Microsoft creates ‘instant backing band’ for singers

Whether you’re a frustrated songwriter or a shower-time crooner, you may long to hear your lyrics put to music. New software from Microsoft promises to provide just that – instant musical accompaniment to singing.

The software, called MySong, was developed by Dan Morris and Sumit Basu at Microsoft’s research lab in Redmond, Washington, US, and Ian Simon at the University of Washington in Seattle.

“The idea is to let a creative but musically untrained individual get a taste of song writing and music creation,” Morris told New Scientist. “There was nothing out there that could take a sung vocal melody as an input and then generate appropriate chords to accompany it.” (Watch a video of the process here.)

Their software does two things: it generates a file containing the sequence of sung notes – a process known as “pitch tracking” – then uses that sequence to work out a suitable musical backdrop – a technique called “chord probability computation”.

Hear an example of vocal input, MySong’s automatically generated chords and a full musical arrangement after passing the arrangement through a program called Band-in-a-Box.

‘Elevator music’

Since people rarely sing at precise frequencies, MySong compares a sung melody to the 12 standard musical notes. It then feeds an approximate sequence of notes to the system’s chord probability computation algorithm. This algorithm has been trained, through analysis of 300 rock, pop, country and jazz songs, to recognise fragments of melody and chords that work well together, as well as chords that compliment each another.

Because there is no single “correct” chord accompaniment for any vocal melody, MySong produces a variety of chord sequence and possible accompaniments. To move between different accompaniments, a user slides an on-screen bar for “happy factor” and “jazz factor”.

“I suspect musicians will argue that this is another step towards homogenised elevator music for all,” says Peter Bentley, a computer scientist at University College London, whose team has previously coaxed computers into improvising jazz melodies. “But I see a big market for this, whether it’s liked by musicians or not.”

Cellphone version?

Researcher and composer Tod Machover of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is also impressed with the system. “Interacting with a music creation system by using our own singing voice is the most interesting aspect to this software,” he says.

“The voice is our most intuitive and intimate interface and it’s one that has been curiously under-exploited in interactive systems,” Machover adds.

For MySong to be useful to untrained singers, however, Machover reckons it will need to be very forgiving for those who are “not be perfectly in-tune or accurate”.

Microsoft has yet to decide when or how it to market the technology. “There is nothing computationally demanding about MySong,” says Morris. “It could even run on a cellphone.”

MySong was demonstrated at the annual Computer Human Interaction meeting in Florence, Italy, this week.

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Big Thanks to NewScientistTech for the story.  Although the video is marketed lame, the concept is groundbreaking!  Combine software like this with Melodyne Direct Note Access and music has changed forever!  Musical revenue will totally shift to live shows.  Making music will become so common, so long tailish, that playing an actual instrument will become highly specialized.  With tools like Photoshop, Melodyne DNA, MySong, Facebook, Garageband, and a host of others, people growing up in today’s hyper computerized world will be some of the most creative and most productive of all Time.  THE SINGULARITY IS NEAR!

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