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Computer technology has allowed/enabled us to do many things and certainly has propelled and expanded the knowledgebase of many fields further than all of the collective years before its emergence. Likewise, music technology has astounded and even bedazzled musicians with the power, empowerment, and reach that it has provided to them/us. We now live in a world where the “technology” allows us to skip over the “basics” and many times -do things with no real foundational knowledge except only the most cursory…
Microsoft’s Songsmith is the latest entry into this paradigm of “power without knowledge”…musical knowledge in this case. Songsmith is a software program that allows anyone to compose a song having only the most rudimentary of music skills.
This program makes good on its songwriting promise and is one of the first (or one of the first this interesting -there are a couple of other similar ones) entries in what will no doubt be an increasing number of similar, better, and smarter music applications. So…what is it and what does it do? Songsmith is a software program that allows you to listen to a rhythmic beat/pattern such as R&B, Reggae, Rock, Salsa, etc. and simply sing a melody into the microphone and it renders the combination into a completed song by adding intelligent harmonic accompaniment (drums, bass, piano, guitar, strings).
After using this program, I’ve found that it actually does NOT do a bad job analyzing the melody (provided by you via the microphone) for appropriate chords and accompaniment. It is as simple to use as they state that it is.
While somewhat “CHEESEY”, this video does a great job at explaining what it is… After reading through the comment threads associated with the video on YouTube a number of people (I’m assuming musicians) have commented on how bad (with regard to pitch, no doubt) the singers are on this video. I would argue, in defense, that purpose of the software is to take the average “shower” or “car” singer’s voice and show what can be done with it, even if they stray from a tonal center or centered pitch:
There are a number of questions that technologies like this bring to mind:
1. What does technology like this do to the traditional process of song writing?
2. Does this type of technology circumvent a basic understanding of music?
3. Does this technology help promote any/some/many of the goals of music education?
4. Could this technology be used to explore aesthetic/arts outcomes for those not technically “musicians”?
5. What does this type of technology bring to the proverbial “table” for established musicians?
6. Does the very existence of these types of technologies foreshadow a future, extremely sophisticated derivative of software that will lessen the need for traditional musicians?
7. Do you fear this type of technology as a musician?
8. Are you excited by this type of technology as a musician?
9. Are you insulted by this type of technology as a musician?
10. Will you ignore, embrace, integrate, or advocate for or against this type of technology into a curriculum?
One of the very useful aspects of this program is the ability to export what it does via a MIDI file. Once any audio is converted into a MIDI file the usefulness of the program creating the source audio expands exponentially.
Download a free trial of Songsmith here. The trial allows you six hours of usage with no limitations. Find out more about Songsmith here. The full version is $19.95 U.S. (What does that low price do, if anything, for consideration of inclusion into your classes or personal inventory of software?)
Love it? Hate it? Excited? Appaled? Thoughts?
Joseph M. Pisano, Ph.D., is an industry innovator, educator, clinician and lecturer, trumpeter and conductor, and the creator of many music and education websites. He is currently the Vice President of Innovation and Engagement at Keystone Ridge Designs, Inc. After twenty-three years as a professor and administrator in higher education, he made the move into industry in 2018.
As one of the youngest full professors in Grove City’s history, he served in many capacities during his tenure including Professor of music, Director of Music and Fine Arts Technology, Technical Director of the Pew Fine Arts Center, Associate/Assistant Chair of Music and Fine Arts, Director of Jazz Studies.
He finished his tenure at the college as the Director of Bands, where he directed the college’s Symphonic Concert Band, Wind Ensemble, Marching Band, Pep Band, and various smaller ensembles. He continues to guest direct bands, consult with music programs, and adjudicate ensembles and programs today.
He has been named a TI:ME Teacher of the Year, received the JEN Jazz Educator Award, the PA Citation of Excellence, and named a “member for life” of the PA Intercollegiate Bandmasters Association. He is a past Vice President of the Technology Institute for Music Educators, an associate member of the American Bandmasters Association, a past President of the PA Intercollegiate Bandmasters Association, and a member of various education and music honoraries.
He has written for numerous publications including DCI Magazine, Teaching Music Magazine, SBO, and was the Educational Editor for In-Tune Monthly Magazine for eight years; he has contributed hundreds of articles to various publications.
He is an active conductor, trumpeter, clinician, and educator. Find out more at his website: jpisano.com.