Flowkey is an interactive piano lesson app available on desktop/laptop and mobile devices.
One of the first things you’ll see when you visit the Flowkey website is a notice saying, “In Cooperation with Yamaha.” Now, that doesn’t guarantee satisfaction, but it’s undoubtedly an excellent place to start since not many know pianos like Yamaha.
Our review will discuss everything from the pricing and setup process to the learning methods and progression path. Is Flowkey the best way to learn to play piano online? Let’s find out.
Our verdict on Flowkey
Flowkey has some flaws, some annoying because they are so needless. But, the Flowkey way seems to be that the flaws are bad, and the good things are very good.
In other words, it’s easier to forgive Flowkey’s shortcomings because the good stuff is better than most. It showcases excellent lesson selection and eagerness to encourage individuality and creativity; we can’t argue with that.
No one likes to pay for something before knowing what they will get for their money. So, any good piano learning app will always offer some level of free content.
Flowkey offers a short but helpful, “Introduction to the Piano” course. The introduction course is aimed at users without prior experience, and we think it’s an excellent way to start.
It covers topics like black key groupings, locating middle C, and right-hand playing in the C position; you’ll even learn your first right-hand melody, Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”.
Beyond the intro course, you’ll get access to some lessons from premium courses, along with eight songs.
There are some things we like and some we don’t like here. Let’s get the negative out of the way and say it would be better to see access to one entire course rather than cherry-picked lessons from multiple courses.
Of course, we understand the need to showcase different types of course content, but we feel allowing someone to experience a complete course would give them a sense of achievement that’s more likely to encourage them to join.
We should also say that Flowkey isn’t alone in this method; it seems most platforms take a similar approach; it’s just our preference.
We like that the eight free songs cover a good range of musical genres (Pop to Classical) and playing styles, which should provide a smooth start and challenge beginners enough to make them feel great about completing the songs.
Another thing worth noting is that Flowkey offers a 7-day free trial, giving you access to everything.
We have rated Flowkey a little higher than some other platforms offering a similar trial period because they don’t charge until the trial period ends; they even give you a reminder on day five.
Flowkey users can choose from three subscription plans:
- One month: $19.99 per month
- 6 months: $83.99 – billed every six months
- 12 months: $119.99 – billed every 12 months
The best value realistically comes from the annual subscription, and it’s also where you can get the 7-day free trial.
If you do take the free trial and you aren’t happy with the service, be sure to cancel at least 24 hours before the trial period expires.
The sign-up process is pretty quick and hassle-free. Flowkey will ask a few questions during the process to ensure you get the optimal experience. The first thing you will be asked is, have you played piano before?
After that, you’ll be asked about your piano goals, which could be anything from learning the basics to reading sheet music.
This step might seem insignificant to most, but we think it’s a nice touch to remind yourself that you have a target in mind.
You can sign up/log in using your email address, Facebook, Google, WeChat, or Apple.
As a slight negative, we encountered a few issues with the Safari browser during sign-up and switched to Google Chrome (all was then fine).
We’ve noticed problems with other platforms on Safari, not only Flowkey, but it still seems a little odd considering how many Mac users prefer Safari.
You can use a real piano or a MIDI keyboard, as you can with some other piano learning apps.
If you’re using a MIDI keyboard, your device should be detected automatically, and if you’re using an acoustic piano or keyboard with speakers, you’ll have to activate your device’s microphone.
With our MIDI keyboard detected, we were straight into the first lesson. However, MIDI sound wasn’t activated, which meant Flowkey would recognize the keys that we pressed, but we wouldn’t hear any sound.
It’s a simple fix; before starting a lesson, click the settings icon, and activate MIDI Sound from the MIDI/USB tab.
Unfortunately, we think some users, especially younger users, might waste more time wondering why they can’t hear anything before finding the correct settings. In our opinion, it would make more sense if MIDI sound was turned on by default.
If we compare that to the same process on the Skoove platform, Skoove walks you through a few short steps to ensure your device is connected and can be heard.
There’s also no note-detection step to register your keyboard’s size (number of notes).
Any learning platform must have a clear and easy-to-understand interface; otherwise, students aren’t going to learn very much.
We have been pretty generous with our score in this department because we love the interface for the most part, but it’s not without its problems.
We will take a closer look at each aspect of the interface, from design to the lesson interface, and we’ll cover both the desktop and app versions.
The desktop interface is very clean, with a simple toolbar down the left-hand side of the screen.
You can choose from Songs, Search, My Songs, Courses, and Settings using the toolbar, and the content on the screen will change accordingly.
If you look at the Courses screen (below), you’ll see that everything is on one page, and there’s no additional menu diving.
We love the layout because it’s simple enough for kids and beginners and not tedious, so it won’t frustrate more experienced users.
Also, it’s not too unlike a layout you’d expect from any popular streaming service, so it shouldn’t be too unfamiliar to new users.
The issues we have with the desktop version are that it doesn’t seem to work in perfect harmony with the Safari browser, and the keyboard settings should be more prominent (this issue goes for the app too).
The Flowkey app shares the same design layout as the desktop version, albeit adjusted for the smaller screen. Navigating content on the app is just as simple as on the desktop version.
The app allows you to practice anywhere you can find a piano.
Desktop vs. app
One of the most important things for us when it comes to any website vs. app discussion is that users get a consistent experience between the two.
The physical attributes of different devices won’t always allow for exactly the same experience, but it should be as close as possible.
We are extremely happy to say that the user experience on both platforms is virtually identical. As we already mentioned, the design layout is the same, and both are very easy to use.
Since both platforms share the same plus points, it makes sense that they share the same negatives, so that’s where we’ll start.
The issue with the keyboard settings that we mentioned above exists on both the desktop and app versions. We also noticed a few slightly strange omissions during exercises, like the example below.
Looking at the image above, you’ll see that all chord names are shown until you get to bar 7, and it’s blank. Bar 7 features the seventh chord in the C major scale, which is B diminished.
For some users, diminished chords are potentially more complex to understand, but the example above is taken from an Advanced lesson. So, it seems odd to us that some small things are missing.
Another concern over both versions is that the level of performance feedback is not good enough, but we’ll go into that more later.
Now, let’s focus on the positives shared by the browser and app versions. When we talk about wanting the same user experience, navigating the content matters, but the most important aspect is the learning experience during lessons.
The thing that we look out for most in this aspect is that the web/app versions offer the same features and functions.
We are glad to say that all features and functions are available on either version. The same applies to tutorial videos, text tips, and hints.
The lesson interface looks excellent; it’s simple, clean, and not overcomplicated in any way.
The upper half of the screen shows the teacher’s hands performing the exercise or song, while the lower half shows the piano notation.
While playing, a playhead follows the progress of the notation to make it easier for beginners to keep track.
The combination of musical notation and video makes it easier for students to get used to reading music.
For example, if a student struggles to recognize a note from the notation, a quick glance at the teacher’s hand (with note names above) will act as a cheat sheet, and the more they do it, the less they will need to look at the teacher’s hand.
There are a couple of issues with the interface; the first is that it only displays one line of music at a time. It’s not a huge issue, and it’s the same on most piano lesson platforms, but more experienced players might want to see more than a few bars at a time.
The second issue is that you don’t have access to a metronome. A metronome can be heard during specific lessons, but it’s not something that you can turn on/off at will.
We think that’s a huge miss, and it’s a shame to see such a simple feature omitted. Timing is everything!
At the bottom of the lesson interface is a scroll bar that allows you to scrub through the music/video, and it can be helpful if you want to focus on the teacher’s fingering.
Overall, it’s very good.
Flowkey utilizes a form of listen, learn, and play teaching that breaks lessons and songs into manageable chunks.
Most lessons begin with a very short introductory video (sometimes several), and these videos can be very helpful.
The videos don’t overload the student with information, but they explain the fundamental theory behind the lesson.
Once you have watched any video content, you’ll listen to the teacher play through the exercise several times.
When ready to begin, you’ll play with your right hand only, then your left hand, and finally, both hands together.
Many lessons start in Wait Mode, which means Flowkey waits for you to play the correct note before moving on. Wait Mode is fantastic for beginners because it removes unnecessary pressure and allows users to learn at their own pace.
Ideally, each time you repeat part of a lesson, there will be less waiting time between notes, which should feel satisfying for the student.
Once you get through the Wait Mode steps, you’ll be asked to play along simultaneously with the teacher.
As well as practicing one hand at a time, lessons are often divided into smaller sections. For example, if you’re practicing a C major scale, you’d learn the scale upwards first, downwards, and everything together.
Other lessons might take you through a couple of bars at a time before performing the entire thing.
Flowkey has some more excellent features on offer when learning songs. You can start by selecting whether you want to hear/practice your right hand, left hand, or both.
In the past, if you chose right-hand only, Flowkey would allow you to move on without playing the left-hand notes, but you’d still hear both in playback.
Hearing both hands when trying to practice just one could be very off-putting, so we’re glad to see Flowkey has fixed that issue, and now you only hear the hand you have selected.
You can use Wait Mode while learning songs, then move on to 50% speed (without Wait Mode), 75% speed, and eventually full speed. You can even loop sections that need more work.
We picked out a lot of excellent features, yet we’ve given a pretty low score, which comes down to a lack of quality feedback.
Perhaps the most significant benefit of having piano lessons from a real teacher (in person or via video call) is the sense of accountability. Online lessons allow you to practice if and when it suits you, which is great, but you aren’t held to any routine.
While an online platform can’t make you stick to a practice routine, it should offer as much accountability as possible during lessons, which comes from detailed feedback.
While we love the Wait Mode, it doesn’t distinguish between a good performance and a bad one. Whether you play the entire lesson without a single mistake or ten wrong notes between every right note, you move on just the same.
Similarly, if you play all the right notes much faster than the lesson intends, Flowkey still registers it as a pass.
Lessons based on rhythm, like note-length exercises, offer virtually no accountability. If you’re asked to play eighth notes for six bars, you can literally play the wrong notes, wrong note-length, all at the wrong time, and it will still say well done, lesson completed.
Adults might have the self-awareness to redo tasks till it’s good enough, but it’s not good enough to leave younger students to their own devices like that.
We think Flowkey would benefit massively from adopting a scoring system. For example, it would be great to be told how many times you played the wrong notes at the end of a Wait Mode lesson. Or how in/out of time you were during scale or rhythmic lessons.
There could be pass points, like 80% correct upwards is a pass, but anything below you have to repeat before moving on. It would help ensure proper practice and encourage students to chase new high scores.
Lessons and courses
Flowkey features beginner, intermediate, and advanced courses. The courses cover piano basics, exercises and scales, and chords and improvisation.
There are eight courses, which doesn’t sound like enough, but they provide a solid blend of theory, technique, and creativity.
Each course has a variety of lessons, and every lesson has multiple parts. So, there is far more content than the number of courses suggests.
Here’s a complete list of courses grouped by difficulty:
- Introduction to the piano
- Playing with both hands
- Music reading training
- Intermediate piano playing
- Playing scales
- Mastering chords
- Playing scales 2
- Improvising with chords
Let’s take a closer look at each difficulty level.
Flowkey has a slightly different opinion of what constitutes a beginner lesson than other platforms, but not in a bad way.
You start with absolute basics like locating middle C and even how to curve your fingers, but it progresses to some things that other platforms might consider intermediate. We tend to agree with Flowkey’s opinion.
If we go to the “Playing with both hands” course, the early lessons deal with note values, rests, pickup bars, dotted notes, and ties.
We feel that much of this content would be considered intermediate on other platforms, and students wouldn’t get a fair reflection of their current skill level.
The downside is that the lessons aren’t appropriately sequenced. In the beginner courses, “Playing with both hands” comes before the easier “Music reading training”.
In fact, if you were to study all courses in the order they appear, you’d be working on intermediate stuff before completing all beginner courses.
This is true at all levels but especially important for beginners; going too far too fast could lead to a loss of interest.
What we like most about the intermediate content is that it focuses on specific tools to help you play more complex music.
In the “Intermediate piano playing” course, you’ll learn about key signatures, accidentals (sharps/flats), and time signatures. So, this course deals with the theory you need to move to the next level.
It also has some great exercises, like the rolling wrist, that help you deal with the physicality of more challenging music.
We then get an entire course on playing scales because we can’t stay in C major forever.
The last course in this section deals with chord structure and chord patterns. You’ll learn how to construct major and minor triads, learn about inversions, and common chord patterns that are used in thousands of songs.
We think the content is fantastic, but we’re also just happy to see a platform focus on chords and improvisation so much.
There are only two courses in the advanced section, but it will help you go from someone who reads music to a fully-fledged improviser.
The first course is “Playing scales 2”, but you can imagine how that goes, so we’re going to skip to the final course, “Improvising with chords”.
This course dissects piano accompaniment from popular songs and teaches you how to recreate them and create your own versions.
It deals with syncopation, extended triads, sixth and added ninth chords and allows you to improvise your own accompaniment to some massive hit songs.
OK, so does it go deep into advanced piano playing? Absolutely not. But, it provides simple versions of advanced concepts, which are more than enough to build the confidence and technique to go as far as your interest takes you.
Flowkey has done a great job selecting lessons encouraging students to develop a unique voice as musicians rather than relying purely on sheet music.
We have to briefly mention Flowkey’s song library because it features over 1500 songs, which is incredible.
Songs can be categorized as beginner, intermediate, advanced, or pro, with some songs offering a version for every skill level.
You can browse songs by most popular, newest, genre, or mood; it has just about everything.
Perhaps even more impressive than the quantity is that the pro-level pieces are seriously challenging.
The course structure isn’t perfect, but if we focus on the lesson content and sheet music available, it’s amongst the best you’ll find.
Flowkey doesn’t have the most courses or lessons, but the choice of material makes the progression path so good.
We could find holes or gaps in the transition from one difficulty level to the next, but no platform will cover everything; music education is vast.
The trick is to arm students with the tools they need to fill in the blanks by themselves, and Flowkey does that well.
It’s only fair that we remind you the lack of quality feedback could hinder your progress.
However, the intelligent lesson choices and the inclusion of genuinely difficult sheet music are enough to merit a high score from us.
Value for money
Flowkey is good value for money; it’s simple.
The sheer amount of sheet music and difficulty variations of sheet music available are worth the subscription fee alone. Despite some obvious shortcomings, we think the courses are awesome, too.
Our only concern would be longevity; a student who practices consistently could likely complete all courses well within a year (perhaps longer for younger kids and those practicing less).
At that point, we’d hope Flowkey adds new course material and continue to add new songs.
Who does Flowkey suit most?
It suits students who want to develop musicianship as well as technical ability and anyone looking for a vast catalog of sheet music.
- User-friendly design.
- Quick start.
- Can use acoustic piano or MIDI keyboard.
- Huge song library.
- Some genuine advanced content.
- Encourages improvisation.
- Same user experience across platforms.
- Free trial.
- Slight lack of structure.
- Lacks quality feedback.
- No metronome.