Keyboard Workstation Setup
Home Keyboard Workstation + Synthesia
Tech Requirement Overview
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, Desktop or Chromebook (ie. some form of computer with a file system - see notes...)
Synthesia installed on the device - 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 FILES - Please contact Greg Hooper (course creator) to be sent course files during the early stages of this project.
KEYBOARD STICKERS - as a final consideration, it can be helpful to apply some keyboard stickers to your Digital Piano/Keyboard to begin with (although it is worth removing them once your child has learnt the names of the notes on their own). If using a keyboard with plastic keys, you could probably get away with just making your own (be prepared to scrub the sticky residue off after removing them) or you could buy some online. Only apply stickers to a selection of central keys - leaving some keys blank will enable you to test your child's ability to name the remaining keys without the aid of the stickers (see image below).
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. This position enables the child to more easily develop a good technique and hand position.
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
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 - 'Digital Piano' is a term often associated with keyboard products that feature properly weighted keys. A weighted keyboard will feel like a real piano and enable the player to develop better technique. Digital Pianos are however more expensive, starting at around the £400 mark (see Yamaha P45), but they do retain their value reasonably well. Understandably, many parents may not want to invest in a Digital Piano until they can see that their child has a sustained interest in playing. As such the more affordable option of a 'touch sensitive keyboard' is OK to start with.
AVOID Lighted Keys - The aim of The Musical Family method 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. Looking up whilst interpreting musical information and playing, will also help them develop the necessary peripheral awareness of the position of their hands. Lighted keys will encourage a child to look down at the keyboard. This is NOT something that we want to actively encourage, or instil as a viable learning option 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, sustain pedal, removable music stand (or music rest) and USB cable if required. Some 'keyboard bundles' might include a piano stool as well, which is useful for setting the player at the correct height in relation to the instrument.
Computer... [not Tablet at the moment]
Currently it seems that it is only possible to get the course files to work properly on a computer (ie. laptop, desktop, chromebook - a device with a file system), but not a tablet or phone.
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 computer, then perhaps the best thing to do is to download the free version of Synthesia and just give it a try! On a laptop, desktop or Chromebook, you can use letters from the upper two rows of your computer keyboard to play some of the notes [see image].
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.