Play the Pianu

Matthew Curney’s Pianu app makes it easy for anyone to learn to play piano virtually

Matthew Curney demonstrates how to use Pianu

Photo by david ellis

To promote his work as a professional pianist, Matthew Curney learned how to build websites and subsequently embarked on a career as a web developer. In 2015, he combined his skills to create Pianu, an online application that allows users to learn to play piano virtually, via a web browser and a midi keyboard. The Guitar Hero–like app was recently selected for a nationally ranked accelerator program that invests in high-growth startups.

“I started playing piano when I was 5. My older sister was taking lessons and I was fascinated, so I asked to be put in lessons. It opened up the world to me. My first turning point was during my fifth grade recital. I was obsessed with the Jurassic Park theme, so I taught myself how to play it from sheet music. I got up in front of my class and played it, and people loved it. From a very young age, learning to play the piano was a source of confidence.”

“Kids wanted to learn how to play the songs they loved on the radio, and do so in a fun, gamified way.”

“Studying pop styles has been a huge inspiration for me. I used to play in a Britney Spears cover band, and we got to open for [former Destiny’s Child singer] Kelly Rowland in Loring Park during Twin Cities Pride one year. Another time I played at the Alexander Ramsey House for a fashion event, which was one of my favorite gigs because I got to arrange pop hits on an antique piano in a classical style.”

“When I was teaching piano lessons, I noticed that the traditional piano lesson wasn’t serving kids—it was very much stuck in the Middle Ages. Kids wanted to learn how to play the songs they loved on the radio, and do so in a fun, gamified way like Guitar Hero. Pianu came about when I realized it was possible to create that in a web browser.” 

“We were able to present Pianu to a couple of classrooms and the kids absolutely loved it because they could actually go up to the Smart Board—many classrooms now have a touch-friendly overhead projector—and touch the keys. It’s a great example of how well Pianu works in the classroom, and how important the internet is for education. We hear all the time from Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram how much people love it. We did a promotion where we offered a free membership to anyone who sent in a video of playing our introductory lesson, and we got videos from all over the world. Only about 50 percent of our traffic is U.S., because Pianu is universal in its interface, and we’ve had people from more than 200 countries play songs on the site.”

“Growing up, we didn’t have a lot of extra money. Piano lessons were really expensive and a huge time commitment. A big part of Pianu is access—giving people the opportunity to learn music they might not have been able to otherwise. It’s completely online, and there’s nothing to download or install. Even if you don’t have a keyboard, there’s an interactive piano on the browser, or you can play it on your phone. It’s a way to take learning piano and allow people to use it at their own pace, anytime, anywhere. It removes all those barriers. All kinds of education have been updated by technology—guitar, languages. The positive response we’ve seen is because people want to learn to play piano but haven’t had the opportunity.”

“Being able to learn piano was a huge benefit to me. Being able to give that back and make it accessible is why I created Pianu. It allows others to have access to music education, which has been behind closed doors in a lot of ways.”

Digital Extra

Learn to play Prince’s “Kiss” on the Pianu app, newly added for MnMo readers. Includes scrolling sheet music and a video hand demonstration. Use coupon code MNMONTHLY to receive 50% off a subscription to Pianu.