Using psychology and human-computer interaction to augment music learning...

Primary Skills:

User Research

Max/MSP Programming

Digital Audio Workstations

Composition & Performance

Music Education

Through many years of professional music performance and education experience at all levels, I have observed common trends and failed approaches to learning an instrument. Very often, learners practice a piece of music incorrectly by attempting it too fast or with no external tempo guidance. As the great pianist and educator Alexander Libermann once said, "Practice does not make perfect - it makes permanent." Considering this, I utilized human-computer interaction and psychological principles to create an engaging and motivating system to help users learn correctly from the beginning.

Music Tech Concert
A user interacting with the system including an 88-key piano, a large display, and speakers

Using Max/MSP and Apple's Logic Pro X, I have developed a system for learning music that provides a compelling and enriching experience. At the core, users attempt sections of music and receive performance feedback after each trial. By performing iterative user testing, several key features were added that ultimately resulted in strong positive user responses in both musical performance and emotion.

My Handbuilt Partscaster Guitar
Block diagram of the system's components including Max/MSP, Logic Pro X, and I/O

The major introduction of this system is a complex system of motivators that inform and reward the user when learning music the right way - slowly and accurately. At the lower-level, these are realized with backing tracks that fade in when the user is performing well, and fade out if errors start to occur. This yields a rich soundscape with a good performance, but leaves the user with the simulated feeling of playing along on a dark stage if attempting music at too fast a tempo with errors.

Aquarium Room
A screenshot of the system's visual interface

On top of this is a gamified approach, where users earn points according to performance. These points are awarded on a schedule that is heavily biased to reinforce strong, accurate performances instead of erroneous ones. With these points, users can unlock additional backing tracks, new songs, and various other digital rewards. These high-level motivators are intended to mediate the decision making process and help develop metacognitive skills about how one should progress through music. Through the interaction of these two level, users are driven to always want to perform accurately, thus contributing to a steady hierarchical skill advancement and proper habit development.

Aquarium Room
A screenshot of the system's visual interface

This project served as my Master's Project for a Master of Science in Human-Computer Interaction and contained elements of interface design, programming, user research, data collection, and statistical analysis. A video demonstration can be viewed here and the final project report can be downloaded here.

© Copyright 2014 Riley Winton