Keyboard Workstation Setup
Home Keyboard Workstation + Synthesia
All course content for The Musical Family has been designed to work with Synthesia; a flexible piano teaching software that allows the shared use of user generated content.
In simple terms a home keyboard workstation for The Musical Family sessions consists of the following:
A piano keyboard connected via USB to...
A laptop or desktop (see notes on tablets)
Synthesia installed on the laptop or desktop - visit https://synthesiagame.com to download the free version.
Then within Synthesia: from the Settings > Music Devices menu in Synthesia, connect your keyboard then try playing one of the songs that comes with the game. If everything works then you're 95% of the way there.
Finally, in order to play the course exercises (and any other songs you can find online) you will need to pay between $29-$40 to unlock Synthesia. Course exercises are sent out before the start of the course.
Constructing Your Workstation
Once you have a Keyboard + Laptop & Synthesia setup, there are a variety of different ways to create a workstation for very young children. Key points are:
The laptop should ideally be positioned in front of the player, where the music stand would normally be.
Ideally, your child should be seated/standing at a height where their elbow is just above the height of the keyboard ie. the arm falls on a slight downward angle from the elbow, bringing the hand just above the keys.
To create this correct setup you may wish to consider the following:
A Laptop stand - search for "Piano Laptop Stand" on Amazon for relevant results. This is simply a stand for a laptop that could be positioned behind the keyboard
Adjustable Piano Stool / Stokke Chair / Booster seat - anything that you can use to change the height of the seating position of you child is useful. Ensure that the chosen method doesn't impede movement of the elbows.
Additional Furniture - chairs can be used to set a keyboard at a lower height if the keyboard stand wont go low enough. Placing the keyboard next to a table or desk can provide a surface for you to place a laptop on.
See the images and video below for more inspiration
Files for The Musical Family method will be available in the near future... stay tuned!
A more in depth look...
If the above overview seems... a little brief (!) and you still have more questions... then don't worry. Those who have registered their interest in the sessions can contact Greg Hooper, the course creator, for advice. To register your interest in the course, please fill out the form at the bottom of The Musical Family course page.
Additional items are covered below with links to Synthesia's support pages:
Which Keyboard should I buy?
As a basic minimum a piano keyboard needs to:
Have a USB port for connection to a computer.
Outside of this the following is also recommended:
Weighted keys - these make the keyboard feel the same to play as a real piano. Better piano technique can be developed on a keyboard with weighted keys.
Not using a keyboard with Lighted Keys - The aim of the sessions is to encourage our children to look up to a laptop, then eventually printed music so that they may become independent learners and music readers. Lighted keys will encourage a child to look down at the keyboard. This is not something that we want to actively encourage at the outset.
In built speakers - Be sure to buy a keyboard that has it's own speakers built into it, so that it will make sound even when it's not plugged into Synthesia.
If buying a keyboard, make sure that it comes with necessary accessories such as power cable, keyboard stand, and USB cable if required.
Laptop vs. Tablet...
In order to fully participate in the sessions you need to be able to attend a Zoom session at the same time as using Synthesia. You will also need to be able to download a file containing .midi and .synthesia files onto the device running Synthesia, and then link those files to Synthesia. On a laptop/desktop this is simple to do; simply locate the files in the 'paid' version of Synthesia. On a tablet though this could be more difficult. It may also be more difficult to participate on Zoom and run Synthesia at the same time on a tablet, but a good workaround for this would to be to run Synthesia on the tablet whilst attending Zoom on a smartphone.
Overall, a laptop/desktop is the better option. In time, you may even want to use a music production program like Garageband or FL Studio, in which case the investment in a Keyboard Workstation will pay off even more. Again, the laptop/desktop would be the better option here too.
Laptop/desktops should all have USB ports and be easy to connect to a keyboard via USB. If using a tablet, it should be possible to find an adapter. For eample, in the case of an iPad, you might need a USB-C to USB Adapter.
Download Synthesia without a piano keyboard first...
If you're feeling uncertain about anything regarding this setup, but have a laptop/desktop/tablet, then perhaps the best thing to do is to download the free version of Synthesia and just give it a try!
- On a laptop, you can use letters from the upper two rows of your computer keyboard to play some of the notes [see image].
- On a tablet you can play a touch screen keyboard.
Of course, using a real weighted piano keyboard will ultimately be better for the development of good technique, but there's nothing wrong with experimenting to get a feel for the app.
Other places learn songs...
As an adult, don't be afraid to learn simple songs from any source on the internet. You can pass these on to your kids - learning more songs and enjoying exploring music together is always a positive! Just be wary of leaving a child to their own devices on a device. Your input, guidance and encouragement is crucial!