More flash than naff

Casio Keyboard CTK-52OL

Pounds 179.99 Casio Electronics Co Ltd, Unit 6, 1000 North Circular Road, London NW2 7JDTel: 0181 450 9131

Lurid red lights flash on the keys as you play, performing a flickering accompaniment to the movement of your fingers. This is the most distinctive characteristic of this new middle-range keyboard. Otherwise, the instrument presents relatively familiar features, with five octaves of full-size keys, 100 sounds and 50 rhythms, and the possibilities of transposition through 12 semitones.

The booklet is clearly written, though it lapses into occasional bits of gibberish often found in translations from electro-Japanese.

The rhythms cover a pleasing range of pop, rock and dance effects of which the Chicago blues is seriously seductive. Accompaniment chords available include not only the standard major and minor triads and 7ths, but suspended 4ths, added 9ths and diminished 7ths among others.

The timbres are okay. The usual problems of register occur; recorders that growl in the left hand, and peeping basses in the right haven't quite been eliminated by the wonders of digital sampling. Those banes of classroom life - the space-invader sound effects as well as the roaring car engine - are also dangerously accessible.

The keyboard has a song bank stored in its memory, which covers nursery rhymes, folk songs, movie soundtracks, pop stalwarts and your all-time best tunes. Vivaldi's Spring, for instance, rubs shoulders with Stand by Me, Auld Lang Syne and Over the Rainbow.

Not all are successful: Clair de Lune gets horribly transposed into C and the Serenade from Eine kleine Nachtmusik sounds like someone's naff telephone-hold message, but most of the others are serviceably recorded, and When the Saints is full of direct energy to tempt the beginner's fingers.

The keyboard's central selling-point is its three-step lesson system. When you begin lessons at the first level, your chosen tune is introduced with a click-sound tempo that you can slow or hasten at will. The appropriate keys are illuminated in turn, giving the learner a clear cue. In fact, the keyboard will, at this stage, reproduce the tune whatever keys are depressed, meaning that the player can start with a feel for the rhythm and achieve a melodic flow before learning the correct notes. The bizarre corollary, that a C sharp played can become an A flat heard, and the fact that thumbs might be used to play the whole piece, are things that teachers will need to be vigilant in explaining.

At the second level, the melody won't proceed unless the correct illuminated note is played. The accompaniment waits for this outcome, which means that learners can play at the tempo they feel most comfortable with. At level three, the keyboard lights continue to flash, but don't wait for you to press the correct key, while the auto-accompaniment proceeds at normal speed - though here again the tempo can be adjusted before you start.

The effect of seeing a key lit just before you play it can be mildly disturbing to an experienced player, but it seems an attractive way of persuading a fairly confident beginner to attempt a continuous forward movement of melody.

Teachers will want to try this out before spending Pounds 180. They will need to think about the stopstart button, which is sophisticated enough to help disturb the classroom's tranquillity with an arrangement of Imagine for telephone or Santa Lucia for slap bass. Try it out, but make sure you've got enough headphones to go round.

Tom Deveson * Casio Electronics Education show stand IT30

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