One of the best things to come out of Microsoft Research is the company’s Songsmith program. The app can make anyone a musician by providing a sophisticated digital accompanying band to make any song sound better. It’s as if any tune can be a Karaoke sing-along. Just sing your favorite song, or write a new one, and the software creates a band to play as you sing. You’ll need to pick one of 30 musical styles – from alternapop to reggae to uplifting – and you can customize the tempo, mood and how your back-up band plays. It’s a free download to try out but Songsmith only works with XP, Windows 7, 8 and 10 computers and is good for only 6 hours of unpaid use. That should be more than enough for producing a few hit songs in the music room. After that you’ll need to buy it for $30, but one copy in the music room can go a long way to creating a generation of songwriters.
With the One Light keyboard, the grand piano is now obsolete for everything other than concerts and recitals. There’s not only an instructional app for iPads and Android slates, but as you are called to play a note, its key lights up. This smart piano has 61 keys along with 128 instruments sounds that it can emulate and a MIDI input port for electronic music. It requires six AA batteries, but comes with an AC adapter and is available in black or gold and costs $300.
Casio’s LK-260 keyboard turns music education on its ear with 61 keys that light up when they need to be played. Perfect for teaching small children the basics of piano playing without the pain of traditional lessons, the keyboard’s Step Up lessons are fun. The keyboard has 110 songs built-in as well as the ability to play 400 tones and 150 rhythms. It costs $170.
How do you fit the tone, richness and strength of a grand piano into a classroom-sized upright? You start from scratch and redesign what a piano is and how it works, and that’s exactly what Casio has done with its Celviano Grand Hybrid pianos. The company’s engineers worked with Beckstein to create a piano that is as much musical instrument as electronic marvel. It has Casio’s Natural Grand Hammer Action Keyboard that uses the same materials as on high-end premium pianos and adds Linear Morphing Technology for smooth transitions between soft and strong sounds. The result is two pianos that sound larger and more vibrant that you'd expect: the 4,000 GP-300 (right) is available now and the upcoming $6,000 GP-500BP (upper left) that should be available in November. They not only can mimic the tonal structure of three different popular concert tones and fill a room with sound but are the rare pianos that have a headphone jack for private practice.
Teaching kids the essentials of music theory and composition is just as hard as chemistry or a foreign language, but often gets short shrift. Two new apps – Breezin’ Thru Theory and Breezin’ Thru Composing – can do it with games, interactivity and assessments. The programs are aimed at middle- and high-school students and are browser based so they work on anything from an iPad to a Chromebook. It costs $30 for a single student and $150 for a teacher and class.