As you might expect, the colored keys provide a guide to new players. But rather than start out doing scales, the Lumi app lets you dive right in to those pop songs as a way to provide some instant gratification. For example, I got to play a little of the indelible Europe classic “The Final Countdown.” If you’ve watched any Arrested Development over the years, you’ll know it kicks off with a prominent, memorable synth line — a perfect and simple melody for someone new to a keyboard to play.
Lumi gets you right into it with a timeline of notes that float by on the display of your device. (You’re best off using this with an iPad; the extra screen real estate makes the experience significantly better.) If you’ve ever played Guitar Hero, you’ll be right at home. The colored notes correspond with the colors of the keys on the Lumi — play them in time with the display, and you’ll quickly be jamming along to the song. The closer you get to nailing the performance, the more “points” you’ll get.
The Lumi app offers more than just these simple, one-note melody-style tracks, though. From what I saw when demoing the system, songs will have several modes to play along with, from easier melodies to more intricate chords (depending on the song, of course). The software also can teach players music — while you can start with the simple, abstract Guitar Hero interface, other modes show a traditional music staff, but the notes will still be colored to give you a reference to the keys. From there, you can add in timing, as well, eventually transforming the experience to a standard musical notation system.
Beyond letting you play along with songs you’ll recognize, the Lumi app will also mix in lessons in playing technique, scales, chords and so on. That’ll be important if you want to take your keyboard skills to another level. When I was demoing the Lumi, I found myself not quite remembering exactly where my fingers should be — fortunately, there’s a lesson for that.
As for the hardware, the Lumi keyboard uses the same “DNA” connector found on Roli’s Blocks lineup. This means you can link multiple Lumi keyboards together to give yourself a bigger performance space; the bezel-less design means that transitioning from one keyboard to the next should be a seamless process. You can also link other Roli Blocks up and use the Lumi as a straight MIDI keyboard with the Roli Studio Player app or DAWs including Garageband, Ableton and Logic Pro. Having some room to grow beyond the basics here certainly makes the Lumi more appealing.