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Tone deaf? No problem!

Ashley Byrne / jlwJune 14, 2013

A musician and a sound engineer have developed an app that allows anyone to compose music on a smartphone. ScoreCleaner Notes enables users to create pitch-perfect sound, even if they're tone deaf.

Boy singing
Image: Fotolia/Sergii Figurnyi

Even the most unmusical - or tone deaf - person can feel like an accomplished composer with the development of a groundbreaking app from Swedish company, Dorimer Music Research.

The smartphone app, ScoreCleaner Notes, is the brainchild of Sven Emtel, a sound engineer at Stockholm's Royal Institute of Technology, and Swedish folk musician, Sven Ahlbäck.

Bringing music and technology together

Some have called it a marriage of music and technology. The app let's users sing or whistle into their smartphone and have the tune come out perfectly pitched… that is, pitched corrected. All you have to do is make sure you whistle in single, monophonic tones. The app records your voice and turns the melody into a musical score.

Screenshot ScoreCleaner Notes App Smartphone
The smartphone app records a user's voice and writes the scoreImage: ScoreCleaner

Ahlbäck says the app "takes the sounds you sing and transforms them. It identifies pitches when you sing or even when you talk and then tries to analyze this."

It means that non-musicians can sing or hum a tune, have it corrected by the app, and then relay that "perfect music" to another person who can read the music and perform it. The app converts what it hears into notes and displays them on the smartphone screen, just as you would find in sheet music, says Ahlbäck.

"You could put the smartphone on a music stand and let someone else play it. I could send it to a friend in Australia or Japan and they could instantly perform it," says Ahlbäck.

The app uses cognitive technology – meaning, it detects and analyzes patterns in the sounds your produce, and it uses that data to eliminate any errors.

Wider impact

The technology has been 20 years in the making. And the app's makers say the proliferation of smartphones is giving it a wider platform than it might otherwise have had.

ScoreCleaner Notes screen shot
Mobile tech is giving the music app a larger stageImage: itunes.apple.com

"The recording industry," Ahlbäck says, "has been based on click track recording for 20 years. It's like a metronome. You record music with a metronome to get it very straight, metrically."

This has made music very predictable, the folk musician adds.

"From the moment you start listening to the music you know it will end in exactly the same tempo."

But this is not how people make music.

Ahlbäck says people we have a natural tendency to change tempos while playing music, as emotions rise and fall, but technology is slowly removing this from the art.

"So, what we want to do is make technology in the service of music and not the other way around," says Ahlbäck.

He and his colleague Sven Emtel hope their technology will have an impact beyond the recording industry.

"It's a useful tool for music making, but for kids who never had the chance to go to music school to learn music notation properly, who don't get the language," Ahlbäck says, "this is a way to get easy access to the language of music notation which can allow you to communicate with other people."