UPDATE: This article is now obsolete as a number of key considerations have changed since it was written. For a current perspective including updates to several points in the below article, please see iPad Piano Lessons — The Best Approach.

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Can you learn to play piano on an iPad or iPad miniWe’ve all seen the tv commercials for the latest tablets and mobile devices (also known as a handheld devices, handheld computers or simply handhelds) such as the iPad, various Android models, and now there’s Microsoft Surface.

But are any of these suitable for learning to play piano / keyboard, and specifically, can they adequately run the Musiah online piano / keyboard lessons software?

Let’s first examine the notion of practicing / learning / playing piano or keyboard by tapping on a glass screen with one finger.

When I advise students what to look for when selecting / buying a keyboard, one of the most fundamental considerations is that it must have full size keys (the same size as the keys on an acoustic piano or on an organ). Aside from the other obvious shortcomings of ‘playing’ piano by tapping on a glass screen, the keys on the screen are not even full size!

The other day I met a lady who told me she had bought an iPad because of the ads on tv that show the piano app, and she had always wanted to learn to play piano.

But here’s the thing: Not only is the iPad (or other similar devices) with a piano app not a real piano / keyboard where you can feel the action of the keys as you play, if the lady had bought herself a real keyboard — it would have been a lot cheaper.

In fact, the iPad / ipad mini tv ad in particular is quite misleading… In case you are a member of a remote tribe deep in the heart of the Amazon and you have not seen the ad, I am referring to the recent tv ad for the iPad mini showing the piano app where you can apparently instantly play piano like a seasoned maestro by tapping on the glass (or whatever the iPad screen is made from) with just one finger.

What the ads don’t tell you (and the boffins at the CAD that scrutinize each ad before approving for it for airing on tv missed this point) is that the audio is not just what you see each of the index fingers playing.

Initially, in the ad, the hand on the left side of the ad plays a simplified bass part from the well-known song ‘Heart And Soul’ using only the index finger (and the audio matches at this point). Then the hand on the right side plays the melody on the iPad mini (and the audio still matches at this point). But as the two index fingers continue to play, a 3rd and then a 4th part is added is added to the audio — subtly — i.e. you’re not meant to notice. You’re supposed to just think it will sound that good.

If you don’t believe me, next time you see the ad, listen carefully.

So if you’re wondering can you learn to play piano on an ipad or the iPad mini, beyond perhaps gaining some very basic musical knowledge, the answer is unequivocally — No! It (the combination of piano app / ipad) is after all little more than a toy. It is not a musical instrument, and certainly not a keyboard or piano.

But what about learning piano on an iPad / iPad mini with the Musiah piano / keyboard lessons software — would that work? Unfortunately not for the following reasons:

  1. Since you need to be able to see a full page of sheet music (and other elements), the screen is too small to be practical. As a general guide for use with Musiah, the larger the screen, the more enjoyable your piano / keyboard lessons will be, and the easier it will be to read the sheet music.
  2. Unlike conventional computers (desktops / laptops), an iPad / iPad mini does not have anywhere near the necessary processing power or RAM to run the Musiah software.
  3. Among other technologies, the Musiah app uses Flash but an iPad / iPad mini cannot run Flash.
  4. While it is possible to connect a MIDI piano keyboard to an iPad, a special cable is required since the connection is made into the power socket of the iPad (because it doesn’t have a USB port), and these cables (as far as I know) are only available for MIDI keyboards that have a USB port at the back, i.e. if you own a keyboard with traditional MIDI in / out ports, forget it.

Similarly, for the various Android tablets currently available (whether or not they have a USB port), the same factors prevent such devices from being suitable for learning to play piano / keyboard and / or running the Musiah online piano / keyboard lessons software.

But what about learning piano / keyboard on a Microsoft Surface?

Well in this category of mobile devices, there is potentially some good news.

There are two versions: Microsoft Surface with Windows RT and Microsoft Surface with Windows 8 Pro (available from January 2013).

Please note: The first version — Microsoft Surface with Windows RT is not suitable for use with the Musiah online piano / keyboard lessons software because:

  1. It doesn’t run a full version of Windows, so lots of Windows apps including the Musiah online piano / keyboard lessons software simply will not run on it.
  2. It only has 2GB of RAM (the Musiah minimum system requirements specify at least 3GB of RAM)

By contrast, Microsoft Surface with Windows 8 Pro is likely to be suitable for use with Musiah and for learning to play piano / keyboard generally...

  • Although the screen (10.6” ClearType Full HD Display) is a bit small, it may be adequate.
  • Microsoft Windows 8 Pro has enough processing power, and
  • With 4GB of RAM, it has sufficient memory to comfortably run the Musiah online piano / keyboard lessons software.
  • It also has a USB 3.0 port (which will also run USB 2.0 devices), so connecting a MIDI keyboard / controller should be easy.

Once the Microsoft Surface with Windows 8 Pro becomes available in January, we will do some testing to see how the Musiah piano / keyboard lessons software performs on it and I will let you know the outcome.

So of all the mobile devices / tablets / handheld devices / handheld computers / handhelds, there is at the time of writing just one that is likely to be suitable for learning piano / keyboard — the only one that comes close to matching the performance of a conventional computer (desktop / laptop) — the Microsoft Surface with Windows 8 Pro.

So if you’re into mobile devices and considering which one to buy, I hope this information may help you decide.

Overall, it is still hard to beat the robust performance of a good conventional computer, which of course may potentially offer the option to increase your RAM to as much as 16GB or 24GB (depending on the computer). And of course you can use a nice large monitor which will greatly enhance the readability of the sheet music and your enjoyment of your piano / keyboard lessons.

If you’d like to experience the joy of learning how to play piano / keyboard online for yourself, you can of course take our Online Piano Lessons 14 Day Free Trial right now.

And if you’re looking for the perfect Christmas gift, we have also have great Musiah Online Piano Lesson Gift Certificates which you can get with just a few clicks.

Thanks for reading, and please feel free to comment.

Til next time,

Brendan Hogan L.Mus.A, A.Mus.A.
Piano Teacher & Musiah Inventor

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