Will Artificial Intelligence Spell the End of High-Quality Violin Pedagogy? — The Nightingale’s Sonata

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“… this project develops a prototype AI system that acts as a virtual assistance to violin students, teachers, and supervising parents, and like a human teacher it also provides explanations. This is accomplished through two unique components: 1) a feedback system that provides advice based on visual and auditory analysis and causal relationships of errors, i.e., why a movement error caused non-ideal sound; and 2) assignment of educational materials specific to the students based on the perceptual evaluation and a corpus of recorded materials.”

The violinist member of the research team at UMD is concert violinist Irina Muresanu who, in addition to her international concertizing, serves on the University faculty.. She is key in ensuring the prototyped instruction is based on time-tested practice.

Again, quoting from the USNSF abstract: 

“The technical work involves the collection of multi-modal data from violin players, the development of machine learning algorithms for analyzing the players’ performance, the recording and curation of a corpus of educational music pieces from videos and created sheet music, the design of a gamified user interface, and feedback instructions. The combination of developed AI software, data collected through observation of violin students, and the music corpuses to be digitized, recorded, and categorized constitute a major step forward into the 21st century for the field of music pedagogy and innovation of tools for studying human motor learning through perception.”

There is an obvious question that arises from this description. Is violin instruction being put through a straight-jacket, a one-size-fits-all approach? On the other hand, if someone has few opportunities to secure a well-trained individual teacher, isn’t the idea of a virtual teacher modeling best practices an important option?

Additionally, since learning involves practice without a teacher, isn’t the idea of a virtual mentor a real boon to learning? Think of Matthew Garcia’s struggles to learn the viola without access to a teacher in rural Texas and his ultimate decision to teach himself using information from the internet.  The UMD approach, if successful, has the potential to be a preferable option.

All too often, our judgments about the merits of new approaches to instrumental pedagogy are based on the ideal of someone becoming a professional musician. We read the biographies of superstars and assume that the way they studied their instruments is the best way for everyone. But such thinking may well miss the point. Sure, it is wonderful to have access to exceptional individual instruction—promulgated by highly trained professionals at top conservatories who turn out superb instrumentalists who become great performers. But isn’t it just as important that millions of others will experience the joy of playing an instrument by securing good instruction delivered in any way possible?

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