“For pianists, it's a magical feature”: StaffPad can now generate sheet music just by ‘listening’ to your acoustic piano playing, which sounds like an AI-powered tool we could get on board with

While AI is already impacting musicians in profound, some might say pernicious ways - with its abilities to mimic artists’ voices and write songs without any human input, for example - it’s also doing some arguably more useful things that are flying a little more under the radar. 

Take its implementation into iOS and Windows tablet app StaffPad, for example, which enables you to generate scores simply by playing the piano.

We’re not just talking just MIDI here, either. That option is available, but the so-called Piano Capture tool’s most impressive feature is its ability to translate live audio from a real piano into notes on a stave.

There’s no need for a an audio interface or any kind of special hardware - just put your tablet on your piano and use its built-in mics to capture your performance. There’s even a built-in metronome to help you stay in time.

Discussing how AI was used to help develop this technology, composer and StaffPad founder David William Heard said: “We built a special training pipeline - called Pianola - able to generate thousands of hours of music, recorded through digitally-controlled acoustic pianos and sample libraries. This simulated all kinds of real-world scenarios and environments, resulting in a huge collection of output recordings.”

OK, we’re with you so far - what next?

“Pianola then analyzes each performance in reverse, learning to recreate the audio input,” explains Heard. “Over many hours of training time, the system learns to recognize what note pitches and durations look like, even within chords. And from there, it learns to transcribe piano performances it hasn’t heard before.”

Clever stuff, and as well as all this behind the scenes work, it turns out that Pianola also applies a bit of spit of polish at the end of the process.

“As a final and crucial step, the AI then tidies the score to make sure it's easy for other musicians to read,” confirms Heard. “The entire process runs directly on your device. So your audio remains private, and you don't have to be online for it to work. For pianists, it's a magical feature. We think you're going to love it.”

Magical indeed, in a very hi-tech sort of way. We can see this being a very useful option for those who want a super-fast method of getting their musical ideas down on paper (digital or actual).

And of course, you can still generate scores in StaffPad in the traditional way - by which we mean touching the tablet screen with your finger or (preferably) a digital pen - or by using that aforementioned MIDI input. It’s also now possible to import video that you can play along with, enabling you to quickly create film scores in the just one app.

Piano Capture is included in the latest StaffPad update. The app costs $90 and is available now for iPad (via the Apple App Store) and the Windows tablets (via the Microsoft Store).

Find out more on the StaffPad website.


(Image credit: StaffPad)
Ben Rogerson

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it. 

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