A.I. meets music: how new tech is changing how people play instruments

Music has evolved widely throughout history. How does technology help in this evolutionary process?

When you look at music, it’s hard to imagine the role A.I. will eventually play. It’s such an art form that you have to wonder if it’s conducive to automation and machine learning. But the more you study the growth of new technologies, the more clearly you can see the potential.

The convergence of music and technology

One of the beautiful things about music is that only a very select few people are capable of being successful. There are millions of people who can strum a guitar, play a simple tune on a piano, or maintain some semblance of a beat on a drum set, but there are very few who are truly talented. The Frank Sinatras, Michael Jacksons, and John Legends of the world only come along once in a generation. Music truly is an art form and that’s why people respect it so much.

But technology is also an artistic pursuit. Programming a piece of software, creating an algorithm, developing computer hardware – none of that’s easy. It takes a special touch to be able to create technology.

So, when you see the convergence of music and technology, it should come as no surprise that the results are going to be unique. Presently, there’s a lot of focus on how artificial intelligence is changing the music industry.

Here are a few of the biggest trends:

1. New education platforms

Even the most talented musicians in the world need some sort of instruction in order to hone their craft. And while every great musician has a trusted instructor on his side, it certainly helps to have as many resources available at your disposal as possible. This is where new A.I. powered education platforms enter the picture.

The latest innovation on the market is an A.I. program known as the Ultimate Picking Program. Developed by Allen Van Wert, one of the world’s fastest guitar pickers, this platform listens to how you play the guitar and then provides custom feedback based on your progress and where you should be. And because the program is actually tailored to your skills, the picking exercises are never too basic or complex.

2. New musical instruments

Believe It or not, A.I. technology is also creating an entirely new set of musical instruments that are designed for people who want to play music, but simply don’t have the time or patience for learning a traditional instrument.

Kurv is the latest piece of music technology to hit the market. Labeled by some as a combination of music, sensors, and A.I., the Kurv is a small wireless device that fits in the palm of your hand and allows you to play music without having a ton of experience.

Using your fingers, you simply press one of eight different spots on the device, while simultaneously moving your right hand to simulate playing the strings. The device learns your behaviors, points out areas where you can improve, and makes guitar playing simple.

3. Virtual performances

What if you could get Johnny Cash to cover a song from Justin Bieber, or Elvis Presley to sing a song written by One Direction? Impossible right? Well, perhaps not.

“Using complex software, North Carolina’s Zenph Sound Innovations models the musical performances of musicians from Thelonius Monk to Rachmaninoff, based on how they played in occasionally old, scratchy recordings,” industry expert Eliot Van Buskirk writes. “Using that model, the company creates new recordings as they would be played by deceased musicians, if they were around to record with today’s equipment, to critical acclaim.”

Zenph is also working on a product that would allow musicians to jam with virtual versions of deceased musicians. So, instead of just watching a scratchy YouTube video and playing along with Jimi Hendrix, you could actually play a solo with him.

Then there are Zenph’s robotic pianos that use A.I technology to create high-resolution MIDI files of old classical music productions. The music is then sent to the piano and the sound is made by literally depressing the keys. Crowds all over the world, including in Steinway Hall and Carnegie Hall, have already experienced this amazing technological feat.

What does the future have in store?                                                    

It would be a stretch to say that the future of the music industry will be determined by technology, but it’s definitely going to be influenced by it. As technology continues to advance, we’ll see an entirely new generation of artists, musical instruments, and consumer tastes emerge.

At the heart of this shift, artificial intelligence will leave an indelible mark. While there’s some pushback from music purists who argue that technology cheapens music, most agree that a relationship between technology and music is healthy.

Strap in now, because it’s going to be a performance you don’t want to miss.

This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?

Computerworld's IT Salary Survey 2017 results
Shop Tech Products at Amazon