Why Synthesia is Bad

Why I HATE Synthesia (Don’t Learn Piano Like This!)

Hello piano students! In this post, I’m going to share with you why I HATE synthesia. Perhaps you’re asking, What is Synthesia? Most likely, if you’ve ever searched for piano tutorials online, you’ve come across videos that look like this, with falling bars and keys that light up:

Synthesia piano tutorial

This system for learning piano promises to make learning any song quick and easy. After all, what could be simpler than just watching the falling bars and playing the notes that light up? Well, in this post, I’m going to explain to you the huge problems with synthesia and why I think any aspiring piano student should steer completely clear of it. And I hope by the end of this video you’ll agree with me.

What is Synthesia and What Does it Offer?

In addition to piano tutorials with the falling bars, the downloadable synthesia program also offers many additional features, like the ability to display sheet music, the ability to practice the hands separately, the possibility to adjust the tempo, and even a function that lets you transpose the piece into any key you want. Do any of those features change my mind? Not at all. I still think it’s more of a hindrance to learning the piano than a help.

Now some of you might think I’m just a Luddite- in fact, some people even think that synthesia is the “future” of music notation that is poised to overtake conventional music notation. Now I think nothing is further from the truth, so let’s dive in and I’ll explain to you just what is so bad about synthesia.

Synthesia is SLOW and FRUSTRATING

 

So first the obvious: learning music from Synthesia is INCREDIBLY slow and frustrating compared to conventional notation.

 But wait, you say- I can change the speed to match my practice speed! Well, that’s true, but with conventional notation I can jump instantly to anywhere on the page, whereas with Synthesia I have to keep searching.

 If I want to practice just a particular passage I have to keep pausing and jumping back, and it can be hard to see where on the keyboard those falling beams are going to land until they actually get there, so this is also incredibly ineffective.

 For me, it would be a little like listening to an audio book on algebra, where all the equations and text are just read out by some computer voice. Who wants to learn piano like that?

The next problem, which is just as severe, is that Synthesia doesn’t have a good way to indicate all the elements of piano playing that go beyond just the notes- thinks like crescendos, diminuendos, ritardandos, accents, portamento, legato, staccato, martellato, expression markings, different voices- in short, everything that makes music music and not just a collection of pitches. These things are ENORMOUSLY important, and just learning which keys to press takes you really only 10% of the way there! And the Synthesia videos are generated from midi files, most of which are played by computers and are completely devoid of expression. This is definitely NOT something you want to imitate, unless of course you want to sound like a heartless computer.

Now I understand that for people who don’t read music, Synthesia lowers the bar somewhat and makes it easy to plunk out the notes of a piece. But the thing is, learning to read music isn’t that difficult. People make it out to be this mysterious thing that takes years to learn, but nothing can be further from the truth. That’s why I created petersonpianoacademy.com, an online course which will teach you how to read piano music from scratch, and open you up to a whole world of piano music right at your fingertips. Learning to read music is easy, and will make learning piano music so much faster and fun. So if you’re looking for a great way to get started learning the piano, check out petersonpianoacademy.com.

Learn piano on your own schedule with my complete online course.

Synthesia Has BAD Fingerings!

Now another big problem with Synthesia are the fingerings. Synthesia has the possibility to show you which piano fingerings to use, or so they claim. The problem is that these fingerings are, generally speaking, quite terrible and are not the fingerings that any good pianist will use. 

So if you try to copy these fingerings, you’ll end up frustrated, you’ll have technical problems trying to play the music, and in the worst case, you might even end up with fatigue or tendonitis. This can happen quite quickly with bad technique. So it’s important to use good fingerings, and not computer-generated ones. 

Another big problem with the fingerings is that they’re completely dependent on the key in which you’re playing. Which means that if you transpose a piece to a different key using synthesia, the fingerings, which were most likely already terrible to begin with, are now going to be even more useless.

 

Which brings me to another problem with Synthesia- the division between the hands. Now even though Synthesia tutorials, at least the ones you can get with the downloadable program, can be practiced hands separately, I find that the division is often extremely strange and arbitrary. 

In many cases, it’s almost like they choose an arbitrary note and say, everything left of this note is the left hand, and everything right of this note is the right hand. And that just doesn’t work. Within the course of a piece, the left hand might sometimes need to play high notes, or the right hand low notes. And even if some Synthesia tutorials aren’t problematic in this regard, many of them are, and as a beginning pianist it’s really hard to recognize these problems.

Learn piano on your own schedule with my complete online course.

Synthesia Has Bad Arrangements

And then we come to the arrangements themselves. Many of the Synthesia tutorials just aren’t written well for the piano. Now this is something that can be hard for beginners to recognize, but there are tutorials that might sound OK, but they just don’t fit well under the hands, the accompaniment patterns are awkward to play, the chords just aren’t quite right- in short, the music is arranged very badly and not written well for the piano. 

Who wants to spend hours learning a piece that in the end isn’t even going to sound good? Now granted, all sheet music arrangements aren’t great either, but if you get your music from good sources, this problem is much less widespread.

Synthesia Is Useless For Ensembles

Another problem with Synthesia is that it’s completely useless for ensemble performing, for example, if you want to perform a duet with a singer or another instrument. 

Now normally, when we read a piece for multiple musicians, we can see the parts of the other musicians, which helps us to stay together. But synthesia can’t do that- I just see my part. And what’s worse, because this way of reading music is keyboard-based, it can’t be read by a violinist, or a cellist, or even a singer, at least without massive difficulty. Whereas with traditional notation, if I write a melody, that melody can be read just as easily by a trumpet, a violin, a cello, a singer, a marimba player, and so forth.

Synthesia Hinders Music Reading Ability

Now this brings me to perhaps my most important point, which is that Synthesia keeps people from learning actual music notation, which, as I hope I’ve convinced you of in this video, is so much more effective, and flexible, and fun than anything that synthesia has to offer. So if you’re interested in learning piano, my advice is this- don’t go anywhere near synthesia. Instead, invest some time in learning to read ACTUAL music, and you’ll find that you’re efforts are greatly rewarded. 

Conclusion

There is absolutely no reason not to learn to read music, and in the long run you’ll save so much time compared to using synthesia. 

If you’re a beginner and are looking for some great pieces to play, I recommend reading my Five Easy Classical Pieces For Beginners or Five Easy Pieces For Piano Beginners, which includes some pop music recommendations.

I wish you much success with your piano journey, and happy practicing!

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