7 tuneful gadgets that can teach you to play music

Want to learn an instrument? Tech can help

Learning to play a musical instrument  is a lofty ambition that many of us harbour but few of us get around to doing anything about - either we don't have time to learn, or we don't have money for lessons, or we're just not as inspired to start playing as we first thought.

Wouldn't it be great if there were gadgets around to make the process cheaper and easier? Well, there are - quite a few of them in fact. Connect these guitars, keyboards and other instruments to your computer or smartphone and you can get started in minutes.

1. The One Smart Piano

This is a full sized, fully featured piano (or keyboard), but with some extra tech smarts that make it easier to learn how to tinkle the ivories with the help of some smartphone software. Once you or the tutorial apps have decided what you're going to play, you get guided to the right notes at your own pace.

While it's not the cheapest option out there, it's worth the extra cash, with its quality materials, strong app support, and accessible learning curve. The piano can read sheet music or MP3 files for you as well, and can even double up as the speakers for your home entertainment system.

$1,499.99 (about £1,200) | Buy The One Smart Piano

Mi Guitar

Recently funded through Indiegogo, the Mi Guitar promises "the joy of playing guitar without the pain of learning", which sounds good to us. It's actually a simplified guitar, or a more advanced version of the device that goes with Guitar Hero, so you can 'play' some well-known hits without the intricate finger work.

It connects to your computer via Bluetooth, and the software that goes with it then takes you step-by-step through playing the hits of your choice. You're not actually learning to play the guitar, but you're getting a decent approximation of it, so it might suit those without much time to devote to their craft.

$349 (about £275) | Buy Mi Guitar

3. The Artiphon Instrument 1

The Instrument 1 from Artiphon is unlike anything you've ever seen but can mimic the sounds and feel of a guitar, piano, drum pad, violin and several other instruments. It's different from the norm, which makes it easier to pick up and play with, even if you're not learning in the traditional sense.

The experience is "focused on exploration and creativity rather than skill sets and signal chains" in the words of Artiphon, which is a pretty good description of what the Instrument 1 is. Forget all of those instruments with years of heritage behind them and embrace the next generation of sounds.

$399 (about £275) | Buy The Artiphon Instrument 1

4. McCarthy Music Illuminating Piano

There are actually a surprising number of keyboards that can light up to tell you where to put your fingers, and the McCarthy Music Illuminating Piano is another one of them (and one of the best around). It has 61 keys and MIDI support, and you plug it into your Mac or Windows machine via USB.

From there you can use the accompanying software to get your instructions and lessons, and it's easy to customise the device to suit your own level of ability and personal preferences. You can in fact learn any piece of music you like, with software that gets more advanced as you grow in confidence.

$599.99 (about £475) | Buy McCarthy Music Illuminating Piano

5. Fretlight

The Fretlight guitar takes the illuminated keys concept and transfers it to guitar, giving you clear signals and guidance for where your fingers need to be to produce the tune that you're after. You can choose from acoustic or electric options and there's a choice of mobile apps to help you get playing.

You can connect up via Bluetooth or USB and the guitars have lithium-ion batteries built into them to keep the lights on while you're playing. Even with the integrated learning system, Fretlights look and play like real guitars, so no one's any the wiser that you've used one to learn the ropes (or strings).

$399.99 (about £315) | Buy Fretlight

6. Aerodrums

If you want to learn the drums but don't want to have to set up a whole drum kit in your lounge, Aerodrums can help. These wireless sticks and pedals connect up to your computer, which reproduces exactly the right sounds based on your movements, even though you're essentially playing thin air.

It's an impressive bit of kit, which includes a camera to keep track of how you're drumming. There's not much in the way of actual instructions or tutorials for learning to play the drums though, so once you've got everything set up, you'll need to find lessons from somewhere else on or offline.

£125/$199 | Buy Aerodrums

7. PianoMaestro

PianoMaestro isn't a separate instrument, it's a USB-powered strip of LED lights that sits on top of your existing piano or keyboard and tells you which keys to hit and when. You plug it into your laptop, load up the music you want to play, and PianoMaestro takes care of the rest.

If you've already got a piano in your living room then obviously you can save yourself some money by opting for this rather than a brand new instrument. If you don't already have a piano or keyboard, then it's not quite as immediately appealing, but you could always shop for a cheap second-hand instrument.

$169 (about £134) | Buy PianoMaestro

David Nield

Dave has over 20 years' experience in the tech journalism industry, covering hardware and software across mobile, computing, smart home, home entertainment, wearables, gaming and the web – you can find his writing online, in print, and even in the occasional scientific paper, across major tech titles like T3, TechRadar, Gizmodo and Wired. Outside of work, he enjoys long walks in the countryside, skiing down mountains, watching football matches (as long as his team is winning) and keeping up with the latest movies.