Having spent the best part of ten years trying to revolutionise the MIDI keyboard with its Seaboard range, ROLI is pivoting somewhat and launching LUMI, a portable keyboard controller that, with its companion software, promises to help you to learn and play music.
The first thing to note is that this isn’t a ‘squidgy’ keyboard of the Seaboard variety. The 24 keys have a normal action and don’t support MPE, but they do offer polyphonic aftertouch. What’s more, each one lights up, which is crucial to LUMI’s positioning as a learning tool.
Fire up the companion software and these lights show you where and when to put your fingers as you play along to “pop hits” and classical pieces. There’s an element of Guitar Hero to this, certainly, though you can also switch to a sheet music view if you want to learn in a more traditional way.
The hope is that you’ll simply learn as you play; if you want to jam rather than just copy every note in a song, you can choose to have the chords in a song light up so that you can improvise around them.
That said, a 2-octave keyboard has its limitations, particularly if you want to play with two hands. ROLI’s solution is to make LUMI modular – you can snap multiple keyboards together to give you a much bigger playing surface, and it also connects to the company’s Blocks products.
LUMI also promises features that go beyond its ‘learning’ remit. Team it with the ROLI Studio Player software and you can use the Smart Chords tool to help you build chord sequences (root notes of a chord light up), and the Arpeggiator option shows you each note in an arp sequence.
The colour and radiance of the keys can be customised, too, with ROLI claiming that LUMI is “the brightest and most saturated RGB-illuminated keyboard controller ever made”. It’s powered by batteries – you can have up to six hours of play between charges, apparently – and connects wirelessly over Bluetooth.
LUMI is being pitched on Kickstarter now and has a pre-order price of $249/€249 (this includes 100 sounds from FXpansion’s Cypher2 and Strobe 2 synths). It remains to be seen if beginner players will be willing to shell out for it, particularly when you consider the many online piano learning apps that are available, most of which work with a standard MIDI keyboard.