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Pittsburgh Startup Uses Augmented Reality To Teach Piano

Music Everywhere
A Music Everywhere user mid-gameplay. The animations shown hovering over the piano are what the user is seeing through the Microsoft HoloLens augmented reality headset.

As a kid, Seth Glickman, like many people, learned to play the piano by taking lessons with a teacher. He was talented, and he went on to become a music instructor himself, but later Glickman questioned whether in-person lessons were the best approach for everyone who wanted to learn.

"What about the people for whom that doesn't work?" said Glickman.

While in graduate school at the Entertainment Technology Center program at Carnegie Mellon University, Glickman and his co-founders, Fu Yen Hsiao and Byunghwan Lee, created Music Everywhere, an augmented reality program for piano instruction. The company is currently based out of AlphaLab, a local startup accelerator.

Credit Joaquin Gonzalez / 90.5 WESA
(Left to right) Music Everywhere co-founders Seth Glickman, Byunghwan Lee and Fu Yen Hsiao at AlphaLab's office space in East Liberty.

Glickman said Music Everywhere is intended to appeal to people who may not have time for regular piano lessons or just prefer to learn on their own. 

"We would like to find a way to involve those people without necessarily competing with mentored learning, which we strongly believe in, but [rather] to give an alternative path and to give a tool," Glickman said. 

Music Everywhere is a bit like an augmented reality version of the popular video games Guitar Hero and Rock Band. The user puts on a special headset, the Microsoft Hololens, and sits down at a keyboard connected to the system by Bluetooth.

Looking through the headset, the user can select different lessons from a projected menu using finger gestures. From there, an animated band of musicians sitting on top of the real-world piano will talk the user through the lesson and play along on virtual instruments like the guitar, bass and drums, often in a bluesy-sort of progression.

The user is shown what notes to play by icons shown over the keys; different variations on the icons can tell the user things like which fingers to use, how hard to play the notes and how long to hold them.

"We want to provide these fun, engaging learning experiences that really show people how to enjoy music with other people," Glickman said.

Last year, Music Everywhere won an $100,000 prize in a contest sponsored by Microsoft and the gaming software development company Unity.

Glickman said that although augmented reality is still in its infancy and gear can be prohibitively expensive for most consumers, he believes that will change as the technology evolves.