“We’ve gotten more feedback, and we see that once you get past the initial five to 10 minutes, people want to hit the reset button. Then they say, ‘Now give me a curriculum. How do I learn chord structures?’ So we’re building a platform where it’s a framework for lessons that teachers can provide themselves. We’re crowdsourcing content for it.”
The crowdsource model is one that a slightly older MIDI-based piano practice app, Synthesia, has also enabled. The program can read any MIDI file that’s supplied, turning the composition not only into a pleasant scrolling notational interface, but also the graphic falling note-squares everyone loves.
Better felt than heard?
There are technical tradeoffs to be made, of course. Waiting for a computer to detect notes introduces new latency beyond the time it takes for sound to travel to the human ear (though a 10-millisecond wait isn’t much). However, detecting notes via a wired MIDI connection is inherently faster than via a smartphone microphone. To be sure, there are already instrument pickups on the market that can send acoustic sounds to a computer or digital audio workstation via MIDI.
“Pickups are getting more accurate, but there are still latency issues,” said Stansfield. “They also tend to be pretty expensive.”
Ease of use will reign for those who just want to get started. Beyond that, the decision to be a music maker or a music fan may be a fundamental divide that app developers will have trouble bridging. Similar to unfounded claims that software developers will be made extinct by smart IDEs, it seems even the most spectacular technology doesn’t trigger the desire to make music from scratch in everyone, only a select few.
“How can we get you to that epiphany moment when you’ve played a Beatles song and you’ve only been at it for an hour?” said Stansfield.“We’ve been interviewing musicians, asking them, ‘What was the spark that got you practicing?’ They say, ‘Just the realization that I as a mortal could do this was enough motivation to do this every day.’ Not everyone is going to want to do this.”
That’s what Harmonix Music Systems, the creators of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, discovered with their music-making efforts in the late 1990s. Without hit songs, consumers lost interest. It was the karaoke effect that founders Alex Rigopulos and Eran Egozy observed in Japan prior to success with music games. However, Harmonix is poised to revisit the full-body controls (CamJam) they pioneered nearly 20 years ago in a new Disney game, Fantasia.
It’s about the songs
Even if there is a difference between music consumption and music making, most agree that the basic unit of currency is songs, not notes. Pulling students into a musical experience that blends songs (which trigger both memory and emotion) with achievement(which triggers dopamine), may push music learning to new levels.
“We are constantly updating and improving the JoyTunes curriculum based on feedback we’re getting from over 15,000 registered piano teachers,” said JoyTunes’ Kaminka.“We will be releasing a major update to our curriculum, called the Journey, based on this feedback.