TheONE Smart Piano review: This smart keyboard will teach you how to play it

TheONE Smart Piano review: This smart keyboard will teach you how to play it

With light-up LED keys and app-enabled smarts, TheONE Smart Piano connects with your phone or tablet to teach you how to play it.

I played a lot of piano as a kid -- first, by figuring out how to bang out crappy versions of movie scores and TV theme songs on my grandma's Steinway, then, eventually, with actual piano lessons (my family could only tolerate my rendition of the theme from Indiana Jones so many times).

So, forgive me if TheONE Smart Piano gets me all nostalgic. It's a $300 compact keyboard (or a $1,500 full-size electric piano) that leverages the power of your phone or tablet to give you a more feature-rich experience. Plug your device in and open the companion app, and you'll be able to follow along with video lessons, song tutorials, and Rock Band-esque games on its screen, with LED lights in the piano's keys lighting up to guide you along the way.

TheONE Smart Piano app is all about the app. Take that app away, and you're left with a very, very basic keyboard that offers just a volume knob and three buttons: a power switch, a button to tap through different instrument tones, and a sustain setting.

This is at least partly by design. TheONE Music website touts the clean, minimalist look of the thing, with the usual controls stripped out and relocated into the app.

Outside of those core keyboard features, TheONE Smart Piano focuses on teaching you how to play it. For example, you can pull up interactive sheet music that highlights the notes on the screen (and with those LEDs in the keys) as you play. You can also watch one of 105 video lessons with a virtual instructor -- again, the keys will light up as he coaches you on what to play and how to play it.

There are also song tutorial videos geared towards people who prefer to play by ear. The app has a wide collection of popular songs from everyone from Ben Folds to Beyonce to the Beatles, with videos that show you exactly how to play each section of a song (and yep, the piano's keys light up to make it even easier to follow along).

The same goes for that interactive sheet music I mentioned earlier. You get plenty of classical selections to practice with for free, but if you want to learn how to play the latest Taylor Swift song, you'll need to fork over a couple of bucks.

The good news is that there's plenty of free content across all of the app's features -- enough so that I felt more or less satisfied. I wasn't willing to pay to learn the outro to"Hey Jude," but since the intro/verse was free, I didn't come away feeling too upset about it.

As for the game mode, I found it to be a fun and clever way of testing your skills. There are dozens of songs to choose from, which felt like plenty, but most if not all of them are folk songs or holiday songs aimed at kids. I'd prefer a greater diversity of options.

You'll also find additional practice games hidden in the settings menu. The ear training mode offered an especially interesting twist on training: the piano plays you a note (or, if you're up to the challenge, a chord), then asks you to go and find it. That's typically a pretty tough skill to develop on your own -- with the app, you have a helpful partner.

The verdict

I like this thing. It isn't going to beat the one-on-one instruction you'll get with a good piano teacher, but it will provide you with a way to gradually improve your skills, and a way to have fun doing so. It's better for kids than it is for adults (I couldn't help but cringe during the first lesson, when the instructor sang "Hot Crossed Buns" to me), but still offers enough to encourage anyone with an interest in learning piano to sit down and do so.

At $300, it's far from the nicest keyboard that money can buy, so if you have more serious musical aspirations, then look elsewhere. But if you or your kid is a beginner looking to learn, well, there's an app for that, and a keyboard that goes with it quite nicely. Give it a shot.

Playing around with TheOne Smart Piano (pictures)

LED keys

The other trick up its sleeve? LED keys that light up to show you which notes to play.

Full-size version

If you want to go big, you can get this full-size version with all 88 keys -- but be prepared to spend.

Home screen

Let's take a look at the app. Here's the home screen, with three modes to choose from.

Virtual lessons

The first mode offers virtual piano lessons -- basically just videos where an instructor guides you through the fundamentals of playing piano, with synchronized assistance from those LED keys.

Song tutorials

There's also a library of song tutorials, where an instructor shows you how to play a specific song, section by section.

You follow me?

And again, everything syncs up with those LED keys to help you follow along.