A while ago I found this new software called: Synthesia. they claim it is “A fun way to learn how to play the piano…” that sounds interesting.
In my early years of piano playing, I spent most of my time playing scales, reading sheet music, and practising some practical pieces… Not these big beautiful pieces like Mozarts Moonlight Sonate or your favourite movie theme. (Mine is Pirates of the Carabian Medley from Kyle Landry, that’s awesome!)
It was fine, but it could definitely be more fun. So let’s see if this software actually makes practice efficient and fun!
Synthesia shows you the notes which you need to play on your screen as if you were looking at a whole keyboard. You don’t outright know what to play, it takes some time getting used to, but it’s definitely easier than reading the same on sheet music.
If you have a MIDI-Keyboard you can plug it into your PC and Synthesia will automatically recognize it. If you then play a song Synthesia will recognize when you press the wrong or right key, you go too fast or too slow… this is really nice!
all in all, it sounds quite good, but does it work as good as it sounds, and is it actually helpful compared to traditional sheet music?
So let’s take a look at it!
Should you learn piano with Synthesia?
I´m going to evaluate it with the three most important questions. Let’s start with the first one and for many of us the most important one!
Is it fun to learn a piano piece with Synthesia?
For many of us, it’s demotivating to sit down and practice nearly every day, consistent. So couldn’t it be wonderful if it’s a bit more exciting?
The biggest problem with learning piano is that you can´t really feel your progress if you’re a beginner. Later you are going to look a bit deeper, and see the small steps in your progress.
But how can Synthesia change that?
Already at my first practice sessions with Synthesia, the time felt much more valuable. When I first played a piece, I was easier than I thought when I first started this Synthesia Review! I got faster through the piece and had no problem to follow the rhythm (More or less) and it felt like I was prepared much better, compared to Sheet Music.
But if you want to learn piano PROPERLY you also need to play some Etudés (Pieces which teach you special techniques/Play styles) And I never liked them… The best one where from Frederic Chopin (A Polish Composer) but these were too hard.
So I looked into Synthesia and they already got an extra section for this! Wonderful! It’s called “Scale Exercises” and teaches you nearly everything you need to know about basic piano playing!
Overall: Yes it is fun to learn with synthesia… but it fails to teach you some things you just have to learn if you want to completely understand the music your playing… and I’m going to talk about this in the next section!
Should you learn to play the piano with synthesia instead of traditional sheet music?
For many of you, it sounds boring to read sheet music and “follow the traditional way” and I can FULLY understand that, but let’s take a look at how Synthesia changed my normal traditional practice routine.
Normally I would learn a song through the sheet music and I would start like this:
- Cutting the piece into smaller pieces (Learn 1 chunk at a time, and fully master it with the next 2 steps)
- Focus on Note pitch, value and to use the correct fingering (The correct Notes and rhythm)
- When everything else is done: Focus on expression like Crescendo, Decrescendo, Dolce and much
But back to the main topic! When I practised with Synthesia: it worked differently: I had no problems to play the correct note value or rhythm because I literally saw them instantly on my screen. That feeling was quite nice. Another positive thing, many of the songs provided from Synthesia have already the fingering for the song (Which fuínger you should use to play which note).
Everything put together: A much faster progress than estimated, and I had no problems understanding the “Tricky” sections of the songs. Nice! So basically it’s much better than Sheet music, but it will help you to learn the basics of Sheet Music.
Should you rather learn piano with Synthesia instead of taking real piano lessons?
Now we are coming to the most serious section… should you rather take lessons?
There are only two skills which Synthesia fails to teach properly:
1. Music Theory
You learn a new song… that’s nice… but did you understand why it sounds good? or how music in general works…
Music Theory is a fundamental skill which you should consider to learn.
If you master music theory you can:
- Compose Songs
- Rewrite songs and make them your own
- Understand the music you play
- And… you can show off your knowledge… maybe something you want to!
But to learn the theory you don’t need to take lessons… I recommend using the Internet! Youtube and some other websites have incredibly good content which can teach you anything you need to know! Here are the best resources in my opinion:
For learning general music theory check out: MusicTheory.net This is a bit harder to understand, than just watching a video, but it will help you a loot in the future!
Become a pianist in 10 lessons! This is a free tutorial which can teach you the basics! Everything you need to know and this is one of the best tutorials on YouTube which I highly recommend it!
2. Reading Sheet music
The second skill is reading sheet music and why it can be extremely helpful.
The answer is… Because you can play any song you got the notes to, and trust me you will find sheet music for any song you want to play by simply google “Name of the song + Sheet music”
For this step it would be ridiculous to hire a teacher, this one is really easy to learn if you understand the basics.
One of the best guides on the internet -> How to Read Sheet Music
He gives a wonderful simply explanation. And after you learned the basics just try to read sheet music along Synthesia (They actually have a feature where you can play and read the sheet music at the same time: That’s Perfect)
Getting the details right
Suprise, another section! Now, this is the last thing I want to talk about.
When you play the piano there are many things you can learn on your own. Actually around 85 % can you master on your own. This means getting the notes right and make the song sound Quite nice.
But if you want to get these last 15% you need to get someone to help you. The teacher will (tragically) always see the things you do wrong and could do better. And that’s the point, they help you to play it perfectly. Else you will make some “dumb” mistakes which do it harder to learn piano.
This could be because he has some tips on variations of the songs or some better rhythm or style in general.
Final Conclusion: Should you use Synthesia?
Finally, you reached the end of this review… and I think you should use Synthesia… if you can’t afford a piano teacher.
Synthesia is great and makes many things more fun. but in the long run, you are going to learn more and get more out of your music if you get a real teacher.
If you just can’t afford one… then here is the solution: An small online course which gets you good to go and teaches you the basic. Key-Notes.com Take a look at it or learn it through YouTube and other websites!
After you finished the basics, you can easily learn on your own! And you can use Synthesia much more efficient because it really makes things a lot easier to know the theory (Especially if you got a keyboard which you can plug into your PC to get some instant feedback from Synthesia)
So go out and try Synthesia! The free version is okay, but I recommend the paid version. It’s only 30 bucks at the time, no broken heart! If you buy it you have access to more songs, you can record your own songs, and you have different ways to learn new pieces!
And remember what I said! get your basics right and you will be just fine:
- Basic Music theory
- Basic understanding of sheet music
- Some basic pieces to teach you a good play style and techniques (You can find a lot of recommendations in the course I linked)
if you got these skills, then Synthesia is a nice program to learn your favourite songs!
Thanks for your attention,
And as always have a great day and Good luck
Your Author Leon W.
Edit: Synthesia has grown quite a large video-base on Youtube, there are a lot of new tutorials with proper transcription and timing. The visualisation of the notes can help many beginner or intermediates to understand the structure and composition of the music!
Thank you for this article. I often find people who review this being very slanted one way or the other.
I think synthesia and sheet music are both just tools. Used at different times and for different reasons.
Music theory on the other hand runs under all music.
Music theory is part of the language, synthesia or sheet music is like deciding to write in cursive or print.
That’s a good perspectiv on Synthesia, and music theory is definetly more helpful to learn.
I am unclear about what Synthsia can do for someone who already reads sheet music. If I find a Synthsia tutorial with the MIDI file to download, would Synthsia be able to produce the sheets for me? Thank you for your information!
I often use Synthesia if I want to visualise the beat, and the sheet music is too complicated or just poorly written. You can see the notes in relation to each other and better understand the music.
About the second question: You can use the program Musescore to open a midi file, and it will be converted to sheet music, with some minor flaws which can be corrected later.
Hope i could help 🙂
Your article was very needed. Thank you a million times!
I started learning recently without a teacher. I’m currently practicing “Air on the G String” by Bach. I LOVE it.
I’m getting better reallllly fast! My technique is to divide it into chunks and practice each chunk on its own until I master it. I also try to challenge myself sometimes. (i.e: play without looking at the screen/ without looking at the keyboard)
But again, THANK YOU! I thought I might have been doing it the wrong way. Now, all I need is to learn the music theory and learn how to read music sheets while keeping on using the software.
Im glad to hear that it’s going well for you! It sounds like you are doing a good job of thinking logical about how to practice, that is always good 🙂
I started using the free version of Synthesia 2 days ago to help me with Chopin’s Butterfly etude (op. 29 #9). This piece has 6 flats! And because I’m a lousy sight reader, I just get frustrated trying to work out which keys to press. Yesterday I was so impressed with Synthesia that I registered it. Now it’s only $29! Already I feel I’m making more progress in 24 hours than in the last 2 years.
That’s great to hear. People learn very differently, if your Sight reading foundation isn’t very trained then it’s much easier to use Synthesia as a Visual Guide 🙂
Hi again Leon! I had a small question if you don’t mind.
I have been trying to practice Fantaisie Impromptu by Chopin. The famous “hard” composition.
I started learning piano early this year. Hence, I still have a lot to learn. (Total beginner, I’m 24 y/o)
Assume I dodge everything and start practicing the Fantaisie now through the software, how many years of practice do you think it will take me to be able to play it both hands standard speed? (without any knowledge of music theory or musical notes, just muscle memory and practice)
There is a reason why this piece is so called hard. It got a lot of changes in dynamics, the articulation of the notes, the rhythm can be tricky at best. By learning this peace you will start to practice some technicals stuff like Thrills, arpegios and so on. Since this is quite a big piece you need to order your practice, else you will run out of energy. If you need some help you can write me a message on Telegram @LeonWink, it’s hard to say how long one needs to practice without knowing much about their technical skills
Thank you so much for the feedback! I really advanced a lot since that comment. Now I can play the right hand with minimal mistakes on a not-bad speed. I still hadn’t learnt the left hand though. Once I master both hands, I will start both. I’m very determined and willing to master this piece 🙂 I’m learning useful things, like for example, not playing too hard or I might hurt my hands. And I also learnt that our brains are very capable to remember the pieces it learns, even after months of no play!
Hi Leon, thank you again for such an encouraging article. I played too hard and I was on the edge of damaging my hands by developing Tendonitis. I think those who learn piano on their own really need to know about finger exercises and how to play safely without exposing their hands to tension. I’m thankful to God I came through a forum post where I knew about the permanent damage risk. If I hadn’t, I might have played through the pain and lost it all 🙁
I encourage anyone playing without a teacher to buy a book or read articles on how to play safely. And never play through the pain! If your hands are tired, give them rest, then play again once you feel well.