Three days from Christmas and three days into Hanukkah. Nice parallel there. Holiday hype -both the commercial and the emotional must be quite the apex. Children are getting ready to take off from school, go home, bake lots of treats, wrap lots of gifts and maybe even sing some songs with their loved ones around the piano or guitar. (oh and the fireplace too.)
Well, if your aspiring piano prodigy is feeling deprived of lessons over the break (yeah right, but still,) there’s a way to throw together the gift giving with the cheery singing and possibly a new way to keep them busy in-between school and private lessons.
For those that aren’t Apple aficionados, the newest iPhone, the 4S has a built-in artificial assistant named Siri that is operated by voice command and can basically look up any information accessible through the web, perform any function in your phone and makes the concept of “hands-free” task execution (particularly for typing/texting) jump up about five levels.
For full disclosure, as it says on Apple’s website, Siri is technically still in beta form, so it’s not perfected yet. Pretty much all of the time though, I have never personally had a problem with it being able to do what it says it should be able to do, barring a few incidents of slight lag. In any case, using Siri to its full potential, it can perform lots of tasks. However, one of the things that isn’t a major promoting factor for selling Siri is its newest discovered ability to play the piano.
By combining the capabilities of a special Yamaha Disklavier Piano, the hub of Apple’s AirPort Express and a basic audio connector cable for the inputs on the piano’s receiver, the iPhone becomes a voice-controlled archive and performer of any MIDI formatted song you have in the phone’s memory. The piano’s technological abilities are what allow for the movement of the piano keys and pedals, just like any player piano you might have seen in earlier musical days.
Craig Knudsen, the man who designed an add-on software piece for the Disklavier design, the SmartKEY program, demonstrates how Siri works with these other pieces to make playback as easy as picking the composer.
I know someone out there might be reading this, who is familiar with the Disklavier system and tell me that system is all about playback and education, so the fact that a piece of Apple software can get the piano to do something it could already do isn’t that impressive. And they would be right, to a degree. The point I’m getting at with this ability of Siri’s isn’t actually Siri’s glory to take. The Disklavier system and SmartKEY technology is the bulk of what can be helpful to piano students, and those two components are the driving force behind the “invisible player” so to speak. What we’re praising here probably isn’t the feat os artificial performance itself, (since we didn’t need Siri for the piano to do that,) but the fact that Siri can manage this ability for any student in a slightly more efficient manner, as well as expand the capacity of what a student can bring to the Disklavier to learn from during practice hours. Literally. The Disklavier mount for the piano has a USB hub to access the source of MIDI files for playback and teaching. However, there are a few limitations, like hardware compatibility and storage capacity, two name two big ones, that put weakness on the Yamaha technology itself.
Having the iPhone and Siri as your storage block and utilizing the air port express, there’s no need to plug any connecting hard drive source to the piano to open up your MIDI files. The unit itself can store some files, but a student can have their entire repertoire at every lesson, so long as its in their phone. one less connection means one less potential problem.
Technical difficulties aside, with the ability to switch back and forth between songs almost instantly, compare and contrast of performance technique can be much more fluid on top of the already extremely useful ability to imitate the performance of any recording. Think of the teaching potential for reviewing three recitals in succession, with a student performing the same piece each time, and showing the respective mistakes and improvements because the student’s own execution is being carried out for viewing. Then to have them study visual and auditory differences between a master performance done in the period of composition, versus a cover performance of another student and interim practice becomes that much more optimized for effective use. I remember when trying to memorize pieces I used to playback tapes I recorded during my lessons but a lot of the time (if you added it up) was devoted to fast forwarding and rewinding and trying to isolate notes when they recording was me playing at regular speed. Meanwhile, being able to manipulate and review performance with such total precision as removing a hand from the playback, going over a bar note by note and specifying section repetition makes Siri a useful streamlining add-on to “fine tune” work in the practice room. The only down side is that giving this package as a gift would certainly put you out at least at 40,000 dollars if not more. Perhaps it’s better suited as a graduation gift for the growing music educator to use with their students….