Techno-tutoring for Learning Musical Instruments

Pair of violinsTrying to learn how to play an instrument is hard work. Typically lessons are once or twice a week with the time in-between spent practicing. When getting started it is hard to keep track of the tempo, fingering positions, and other instructions present in the musical score. Learning to play is one area of our lives technology does not effectively support. There are many technology inspired instruments, but few learning aids.

While playing an instrument it would be nice to receive feedback on how well the song was played. For some electronic pianos this capability exists, but not for an instrument like a violin or saxophone. Ideally, the monitoring computer would build up a musical score based on what was played, and then compare this to the original score to identify areas requiring further practice. It could identify when wrong notes were played, identify tempo issues, sharps and flats forgotten, or even incorrect fingerings. This could be accented by replaying the incorrect piece over the correct one to help build the ability to hear the difference. Today those with talent can recognize these problems by ear, but for those of us without, it just requires repetition to figure it out.

In an orchestra setting it can often takes a bit of trial and error to narrow down which player or players are misplaying at a particular point in a song. If a score can be generated for each player, and this score were compared to their part, then identifying which areas need improvement could be handled quickly by the conductor. It would also give the player a record of what is needed to work on in their own practice. If the orchestra is monitored during group performances, then each player can take the “virtual orchestra” home and practice on their own or as part of the simulated whole. Given a virtual orchestra it would be possible to practice with different subsets of instruments to help focus on the areas required.

Another part where a digitized music score could come in handy is in editing a performance. For performances which are done live in front of an audience there is potential for coughs, sneezes, talking, and other undesired sounds getting recorded. An automated filter based on the score could help identify areas of the recording that require special editing attention. Automatic filtering of undesired sounds such as those afore mentioned coughs and sneezes would be great for us amateurs.

Being able to break a music composition down to the individual instruments involved would allow for manipulation and adaptation of a performance. One could tweak the trumpets, convert a trumpet to a saxophone, change the tempo, or convert the acoustics from a concert hall to the Hollywood Bowl. This would make music editing and experimentation available to those of us less musically talented.

What functionality would you like in a musical tutor?

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One Comment on “Techno-tutoring for Learning Musical Instruments”

  1. Stephen Says:

    Researchers at the University of Rochester have developed a model of the clarinet. This model allows them to take a recording of a clarinet and reduce it to the actions the player would have made. While they still haven’t mastered tonguing, many other parameters apparently are accurately modeled.

    While the original work was aimed at audio compression, the instrument model seems to be one step closer to allowing instrument based computer assistance.

    Reports of this research can be found in the University of Rochester press release, or a report from znet.