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E-learning has shown significant growth over the last year. Whether you spent your quarantine time folding origami, learning a new language or tie-dying those long-forgotten T-shirts, global lockdowns brought plenty of opportunities to gain new skills or rediscover an old favourite.
If you have the urge to make music but never had lessons as a kid or quit before you got any good — don’t despair! flowkey is one of the world’s most popular apps for learning to play the piano.
We sat down with Alexander Heesing Co-Founder of Flowkey to learn more about their mission, the team behind their technology and his predictions for the future of E-learning.
Where the magic happens: Berlin
Funding Received: Angel Round, now profitable
Users: 8 million from more than 100 different countries
Founded: January, 2014
Our mission is to create a new standard for learning a musical instrument. Learning an instrument has basically been the same for hundreds of years. You typically start with sheet music, instrumental learning methods or going to a teacher. So many people could only dream of playing an instrument. Most people you ask would say “I wish I could play the piano or guitar” but none of them know where to start.
Very few people pursue a musical instrument because barriers prevent people from taking their first step towards learning. At flowkey we really want to make it easier to learn an instrument to make it more fun, more accessible. We want to help people realise their dreams and aspirations — as cheesy as it sounds!
An important requirement for learning an instrument is that the learning needs to be interactive. You have to get real-time feedback or some form of response, directly from the app. Our solution for this immediate feedback was to develop real-time polyphonic pitch detection. This basically means flowkey listens to the notes that you play on your instrument via microphone or MIDI connection and Flowkey is the “patient teacher”.
This pitch detection is not only limited to single notes but also chords (for example four notes played simultaneously), and this is all done in real-time on Flowkey, versus being uploaded to a server somewhere.
Learning piano with flowkey is like having a music teacher that waits for you to play correctly. So you have all the time you need to really look at the keys, find the keys and if you hit the right keys, you progress, and this is done through this real-time polyphonic pitch detection, which is based on machine learning algorithms.
We have a video studio in the office where we create content for players to see real piano’s and real hands and how they play a piece. This helps players learn a specific song by means of real-life examples. The quality of our content is what separates us from other more, I’d say game-oriented applications.
flowkey is focussed on learning with sheet music instead of animation or gamification that shows you how to play. Instead, we create content in collaboration with real pianists,
combined with the interaction of the app.
We have a very big repertoire of high-end arranged music. In the end if it’s about music, and you want to play beautiful music, you don’t want to listen to machine generated sounds, but really, an arrangement made by a pianist, which sounds really amazing. We have around 1.500 different songs and we focus on the high quality content of music and arrangements.
Furthermore we have an entire course section where you will be guided through everything you need to know about how to learn piano, starting from the absolute basics to advanced playing.
We are three Co-founders, Jonas Gössling (Co-Founder, CEO) and Ahmed Hassan (Co-Founder, CTO) and myself. Jonas and I met at university in Berlin at the Technical University. Jonas considered studying music but then he decided on Industrial Engineering.
At the time, YouTube became really popular in Germany. There were many instructional videos being uploaded by people who would try to teach you how to play piano. Jonas wanted to get back into practicing but using YouTube instruction videos meant he spent the majority of his time navigating the video’s, pausing the video, rewinding, skipping and trying to follow the instructions.
So we thought, how could we create an advanced “YouTube” for this flow function. How could we create something which doesn’t require that level of navigation, to include sheet music and to see how the chords you play correspond to the sheet music.
That’s how our name came about – that ‘flow of learning’ which is so important when learning an instrument. That moment when you are fully immersed in what you are learning without interruptions – we wanted to make sure we achieve this with flowkey.
Asking questions like why you’re doing something, and for us the motivation behind flowkey has always been about having personal freedom to really create a great product and great culture where we enjoy working.
Product companies often sacrifice that freedom and culture when investors want to make their return. And this led to a type of thinking where you know how we can grow in a lean, yet sustainable way.
Like most new product companies, in the beginning you think about how you can get traffic and awareness without spending money on it. In the early days we participated in Die Höhle der Löwen which is like the German Shark Tank which also brought some publicity and awareness. We were also able to secure a partnership with a globally recognised brand like Yamaha which gave us visibility.
In recent times, the acceptance rate for E-learning platforms has dramatically increased. People have let go of their scepticism about e-learning solutions, so I think it’s a trend that will continue to grow.
AI will allow us to give more detailed feedback to people using our app. Your product needs to adapt to individuals and recommend different things based on what they struggle with, or what their goals are, and this personalised experience I think will develop not just in the music industry, but generally speaking in the E-learning space.
The world is recognising the power of E-learning to provide high-quality, accessible, and adaptive experiences for learners, many of whom prefer remote learning over a traditional classroom setting. It’s never too late to learn how to play the piano! More about flowkey here.
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