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Why Did MIT Make Tiny People Dance on This Piano?

Hint: it has to do with making interfaces more relatable.

DJ Pangburn

DJ Pangburn

Screencap via

When learning the piano, players probably imagine their fingers as human legs walking up and down the keyboard at one point or another. MIT's Tangible Media Group students Xiao Xiao and Hiroshi Ishii take this quite literally with Andante, an augmented reality piano designed to make the music learning experience efficient and fun through interactivity.

In Andante, various animated characters walk up and down the piano to help students visualize musical motion. Which is rather appropriate given that in musical notation Andante signals a “walking” tempo of 76-108 beats per minute (bpm). As the animated figures walk, they “scale” the keys, creating the augmented reality player piano for novice players.

“The piano keyboard interface allows a single person to play more complex music than on any other instrument,” Xiao and Ishii write. “Consequently, learning to play all too often prioritizes a symbolic understanding over embodiment and emotional expression, drawing an interesting parallel with the many problems of using the traditional computer.”

“However, experts on the piano do learn to play the machine with the command of the entire body, authentic emotional expression, and a fluent grasp of sophisticated musical structures,” they add. “We believe that deeper understanding of all these facets of of musical performance may yield valuable insights for designing more engaging, more human interactions with the computer.”

But even if their research doesn’t result in better human-machine music learning, it could light the way for better interactive augmented reality music playing.

Click here to see more work by the Tangible Media Group.

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