Is Synthesia a Good Way to Learn Piano?

Are you considering learning piano with Synthesia? Or have you heard of it and want to know what all the fuss is about? Then you’ve come to the right place. In this article, I’m going to tell you all about Synthesia and discuss whether or not Synthesia is a good way to learn piano.

 

Synthesia yay or nay

 

There are so many ways of learning piano these days: you can learn with a teacher (live or virtually), with online piano courses, on Youtube, on apps, by ear or with piano learning software like Synthesia. So how do you choose which option is best for you? And is Synthesia a good way to learn piano?

 

In this article, I’m going to show you what Synthesia is, what you can and can’t do with it and show what lies behind all the glitter of Synthesia. It may not be all that pretty…

 

What is Synthesia?

To quote the creators, Synthesia is “a game that can help you learn how to play the piano using falling notes”.

 

This is what it generally looks like:

via GIPHY

 

The “falling notes” show you which keys to press and for how long.

 

It is indeed like a game. It reminds me of those Japanese arcade games like Taiko no Tatsujin or Dance Rush…

 

Inside Synthesia

Synthesia is actually a bit more sophisticated than what you see on Youtube, like in the image above.

 

Synthesia is equipped with many controls such as:

  • metronome
  • falling note or sheet music mode or both
  • note and key labels such as fingering, English note names, fixed-do or moveable-do note names, scale numbers
  • RH or LH or both hands practice mode
  • progress reports with a line chart and points earned

 

controls of Synthesia

 

It’s very similar to other piano learning software like Piano Marvel. The main difference is that Synthesia uses falling notes and a visual keyboard to show you where to press.

 

How to use Synthesia?

To use Synthesia, you can either download the software available on the Synthesia Game website and purchase “songs” that you then upload into the software. You then plug your laptop or iPad to your digital piano to get instant feedback, much like Piano Marvel, Simply Piano, etc.

 

Or you can search for pieces you want to learn on Youtube by typing the “[name of the piece] + Synthesia”. Not all pieces will be available with Synthesia, but there is already a large pool of pieces to choose from.

 

Can any song be used in Synthesia?

It turns out that yes, you can! For a long time, I thought that only the famous pieces were available in Synthesia, but it seems that you can upload ANY piece into Synthesia as long as it’s a MIDI file.

 

I tried it myself with one of my compositions. I exported the Finale file as a MIDI file, opened it in Synthesia and there it was, reduced to falling notes! No dynamics, no phrasing, no voicing… just falling notes. Hm, not sure how I feel about that…

 

Can Synthesia teach piano?

While Synthesia shows you which keys to press and for low long, Synthesia cannot teach you how to play the piano nor how to read music. It cannot teach you important things like sitting posture, hand position, the finger/wrist/arm movements, nor how to play musically with phrasing, articulation, dynamics, or rubato.

 

Synthesia vs sheet music – which is best?

Synthesia offers easy access to pieces you wouldn’t otherwise learn with sheet music. Having said that, it is only easy at the start with simple pieces. Once the level of difficulty increases, so does the time and effort required to figure out all the notes. It actually becomes easier and less time-consuming to use the sheet music as you get a full view of the score and all its details.

 

Learning piano with sheet music in Synthesia

There is an option to show the music score of the piece you’re playing. However, you can only see one line of music at a time which you can zoom in or out:

 

Synthesia with the score

 

Sadly, the scores are very basic and often badly notated. There are no dynamics, no phrasing, no slurs. Different voices within one hand are not clearly notated (all voices will share the same stem which makes it hard to discern which notes belong to which voices).

 

Furthermore, there is no option to print out the music from Synthesia. You would need to convert the MIDI file to a score with music software.

 

Learning piano with “real” sheet music

The advantages of learning piano with proper sheet music is that:

  • The scores are generally notated well
  • The scores contain all the essential markings, including fingering, phrasing, dynamics, tempo marking, pedal, articulation, etc.
  • You can see the piece as a whole, not just one line at a time
  • You can annotate it (whether physically or digitally)
  • Not getting any feedback on your performance forces you to develop good listening skills
  • You can play at your own pace and without a metronome.

 

Is there an advantage to using Synthesia?

If there is an advantage to using Synthesia, it is this: you can “learn” to play pieces right away without needing to read music. (I say learn in inverted commas because you’re only learning what keys to press and for how long, not how.) The dangers of using Synthesia, especially with the falling notes only, far outweigh this perk because you risk:

  • forming many bad habits that will hinder your progress
  • ending up not being able to read music
  • not developing your musicality
  • playing pieces that are beyond your playing ability which may lead to injuries
  • not developing a good understanding of music
  • not learning how to listen and judge your own performance

 

If you are using Synthesia…

I recommend that you only use it at the beginning to learn a few pieces. I would then encourage you to find a teacher or an online learning platform where you can learn proper technique and music notation.

 

In any case, avoid relying too much on the falling note mode and the note/key labels. While these can be helpful when first learning notes and keys, they will end up slowing down your reading skills so use them sparingly. And use the sheet music whenever possible so that you learn to associate the sound you make to the notes in the score.

 

READ MORE >> 10 Habits to Avoid When Reading Music & How to Break Them

 

Conclusion: Is Synthesia a good way to learn piano?

While Synthesia is probably one of the easiest ways to get started at the piano, it is NOT the best way to learn piano, especially if you want to learn it properly to a good or high standard.

 

The best way to learn piano is to learn with a teacher who can teach you proper technique, musicianship, music theory, interpretation, music notation, etc. This method will benefit you the most in the long term. You may find it slower at the start (although this depends vastly on the teacher), but you will be able to go much further with the right technique and habits.

 

After all, slow and steady wins the race, right?

 

Have you tried Synthesia? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below!

 

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    Emmanuelle Fonsny

    Emmanuelle Fonsny

    Emmanuelle Fonsny, or Manu, is a piano and violin teacher, composer and accompanist based in Sydney, Australia. She is passionate about sharing her love of music and her sight-reading and practice tips to help other pianists become more confident sight-readers.

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