When you make a mistake, a red mark appears on the score, so you can go back and practice that part again.

It's an enticing idea: The piano shows you what to do, and you follow the lighted keys as easily as a singer could follow a karaoke video or a gamer could follow Guitar Hero. But while the McCarthy Piano might be fun to play with, it occupies a space just a notch or so above a toy -- not likely to produce any serious pianists.

The hard reality is that piano is one of the most complex instruments there is to master, and unlike folk instruments such as guitar, impossible to learn to any serious degree of competence without some amount of formal instruction.

McCarthy Music has partnered with music publisher Hal Leonard to make 1,000 titles available for the Illuminated Piano, predominantly in the pop realm (there are plenty of songs from the Frozen soundtrack) and a few classical pieces (like piano student workhorse "Fur Elise"). The keyboard has a "listen" mode, where it plays the song for you, and a "learn" mode, where the lighted keys guide you through the score. There's also an "assist" mode, where the piano plays one hand and you play the other.

"It's really a system that's designed to make learning to play piano really easy," says Kevin McCarthy, head of McCarthy music. "Lessons are fabulous, but the problem this solves is that when you get home, and have a piece of sheet music -- as a beginner, at least for me, it was a very lonely and frustrating experience. You spend half your time trying to find out where the notes on the piece of paper are on the keyboard. And so this allows you to really be playing and having fun in a very short order. And the more fun you have practicing, the more you'll practice."

Continue to page two for more.

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