LED-Guided Piano Instruction


[Kay Choe] can’t play the piano. Rather, he couldn’t, until he converted his keyboard to include LED-guided instruction. [Kay] is a microbial engineering graduate student, and the last thing a grad student can afford is private music lessons. With $70 in components and a cell phone, however, he may have found a temporary alternative.

The build works like a slimmed-down, real-world Guitar Hero, lighting up each note in turn. We’ve seen a project like this before, with the LEDs mounted above the keys. [Kay]’s design, however, is much easier to interpret. He embedded the LEDs directly into the keys, including ones above each black key to indicate the sharps/flats. An Android app takes a MIDI file of your choice and parses the data, sending the resulting bits into an IOIO board via USB OTG. A collection of shift registers then drives the LEDs.

For a complete novice, [Kay] seems to benefit from these lights. We are unsure whether the LEDs give any indication of which note to anticipate, however, as it seems he is pressing the keys after each one lights up. Take a look at his video demonstration below and help us speculate as to what the red lights signify. If you’re an electronics savant who wants to make music without practicing a day in your life, we recommend that you check out [Vladimir’s] Robot Guitar.

29 thoughts on “LED-Guided Piano Instruction

  1. I have a piano keyboard at home with this functionality built in. But honestly: After buying a scorebook with “simple tones”, ie: the songs being set in a easy-to-play-along way, I have found that the lights distract from learning to play.

  2. Well, that’s all neat and dandy, except;

    1) Those LEDs aren’t embedded into the keys in any way, shape, or form.

    2) Speaking of LED’s, although he might have used a shift register in his linked example, that video above clearly shows something not-too-dissimilar from the HL1606 LED strips that can be found all over the place. This, although technically, is a glorified, tricked out shift register, isn’t what’s listed above!

    Still, nice concept, hope he pushes on with it to make something a bit more polished!

      1. Nice catch, only glanced over the video. I think I’ve still got some HL1606’s /somewhere/…

        That said, who uses WS2801’s any more? All about the WS2812B’s these days ;)

    1. Yeah I am not normally one to poo poo a build but I highly agree with you. The LCD screen on it already showed keys to play and songs anyway. I guess good on him for figuring it out and getting it built. Always happy to see some Android OTG in use.. I am a bad keyboardist as well. I build, modify, and repair keys all day but really stink at playing. My sis got the piano lessons and I got a work permit at 15. Who needs learnin lol?

  3. This is a great build. However, it is exactly how you should NOT learn to play the piano… It teaches you to look at your hands and the keys, rather than at the music sheet. Once you teach yourself that, it is nearly impossible to learn to read music as the behaviour to follow the leds is programmed in. It will help someone learn to play some songs though.

    1. I’m actually building something related. Instead of signaling which keys to press, I’m using the software “piano booster” to display a scrolling music score in a 14” screen on top of the piano. The software reads a MIDI song and displays it as a music score. Then because the piano keyboard is connected to the computer via USB, the software knows which keys I’m pressing and makes a “distorted” piano sound every time I press the wrong note. It has been helping a lot learning how to read music scores!
      The next step was going to build a proper frame for the LCD screen and buy a beaglebone to replace the laptop.
      More information on my blog:

        1. http://pianobooster.sourceforge.net/

          The software does that as well. You can make it show “timing markers” in the score so that you know if you played ahead or behind the notes. There is also a overall bar that measures the performance of your play.

          It is a really nice piece of software. In the following days I’m going to see if I can cross-compile it for ARM. I want to run it in a beaglebone.

  4. It seems the red LED lights up on a key that’s already being pressed and needs to be released and pressed again. It’s for if the key has to be played multiple times in a row. The blue LED lights when a key has to be pressed and stays lit as long as the key should be held down. Without the color change there’d be no way to indicate that it should be released and pressed again. That’s what I think it happening anyway.

  5. As long as the midi file puts up the sheet music and follows along so he knows how the notes on the page correlate to the notes on the keyboard, then he’s learning to play piano…Until then, he’s memorizing…not the same thing at all.

    Anybody know of a hack I can use to tie into a Yamaha keyboard and get the microscopic LCD display to show up on a larger monitor?? I haven’t found one yet.

    1. Find out what model the LCD is and see if there’s a datasheet available on the part manufacturer’s website…otherwise, you’ll have to do some reverse-engineering to determine the pinouts.

  6. Lets hope he op’s to learn his sex techniques the old fashion way (or has a very understanding partner).

    As to learning the piano, unless the LED’s can hold a ruler, and give him a good slap when he messes up, it’s probably not all that great at teaching.

  7. This has been around for decades. I remember a small Casio or Yamaha keyboard I had in the 80s that had this feature.

    Neat project, but it doesn’t help with fingering — it makes the user dependent on staring at the keys, using that “hunt and peck” method. Notice when he’s playing Fur Elise: he plays the bass and treble parts with both hands.

    If you’re already “hunting/pecking” keys, you might as well learn how to read sheet music and rest your hands on “home keys”.

  8. Decades, It’s entering it’s second century. Meade Lux Lewis and two other greats of Boogie Woggie piano playing learned by watching the keys move on the player the taxi office installed to keep the drivers in the office not at the ice cream parlor down the street. This was in the 20’s, dispatch was by phone not radio.
    Goes to say even the greats did it ‘wrong’. I can’t read either but wish I was exposed to the Yamaha screen in a bigger format much earlier. Sight can only do so much, ultimately it’s heard and thus can be played in the dark.

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