Learning in the Key of Music
I’ve often thought that the best way to teach kids about how to use a computer keyboard is to have keys that light up when students are supposed to hit them. This way a positive association can be made between the keys, the characters and what shows up on-screen. Casio does this idea one better with a keyboard that does just this, except that instead of teaching typing it’s a keyboard that teaches children (and adults) music and how to play the piano.
The breakthrough is that the keys on Casio’s LK-230 keys glow red when they need to be hit. It’s as simple as that, but it’s a big step forward for teaching the piano to kids. The electric piano comes into its own with the included songbook that includes sheet music for 110 songs that are contained in the piano’s electronic Song Bank.
Divided in four groups of increasing difficulty the songbook works well with the piano’s repertoire. While the arrangements can be a bit corny and they will likely get tedious after a while, the book includes everything from Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” to Foster’s “My Old Kentucky Home.” In other words, more than enough music for an elementary- or middle-school music class.
Like many other digital keyboards, the LK-230 has 61 keys, rather than the piano’s standard 88-key layout, but has the ability to play 400 tones and 150 rhythms. It has a metronome built in and the keyboard can sample any sequence for the teacher to playback later or for incorporating in a group project. The piano’s USB MIDI files can be used on Windows or Mac computers.
It won’t replace a grand piano for concerts but the LK-230 is a gem of a digital device that sounds surprisingly good, particularly when plugged-in to external speakers. The plastic keys have a quiet subtle action and the LED key lights are bright. All are plastic for easy cleanup for the after-lunch music lesson.
For schools stretched tight by decreasing budgets, it can inexpensively integrate music instruction into any curriculum. Watching several 13-year olds try it out, the LK-230 mesmerized them and they couldn’t get enough time playing and practicing, which is a big change when it comes to music lessons.
The only downside is that it’s hard to get in sync with the piano. There’s an 8-beat lead-in but it takes a lot of practice to be able to smoothly join with the material and play the notes with the piano.
Casio’s StepUp lessons can help with keyboarding without the need to read music. The keys light up a musical phrase or one hand at a time and you can repeat any portion as many times as you like. It’s a great way to hone a piece a passage at a time.
On top of a wire music rack, the LK-230 has a pair of built-in speakers for playing for the class. There’s also a headphone jack so that a classroom of future Mozarts can play away without disturbing each other. A room full of the keyboards can help students independently learn the basics of piano playing while the teacher concentrates on those not getting it or excelling.
A big step forward for teaching is the LK-230’s Voice Pad. Just speak, sing or hum for up to 10 seconds and the sequences can be mapped to individual keys. Plus, the keyboard has a line-in jack for connecting a CD player or iPod to add background music.
As versatile as it is, the LK-230 lacks the ability to add new songs to its repertoire. The upcoming LK-270 will be able to download new songs either through a USB connection or an SD card.
The $130 keyboard requires 6 AA batteries or you can use the optional AC adapter, which costs $30. You can get a full classroom kit that includes the LK-230, foldable stand, AC adapter and headphones for $170.
It won’t replace a music teacher but with the Casio LK-230 a class can learn how to play the piano in a few months with surprisingly good results.
+ Keys light up when they need to be played
+ Surprisingly good sound
+ Includes 110-song Song Bank
+ Can connect to computer via USB
- Hard to get in sync with the start of a song
- Corny arrangements