Video shows a new “Rock Band” technique to learn piano

A video from New Scientist highlights a Piano projection system that shows players which notes to play in real time.  The article describes how the system works: “A thin line between each block and the key to be pressed gives the player warning of which note is coming next. Quirks in the lines – such as ripples – advise when to add ornamentations, such as a trill. Each note block is coloured according to which finger should play it, to help improve technique, while the system highlights incorrect notes played in red.”

While this certainly looks cool, I am skeptical that this will have much of a practical application in piano study for a number of reasons:

1)  No technology can get you to “play like a pro.”  I think it comes from one of the most common misconceptions non-musicians have about music, which is that if you get all the notes and rhythms right, then you’re practically done.  When it comes to being a “pro,” the notes and rhythms are only the beginning.

2)  It doesn’t teach technique.  Sure, it can identify which finger you played, but you still need to learn the technique to play the scales and arpeggios correctly.  You have to do that independently as well

3)  Most importantly, however, this system does not allow you to “look” at the score — you can only see a few notes at a time.  It is a tremendous disadvantage that I think non-musicians also do not recognize.  Looking at a print score allows you to understand its form and harmonic structure, analyze its melodies and key relationships, and even hear the music internally away from the keyboard.  Someone used to this system is not only unable to interpret the music properly, but I would doubt a player with this method would gain the capability to create any larger, coherent composition.

Reading this article really made me think about how special our system of music notation actually is.  It’s hard to think of score notation as technology, because it appears rather mundane, but over the centuries it has proven itself as being the most advanced technology for communicating and preserving musical sound.  In our digital world however, are there ways to improve it so that it works better for tablets?  Perhaps if there was a way to use color effectively (red bar lines for sections or colors for notes).  Or what if you could change the view to include your notes/fingering indications and then remove those for the performance?    What do you think are the best fixes for modern notation?  Leave a comment below to share!

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