Founding, Crowdfunding, Career, Digitalisation back

Flowkey: The app makes the music

Flowkey: The app makes the music
Photo: © flowkey

Just tap the keys and let your muse do the rest. The three-person startup, flowkey, wants to replace your music teacher with an app: They’ve created an eLearning platform to do just that; but can an app really replace a music teacher? And does it democratise the market or does it depress prices? We talked to Jonas Gössling, co-founder and CEO of flowkey, about flow, the right sounds at the right time and the power of keystrokes.


CCB Magazin: Hello Jonas, you’ve developed an eLearning platform to make learning the piano a breeze. I’ve always experienced learning and playing an instrument as a collaborative thing and, to be honest, I wouldn’t want to struggle alone with an instrument in front of my laptop. Doesn’t this kind of learning lack a collaborative element, or student-teacher exchanges about music or even feedback from a music instructor who knows the personal strengths and weaknesses of his student?

Jonas:As far as playing is concerned, I agree with you - making music together is indeed a unique experience. But to get there, you have to practice, and believe me: Nobody really wants to hear you while practicing; you have to go through it on your own. That’s exactly what flowkey is the ideal partner for: We offer you an interactive form of learning that almost feels like playing.

CCB Magazin:And how does it work?

Jonas:We offer you inspiration in which songs you could play and thus arouse your interest in making music. And we offer you a form of learning in which you can see the movements at all times and hear the ideal sound - unlike a sheet of music. You can also chat with our professionals and get help in the app at any time. Think of flowkey as a friend who helps you learn, practice, and play - and is always available.

Think of flowkey as a friend who will help you learn, practice and play. 

CCB Magazin:On your Seedmatch campaign page you write that you find classical music lessons frustrating - you want to “revolutionise” the process. What exactly frustrates you? What makes flowkey better?

Jonas: The fun of music is quickly lost if teachers don’t adjust to the students and stubbornly go through their scale program. In addition, practicing with sheet music is not ideal, especially for beginners. Even after years of music lessons, many students still can’t really imagine how a note, a note sequence, or a chord should sound. Technology can really help: With flowkey you can always see the exact finger movements in the video and hear how the song should sound. You can play along yourself and immediately notice if you make mistakes.

Song already discovered? Happiness research says: Learning in Flow is fun, goes faster and motivates you to stay tuned. Photo: flowkey.

CCB Magazin:flowkey is supposed to reduce the time taken to learn new songs by 80 per cent. But is that desirable? Isn’t it about developing muse first and taking time for a creative activity? Most people create and make music as a hobby, just for the fun of making music. Should time efficiency be a criterion for good music lessons?

Jonas: Basically I agree with you - making and learning music takes time. But most people also have jobs, and that leaves only limited time for hobbies. It’s practical if you only have to practice half an hour instead of an hour to achieve the same result. Our argument also refers more to learning with videos: Have you ever tried learning guitar or piano on YouTube? Either it’s too fast or too slow and if you want to repeat something, you end up clicking around on the timeline like crazy. It’s no fun at all. We reduce the clicks to the bare essentials.

CCB Magazin:A music teacher doesn’t just teach the craft of playing, he or she’s also a great motivator at best. And the motivation, I maintain, is where most people fail in their attempts to learn an instrument. Can an eLearning program really replace a music teacher?

Jonas: I’d put it another way: Can an eLearning platform improve music teaching? And so I say yes, definitely! So far, digitalisation has played almost no role in music teaching, at least in Germany - and that’s exactly where the problem lies. Only a few schools and teachers are getting involved in the digital world, which is a natural part of life for children and young people. Why doesn’t one learn in piano lessons which rhythm patterns or chords can be used for the production of a hip-hop or house track? Why should I stare at a sheet of paper for hours when audio and video streaming are available today? Furthermore, at flowkey we have a lot of users who can’t afford a teacher, can’t find a good teacher or simply don’t have time for regular lessons. These people wouldn’t make music without us, which would be a shame.

So far, digitalisation has played almost no role in music education.

CCB Magazin:Classical music education is often very expensive and therefore often a privilege of high-income sections of the population. Is flowkey an attempt to make music education more democratic? Or does it only lead to an underbid race because flowkey is cheaper than the music teacher? 

Jonas: Definitely the first, because that’s exactly what we’re talking about. Everyone should have the opportunity to make music simply and with fun and not feel bound by dusty teaching standards. According to a consumer survey, music is made in just under 20 per cent of households, and the trend is downward. But almost a third of the population wants to learn an instrument; often only the time and money are what’s lacking. And this is precisely where we come in. 

CCB Magazin: The name flowkey refers to a well-known motivation principle from psychology and pedagogy, the principle of flow. How did you design your program so that the user gets into a flow and doesn’t lose the desire to learn?

Jonas: Our learning system is based on the basic findings of decades of research on flow. The state of flow is very pleasant for people, but some conditions have to be fulfilled in order to experience flow: You must neither feel under- nor overstrained, the action must be focussed, run without interruptions and there should be immediate feedback as to whether you are behaving correctly. We have largely fulfilled these conditions with our interactive learning mode, which is called “wait mode”. In wait mode, the song stops at every note and only continues when you play your own instrument correctly.

CCB Magazin: So the user can play exactly at his own tempo?

Jonas: Exactly, without having to stop the video manually and interrupt the flow. In addition, there is always only one action in the focus of concentration: To play the next note or chord correctly. Immediate feedback is provided by our interactive tone recognition. What we are still working on is the topic of under- and overstraining. We currently offer a selection of songs from which the user can choose. However, beginners are often not yet able to assess themselves well at the beginning and run the risk of choosing songs that are too difficult. In the long run, therefore, there is a need for even more differentiated didactics and a recommendation system that evaluates learning data and suggests the next song or exercise. When it comes to flow, you can learn a lot from the gaming industry, which has perfected the flow experience for the user.

CCB Magazin: Last question: What does the app cost and how do you finance it?

Jonas: If you want to try out flowkey first, you can do so with our eight free songs and the first course lessons. Thereafter, for anyone who wants more, we offer different premium rates. The monthly rate is €19.99. For anyone that really wants to practice on a medium or long-term basis with us, it’s worthwhile paying our price for one year, which is €119.88. Fortunately we are one of those start-ups that has managed to become profitable quickly. Therefore, we no longer need external financing, but are financed through our happy customers!

CCB Magazin:Jonas, thanks for this interview.

flowkey Seedmatch Video from flowkey.

Category: Innovation & Vision


Also a good read