May 5, 2015

Touch Pianist is Amazing and Here's Why

Touch Pianist is a phone app/website that was released today and every tech geek is blogging about it.  As I'm a music geek and ran into it I thought I would also write a little post about it.  So here's what I have to say:

Teachers: learn piano if you don't and be prepared to teach people piano.

                                                             The interface for touch piano

The premise of the app is very simple: Take a well known classical piano piece.  Every time you press your screen or press a key notes will play.  Repeat until the end.

I fiddled with this app for a while and I have to say it's intoxicating.  While I can play the piano, I would hardly say I'm remotely good at the instrument.  This app made me want to brush off my books and relearn how to play piano.  Honestly I might start practicing piano seriously again because this app is pretty inspiring.  Just hammering out the last movement of Beethoven's Appasionata, or the opening of Pathetique, without spending the time to actually learning the notes and the proper technique is still somehow incredibly fun to play.

While you can't control the dynamics (well) and articulation is still an issue, it is still a fun way to mess around with amazing classical works and feel a way of expressing yourself musically without spending the hundreds or thousands of hours necessary practice to master these pieces.  I definitely felt inspired to dust my music off and start practicing again and I believe this app is an amazing way to introduce people to what it feels like to be a classical musician.

While this doesn't remotely feel like playing on an actual piano, it is definitely worth letting students take a crack at this simply because when I was playing this I was playing it as I would a real piece.  While the export of the audio is obviously MIDI and doesn't effectively emulate the sound of the piano, I still felt moved trying to give a, albeit romantic, performance of Beethoven.

So stop listening to me and click on this link and visit the website!  Be warned: It works best on Chrome.  Firefox works, but it doesn't work on IE.


  1. I'm delighted that you're having fun with Touch Pianist and are telling the world about it!
    Touch Pianist is one of the latest implementations of an idea that's been around for a long time: technologically-assisted musical performance; here's an article I wrote about this (which contains an historical overview):
    Touch Pianist is a good demo/toy implementation, but that doesn't mean that the *idea* is a toy; I've used my implementation (which I called Tapper) to create renditions I've used on my YouTube channel; here's a playlist of those:
    Here are some tips about how to use Tapper:
    Tapper was designed to work from a MIDI keyboard, but you may find that some of the principles also apply to Touch Pianist.
    Finally, you should know: Aaron Andrew Hunt is about to release a professional-grade implementation of this idea. It's in beta test now:

    1. Thanks for the links! I remember seeing your videos a while ago (My former professor really likes your Bach's Toccata and Fugue video) and I never thought about making the jump to use it as a serious performing device.

      That being said, I do have some problems with electronic media taking place of conventional performances. For example, the touch pianist synth patches aren't bad but they aren't amazing either. Piano is the easiest to emulate due to the mechanics of the instrument: each note is struck the same way every time, so dynamics just depend on how hard the hammer hits the string.

      As awesome implementing and using an 'tapper' interface is, it comes at the cost of some musical control. I'm sure your aware of this: your paper goes over the control that each part of the orchestra has. Also beyond piano and maybe organ/harpsichord works (instruments of which the sound production always works the same way every time they play a note) it would have limited scope. As a woodwind musician, I know I have several different ways of starting and stopping a note, not to mention innate tone control on top of phrase control. I know I couldn't give it up for more technical accuracy.

    2. Yes, of course you don't want to give up expressive control! The point of the conductor program is to cede control of the things we don't feel the need to be responsible for ourselves (e.g. pitches in a piece which we intend to perform note-for-note the way the composer wrote it) so as to focus our attention on the things we do wish to control expressively.

      My "demo" implementation of the conductor program is intended for use with a piano because the technology for that (MIDI keyboards with velocity sensing) was available. A meaningful version for a woodwind instrument would have to give you meaningful control of dynamics, tone, articulation, etc. --- while sparing you the difficulties (awkward fingerings, etc.). My hope is that people, seeing what the piano version of the conductor program is capable of, will develop more sophisticated versions for other instruments.

      For example: I'm a decent pianist, but only an amateur string player. I can play expressively on the violin and viola, but I have lots of technical limitations. An implementation of the conductor program that would be good for me would be one which made it harder for me to bow too close to the bridge or fingerboard, and which made it much harder to play out of tune (notes would be in tune except when when I was doing an obvious glissando/portamento between pitches; vibrato would still work, but it would be centered on an in-tune pitch).

      When you play a normal musical instrument, all the possibilities of the instrument are available all the time: any time, you're able to play a wrong note, you're able to play out of tune, etc. There are a lot of "expressive gestures" you are capable of, but only some of these will result in musically satisfying results. What the conductor program does is let you re-map the connection between expressive gestures and results so that more of what you're trying to express comes out in the music.