Oh my. This could be GREAT…or not. You be the judge.
Every potential virtuoso needs a mentor. It just so happens that this one is a computer.
Called BACh – for Brain Automated Chorales – the system helps beginners learn to play Bach chorales on piano by measuring how hard their brains are working. It only offers a new line of music to learn when the brain isn’t working too hard, avoiding information overload.
Developed by Beste Yuksel and Robert Jacob of Tufts University in Massachusetts, BACh estimates the brain’s workload using functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS), a technique that measures oxygen levels in the brain – in this case in the prefrontal cortex. A brain that’s working hard pulls in more oxygen. Sensors strapped to the player’s forehead talk to a computer, which delivers the new music.
To test whether BACh works, Yuksel and Jacob got 16 inexperienced piano players to learn two chorales, one with the system’s assistance, and one on their own. BACh first gave the musicians only the soprano line. When their cognitive load fell below a certain threshold, it added the bass part, then later the alto and tenor parts.
In 15 minutes of learning each piece, pianists played more accurately and faster with BACh than without. People who identified themselves as beginners benefited more than those who rated their skills as intermediate. Yuksel and Jacob will present BACh at a conference in San Jose, California, in May.