There’s nothing like a two-year hiatus from normal life to inspire you to get creative at home. Not everyone is cut out for musical virtuosity, but even just playing music for your own pleasure can be spiritually rewarding, especially if the learning curve and entry price aren’t too steep. And folks are taking up instruments in record numbers, according to industry analysts at Music Trades (via Forbes Magazine), with the musical instrument market growing 22 percent in 2021 over the previous year. Peter Giles, president of Giles Communications, which has represented some of the world’s top keyboard makers, says “Yamaha and Casio all saw big rises in keyboard sales during the pandemic, as people wanted to fill their free time and spend time with their families.”
“The pandemic has absolutely brought more people to music than I can remember ever seeing,” says Mike Martin, GM of marketing for Casio Musical Instruments. “Some are picking up an instrument again, and some are picking them up for the first time, especially portable keyboards. It’s giving keyboard players the benefit that guitar players have always had – being able to pick it up and play anywhere.”
Of course, beginners just starting out may not sound pleasing to those within earshot, but plenty of solutions exist that can soften the sonic impact of sour notes, less-than-stellar voices, and jerky beats. The demand for online music lessons has also skyrocketed in popularity thanks to convenient Internet-based services, like MasterClass and Playground Sessions, which help everyone from casual learners to seasoned veterans. And since homes often do triple duty as offices, daycare centers, and living spaces, space-saving gear can come in very handy.
Learn to Play Like the Pro You Aren’t
Parents and apartment dwellers often dread budding drummers smashing along to their favorite rock bands with little regard for their surroundings. Enter Yamaha’s DTX8K-M electronic drum kit ($2,799; Sept. 2021), which incorporates real wood and puts out impressively realistic sounds. The drum surfaces are available in ultra-quiet mesh, or textured cellular silicone for a snappier response for experienced players. Connectivity options include USB, analog line-in, MIDI, and Bluetooth, and you get a host of features from recording to fully programmable sounds.
Some singers truly belong in the shower, but the Casio CT-S1000V keyboard ($449; Jan. 2022) has a cool vocal synthesis feature that takes your awful voice out of the equation. Simply type your lyrics into an iOS/Android app and the keyboard will sing them — and in a twist that borders on creepy, you can adjust the synth voice using parameters like age and vibrato or even create a custom voice based on your favorite recording. “Our target was originally the music producer, but we’ve found people who want to be singers who could not. We worked with Money Mark from the Beastie Boys who works with kids with disabilities who physically cannot sing, and this gives them a voice, and that opens creative possibilities for a lot of people.”
If your piano chops are as bad as your voice, you’ll want to check out Playground Sessions, which works with the company’s PG-150 digital keyboard ($149.99, plus $17.99/month for lessons) and your iPad (via USB) to get you up and playing your favorite music in no time. Co-founded by legendary producer/arranger Quincy Jones, Sessions offers a subscription-based app that gives you access to tons of on-demand videos that break down the world’s greatest pieces of music in a step-by-step fashion that anyone can grasp (just ask multi-Grammy winner Jon Batiste’s mom, an enthusiastic user!). The app uses backing tracks and MIDI signals from the keyboard to detect accuracy and push you in the right direction to keep you in time and on pitch, and you get game-like scores and stats to keep you motivated. It also works with other MIDI-capable keyboards like the Casio mentioned above.
Not interested in plucking strings or plunking keys to make music? Try Moog’s Etherwave Theremin ($899; Mar. 2022), which not only does all the wild things a regular Theremin does (think sci-fi sounds by waving your hands next to the antennas) but lets you control compatible synthesizers and effects pedals with gestures in the air.
Save Space with Smaller Gear
The Positive Grid Spark Mini practice amp ($229; Mar. 2022) measures roughly 5.75 x 5 x 6.5 inches and weighs a scant 3.3 lbs, but its pair of angled two-inch speakers and passive bass radiator give you full sound in stereo. Packed with features like Bluetooth, EQ, and an eight-hour rechargeable battery, you can play solo or jam along with the amp’s customizable auto-generated backing tracks.
If you’re looking to create melodies without a bulky full-size keyboard, the Akai MPK Mini Play MK3 keyboard ($119; Jan. 2022) has everything you need to make music, including built-in speakers, bundled DAW software, MIDI control, and 14-hour battery life. If you need more keys, the Korg Blackstar Carry-On foldable piano ($99; Nov. 2021) has 49 of them, and it folds in half to a little over 15 inches long so you can easily stash it away. It also doubles as a MIDI controller and has built-in speakers as well as an eight-hour rechargeable battery.
DJs aren’t left out of the mix here: Pioneer’s DDJ Rev1 digital DJ controller ($259; Jan. 2022) lets beginners get their fingers wet in the DJ game without spending thousands on a pair of turntables, destroying valuable vinyl, or taking up tons of space (at just 20.7 x 10 inches). With faders and knobs laid out just like a pro DJ battle-style deck, as well as a pair of jog wheels designed for easy scratching, the Rev1 will turn your desktop or coffee table into a serious digital DJ booth.