I am not a musician. In fact, I’m the only one of my siblings incapable of playing an instrument. So Yamaha’s Sonogenic SHS-500 is ostensibly intended for me. It’s a neat $500 (around £380) keytar that, in addition to letting you live out some 80s hair band dreams, should help you play better – even when you know nothing.
You start by entering JAM mode, a mode unique to the Sonogenic that works by pairing with Yamaha’s Chord Tracker app (available on iOS only). The app learns the chords for songs you have on your phone. It then communicates with the Sonogenic over Bluetooth, supplying only the chords or solo notes that would be appropriate for the song. You then play back the song and jam along, with the Sonogenic taking care that you actually complement the music.
Still, when I tried to play along in a demo, I still sounded terrible. I stood in front of a group of trained musicians and tried to embrace the keytar life, smashing keys and hoping they’d compliment the music playing over the speakers. But it sounded sort of like something was dying? And that something was the respect anyone in the room might have once had for me.
The Sonogenic has thirty audio modes, called Yamaha Voices, so it can sound like a keyboard or synth, or even a drum kit. Yamaha started me off with a pretty traditional keyboard sound and it clashed terribly with the electronic music I was trying to play along to. After someone switched me from producing a keyboard sound to a synth sound my musical talent improved. I almost sounded like I didn’t suck!
But, you know, I still sucked. The Sonogenic, in that 30 minutes I had with it, did not change the fact that I am not a musician. But for about three minutes there towards the end, when I was playing along with a more complimentary sound, I felt less embarrassed than I had all day. I felt like I might actually understand how to form music.
Beyond the gimmick to make the less impressive among us sound better, the Sonogenic is just a straight, very cool, keytar. It has MIDI inputs so you can control music making apps on your tablet or computer, as well as Bluetooth and USB inputs. There are dials on the neck that let you adjust pitch and octave on the fly. There are also controls for starting and stopping playback from the Chord Track app, and there’s even a nice little display to show you details about the song your playing or the mode you’re in.
Despite being a terrible musician, I can’t help but find the sheer gadgetry of the Sonogenic really appealing. But that price tag might be too steep for other aspiring musicians.