Reviews

Lumi Keys review: Like ‘Guitar Hero’ but for learning the actual piano

Learn keyboard basics or brush up on long-dormant skills, and then explore making club bangers, all with this portable, attention-grabbing, and modular illuminated keyboard.

Made by Roli

Lumi Keys is the latest keyboard from British music hardware maker Roli, which is best known for its Seaboard range of rubberized keyboards and its modular Blocks devices.

But where those are made expressly for music performance and production, the Lumi Keys has music education in mind, too.

Roli

Learn to play

Lumi Keys uses its individually illuminated keys in conjunction with an app for Android and iOS to teach you songs, scales, and the fundamentals of music theory.

It's like Guitar Hero... except with skills you can transfer to an actual piano. The keys aren't full-sized, but at ⅞ the width of standard ones, they're not far off. They’re also not weighted like real piano keys, but then, few keyboards under $500 offer that.

Crucially, though, the keys are pretty responsive and, generally, if I miss a note it’s me — not the Lumi Keys — that’s to blame.

Lumi
Follow the light!🎥: Craig Wilson / Input

$299

How much Lumi Keys costs.

Lumi

The price of admission

Before we go any further, a word about pricing. The Lumi Keys costs $299, which includes the 24-key keyboard, a case, and a year of Lumi Complete (the full collection of songs, lessons, and exercises) in the accompanying app.

If you want a second keyboard, you can't currently buy it without the software, so it'll cost you another $299.

After a year, you'll need to buy another year of Lumi Complete for $79 (400+ songs, 130+ lessons, 380 exercises, games, and new content each month).

Alternatively, after the first year, you can keep using the free Lumi Essential portion of the app (40 songs, 60+ intro lessons, 72 exercises).

Craig Wilson / Input

Accessories needed

You're also going to need a relatively recent smartphone or tablet (my ancient iPad Air didn't cut it), and preferably headphones you can connect to it. Time to dust off that Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter.

Though the Lumi Keys itself connects via Bluetooth, trying to use Bluetooth headphones at the same time introduces too much latency, so you'll want to be wired.

Lumi

Lessons, songs, exercises, and games

The app is divided into these four categories. "Songs" is further sub-divided into 'beginner,' 'intermediate,' and 'advanced.'

Craig Wilson / Input

"Lessons" involve an on-screen instructor and step-by-step guidance where you play along with what's on-screen. They're great for absolute beginners.

"Songs" are divided into three activities: 'watching,' 'practicing,' and 'challenge.' The first shows you what to expect, the second lets you slow the track right down to learn it, and the third sees you play along in real-time and get graded on your accuracy.

You can display the notes to play in four different ways (including as regular sheet music), but one major omission is any recommended finger placement.

“[Exercises are a] colorful way to practice chords and scales.”

Lumi

Games

The recently added 'Games' section teaches the basic melodies of popular songs using a platformer / scroller where you get extra band members (and with them, more lives) as you level up.

Learning "Clocks" by Coldplay.🎥: Craig Wilson / Input

Add for advanced

If you want to learn both the left-hand and right-hand parts of songs, you can add a second Lumi Keys. Magnetic connectors ensure a perfect fit.

Lumi

You've got to break free

...there's more. Once you've picked up some skills and digit dexterity, you can take your Lumi Keys beyond the confines of the Lumi app.

A MIDI and MPE controller

Lumi Keys is a MIDI controller that includes support for MDE (MIDI Polyphonic Expression).

It'll work with all major digital audio workspaces (DAWs) like Ableton Live, Pro Tools, FL Studio, Reaper, and GarageBand. It also works with Roli's own Studio and Equator software.

Craig Wilson / Input

Lumi Studio in Ableton Live

Craig Wilson / Input

MPE what now?

MPE is a standard for interpreting the input from "multidimensional controllers" (MDCs). That means you can alter aspects of the sound generated with a key (like pitch bend, vibrato, timbre, volume) with physical motions.

One device, two software bundles

LUMI KEYS: Lumi's educational bundle of keyboard and software.

LUMI KEYS STUDIO EDITION: The same keyboard, but with bundled software designed for music production.

Both bundles cost $299. And whichever you choose, you can always buy the other bundle's software separately later.

Craig Wilson / Input

In the unlikely event you burn through Lumi Complete's hundreds of songs and exercises, you can even use the keyboard with other dynamic learning apps like Melodics.

We know because we tried it. (Officially, Melodics only supports Roli Blocks and Seaboard, so this is a score).

PROS

• Battery lasts up to 5 hours

• Very portable

• Progressive, logical lessons

• Doubles as a MIDI and MPE controller

• Works with third-party software

• Illumination is useful, not just pretty

Craig Wilson / Input

CONS

• No desktop educational app

• Lacks suggested fingering

• Keys aren't quite full-sized

• Recurring sub for lessons

• Production apps sold separately

A lot of other keyboards cost less than $299

Craig Wilson / Input

Coda

Lumi Keys won't make you a concert pianist. For that, you'll need a real piano and, if you're over the age of five, a time machine.

But if you're looking to pick up piano basics — or, like me, reawaken long-dormant lessons from childhood — it's an engaging and great-looking way to do it.

For now, at least, it's also not obscenely priced for a MIDI / MPE controller (though, if that’s what you want, you can get the smallest Seaboard for $50 more).

Its life beyond the app really softens the blow of the price, and it's definitely a conversation starter. Plus, Roli offers a 30-day return policy in the event you change your mind.