“Docs, Photos and Drive, and Everything Live” should be the motto of Google’s online services when it comes to collaboration. The brand had made it easy for multiple people to access different files and documents without having to be together in person long before this pandemic made it mandatory. Google is now bringing that same strength to something little less formal, and something more fun – a beta product called “Shared Piano” from Google Creative Lab. As the name suggests, it is a piano that can be shared. But given the current circumstances and the fact that this comes from the biggest tech names around, this is not your traditional piano but a virtual one.
Wanna play, just open your Internet browser
This new experiment from Google allows you to collaborate and even learn music or teach music without too much fuss. It is an online service that requires a device that can access the Internet and of course, an Internet connection. Now the idea of virtual music instruments is not groundbreakingly new but this one has a slight edge over the others. You can share this piano with your friends from the comfort and safety of your own homes.
You do not need to download and install any apps or plugins, login, or create an account. All you need is an Internet browser, and yes, although it comes from Google, you can access Shared Piano using browsers other than Chrome as well. And before you ask, it costs nothing. That’s right, you can play piano online for free.
As it can be accessed using multiple browsers, you can use your phone, laptop, or any device with a browser like Chrome, Safari, or Vivaldi to open Shared Piano. Along with multiple browser support, you also get support for multiple keyboards. The service can work with a computer keyboard, a touch screen, and even a MIDI keyboard. It can also work on your smartphone, although you will get a smaller keyboard to play around with. To use your MIDI keyboard, you would have to plug it in and use a browser that supports WebMIDI such as Chrome.
Sounds easy, right? Well, it really is, and here is how you can use it.
Get your friends, get your emojis and play, play, play (and not just the piano)
Just open your browser and go to https://musiclab.chromeexperiments.com/Shared-Piano/. Once you have opened Shared Piano, you will see a piano keyboard on the screen. On the bottom of the screen will be a box with a web link on it. This link is exclusive to your ‘room’ which means only you and the people you share this link with can access this room. You can add up to 10 people to a single room. Once again, there are no requirements for your friends to have a specific browser or to download anything. All they need is the link you have sent them.
You cannot add names or anything other information on the platform. After adding friends to the room, each of you will be assigned a super adorable animal emoji and that is the only way you can know who is who out there. So even if someone peers into your device, all they will see is a couple of emojis and keys being struck. Now, that’s privacy.
Once you have shared the link with your friends, all there’s left to do is play. All of you can either go ahead and carefully work out what you are going to play or simply just hit keys at random, mashing up music that could be magical. Of course, you do not HAVE to get friends. You can sit and play all by yourself too. Every time you strike a key, your emoji appears on top of it and a colored bar gets released, whose length depends on the amount of time you have held the key down. It is a very simple, clean interface and while we are not musical experts, those of our friends who do know music, said that the notes from the piano sounded accurate enough. Settings are minimal and you can change octaves and ask for note names to be displayed if you are really serious about your music!
If you are not interested in a piano, there is a list of instruments that you can also play. You can find this at the base of your screen right next to the link of the room. You can choose from a number of options like Marimba, Drum kit, Synth, Strings, Woodwind, amongst others. In fact, you can get into a complete “band mode” with your friends with each picking a different instrument. You can even learn how to play music from one of your friends by literally seeing how and when they strike keys. Cool, yes?
Not perfect, but a lot of fun
You can play these instruments on the Web and once you are through with your masterpiece, you can hear it again by using the blue slider on the extreme right side of the screen. Just scroll up and down and you will be able to hear your masterpiece at once as a melody – just make sure that you scroll at the right speed. Scroll too fast and all the music will pass in a blur. Scroll too slowly and it will seem too long drawn out. You will get the hang of it by and by.
A big catch in the whole service is that you cannot save any of the melodies that you would create on the platform. You can play and create whatever you want, but Google has not added a feature that would allow you to save or download your content anywhere. When you and your friends exit the room, all of your creations will cease to exist along with that room. Yes, you could record them using an external recorder or maybe screen record the entire session, but it would have been so cool to have the option to save the file in say, Google Drive, or even download it. Also, as this is a beta version of the service, expect occasional lags.
Still, all said and done, if you want to learn how to play the piano but did not have time earlier, and do now, or want to have just some musical fun with your friends, Shared Piano is just the tool for you! No installation, no login, no fear of anyone knowing who you are. Just you, your friends (optional), and the sound of a whole lot of music. Made by you.
Not too bad, eh? Give us a save option, Google!