Reinventing the Way People Learn to Play the Piano

Georgia Tech researchers are using technology to make learning to play instruments a little easier. Piano touch is a light-weight glove that is outfitted with electronics that cue the musician with vibrations on each finger that lets them know which finger they need use to play the next note.

The technology doesn't stop there. The glove is wireless and can actually be synchronized with an iPod, cell phone or other music playing device so that musicians can hear the music as they are being cued to play it.

Kevin Huang, a second year master's student majoring in Human-Computer Interaction, created the device and has been collaborating with Thad Starner and Ellen Do, two of his professors, to improve the invention.

"Adults today are so busy that they have a hard time finding the time to practice," said Huang. "With this glove you can learn to play music while you're at your desk or on the move."

"Every once in a while, you have a project that comes along with relevance in two different domains," said Thad Starner, professor in the College of Computing. "In this case, we have something very useful for learning the piano, but also may have applications for rehabilitation for people who have hand trauma or dexterity issues."

During the initial round of research, Piano Touch was successful.

"Our pilot study showed that students learned the songs that they were practicing with the Piano Touch glove better than the songs that they were practicing without the glove," said Huang.

The new device isn't ready for prime time just yet, but Huang is preparing the next round of research to see how effective the device is. Part of the new study will include adding another component to the Piano Touch by synchronizing lights on a keyboard with the Piano Touch glove to also give musicians a visual cue for when and where to play. He is currently recruiting adults to be a part of the study.

"It is so exciting to see how we can enhance human life with music and technology," said Ellen Yi-Luen Do, professor with joint appointments in the College of Architecture and College of Computing. "Whether the research can be applied for education, entertainment, rehabilitation or just the enjoyment of music, I think it is a wonderful opportunity to combine disciplines and knowledge."

The Georgia Institute of Technology is one of the world's premier research universities. Ranked seventh among U.S. News & World Report's top public universities and the eighth best engineering and information technology university in the world by Shanghai Jiao Tong University's Academic Ranking of World Universities, Georgia Tech’s more than 20,000 students are enrolled in its Colleges of Architecture, Computing, Engineering, Liberal Arts, Management and Sciences. Tech is among the nation's top producers of women and minority engineers. The Institute offers research opportunities to both undergraduate and graduate students and is home to more than 100 interdisciplinary units plus the Georgia Tech Research Institute.