Music Everywhere started as a graduate school project during my time at Carnegie Mellon University. Our team consisted of two programmers, one musician and one designer—me.
Our goal: build an Augmented Reality (AR) piano learning tool.
Most piano learning apps are designed for mobile phones and tablets. A major issue for users during play comes when users must mentally translate the instructions from the screen to the physical instrument. This seemed ripe for improvement using AR.
With AR technology, we align the 3D interface (the piano instructions) directly on the physical piano keys. This makes discerning our AR
instructions with the actual instrument easier and more intuitive.
To read more about the AR Interface Design, please see this NIME2017 paper we published.
I previsualized the experience by sketching down the key component - Interactive piano lessons.
-- Design problem
HoloLens’ FOV (feild of view) causes users to have to angle their head downward in order to see the cut-off keyboard.
-- Design approach
In order to ensure a smooth setup, we needed account for:
In order to determine which note users played on the keyboard, we used a Bluetooth connection to send out a MIDI signal from the digital piano to the HoloLens. This made ensuring a good connection critical to the experience.
Due to the native HoloLens environment, users must pair Bluetooth devices through the device’s system settings. To help guide users, I created an animation to teach them how to complete this process, and included a tutorial for the Bluetooth connection process troubleshooting as well, in case the original setup was not done correctly.
Our first version was intended for the full 88 keyed piano (full size), but there are many products in the market that feature different sizes. How do we design an experience that works for the majority of these products?
We cover 88, 61 , 49 and 25 keys of size of pianos, which accounts for almost every kind. The system can detect the piano size after users press the first and the last key, and adapts the AR interface to the keys.
Calibration to ensure proper alignment gives the foundation for the entire experience. Without it, the instructions are useless. In our academic project, our team was always on hand to help assist users in tech setup and user calibration - we often relied on instinct, which (let’s face it) is a truly mysterious endeavor.
For a shipped product, we knew we needed to create an intuitive process for users to do this themselves, successfully and reliably.
A customized image tracking marker is within hand’s reach for the user to spawn the AR interface. By looking at the tracking marker, users can spawn the interface.
Then place it on the middle C to adjust the alignment by easily moving the markers around.
-- Finding Middle C
-- Aligning the Marker on Middle C
Our goal is to guide and inspire people on how they can express themselves with playing piano, through improvisation. In our lessons, the virtual musicians teach improv knowledge. Users can follow along with instructions in Following Mode, or experiment with different notes in Improv Mode.
Our first version enabled user to pick lessons according to genre, which posed some problems when we tried to expand the lesson content later. The problem we faced in this structure was the difficulty in making it modular and scalable. We knew we needed to redesign it.
We designed the lesson packages which included several lessons within them. This allowed us to design a system that accounted for every music level, to define each lesson package’s level, and to upload more materials for the future.
AR experiences often tend to be unstable due to technical limitations today. For example, the AR interface might drift away from the current alignment or the Bluetooth connection might disappear. We knew it was critical to craft troubleshooting functions for users within the app to build our next version.
To reach the goal, I designed the torubleshoot process. When problems happen, users can pause the experience in place to resolve the issue.
People love animated characters. They’re fun, liven up a scene, and provide a fun way to instill the context of music playing with a band. To achieve this in a meaningful way, I built up more animations to sync with music beats and created more interaction scenarios.
I optimized all the 3D topology which allowed me to create more complicated animations. With these changes, the animated virtual musician step towards the user to teach them how to play, and react to the music rhythm beat by beat. This captures the user’s attention in a playful way.
“What if our design totally fails, or for people who don’t have the Bluetooth compatible digital piano?”
Considering the worst cases, I design the “No-Piano Demo”option for people who can’t get the settings to work, or without a proper piano. Through this demo, people can get a preliminary understanding for how Music Everywhere works. From this pessimistic perspective, we developed a full FAQ section. Here, users could troubleshoot by themselves with guided instructions, and get to know more details about Music Everywhere.
Below are the Visual assets I created that represented our app’s design and experience.
Working on the Microsoft HoloLens platform allowed us to be an early publisher of AR music learning content. We got early recognition from industry leaders, but knew that our future would depend on Mobile AR. The HoloLens, though an established platform, is too expensive to ever achieve widespread adoption ($3K USD).
Looking ahead, we knew we would make our next experience using ARKit for iOS, bringing our user base pool from early adopter AR enthusiasts to the population at large. Hello, iPhone.