‘Under the Spotlight’ with MusicIncite

What is MusicIncite’s vision?

Our vision has always been to help (would-be) guitarists to work towards their goals, express themselves through the language of music and improvise with confidence.  Guitarists that have been scared off from or by formal music education or missed out on formal education because of life, or lack of funds, or lack of opportunity.  We especially want to help those coming back to the guitar and help them work through from beginner to advanced guitarists.  We envision using technology to enable practice and simplify learning experiences that, starting from day one, have a huge positive impact on motivation, progress, and understanding, with far less mental load and better retention, that can be used stand-alone or as an adjunct to formal education.

Tell us more about your flagship music engagement environment, emuso™?

The platform comprises the application, emuso/PracticeSuite PRO, and interactive content (web-based, and locally created “snappets” (tracks) and “snippets” (shapes) which can be shared).  The application runs on Windows 10/11, and MacOS M1 and x86 (10.12 up, and 11, desktop and laptop.

The platform content design and application design are based on the findings of several disciplines of psychology.  Music psychology has proven our brains primarily extract musical relationships from sounds irrespective of the pitches involved, from a very young age.   Cognitive psychology shows reading and writing come last (if at all) as we naturally learn. Instead, nature makes us start with sound and touch, followed by movement and vision, along with speech recognition and development.  It also shows how memories are formed and recalled using mental frameworks and explains the limitations of the brain at any one time, especially the limits of working memory.  Learning psychology has found that building the right mental attitude and positive beliefs, when combined with a solid mental framework to connect learned concepts together, are essential for motivation, steady progress, and results.

Now compare this with the order music is traditionally taught. Guitarists are expected to start learning two languages (written music notation (or tab) and the complex written and spoken language of music theory), and additionally to work with note names (an abstraction of pitches).  Large online forums and social media groups resonate with confused, struggling members that cannot get on with this, even when provided with chord and scale shape diagrams, and notation and tab players that visualise how the music progresses.

Emuso applies these findings of psychology as follows.  1/ Note names are deprioritised, though available, on the UI. 2/ Simple, but powerful, interactive visualisations of static and dynamic musical relationships and rhythm are used.  3/ All learning and practice involves both real and virtual instruments.  Apart from technique, all practice and learning occur on virtual instruments primarily, where auto-correcting interactive tests and tasks are undertaken.  This strongly links the knowledge in the mental framework with the instrument.  It encourages directed, focused, practice.  It avoids muscle-memory taking over, and distractions kicking in as often happens on the real instrument.  4/ Notes are consistently coloured and labelled on the UI with several labelling options, primarily relational.  5/ Access to individual note sounds, including within a chord or scale, are available at any time.  6/ During track(s) playback, the notes can visually expose the dynamic musical relationships on the virtual instrument, optionally accompanied by the scale or chord that supplies the note(s).

This makes a huge positive impact on understanding note choice, rhythm and aural recognition with far less mental load and better retention.

These synergise to solve major problems guitarists face or have faced with making progress in their own eyes, in a way that motivates them, challenges them, and that makes directed practice the norm. They learn of music as something that drives the emotions, building and thwarting expectations, building, and releasing energy.  Because the UI and content always visually and aurally presents musical relationships, finding and using these become second nature.

emuso/PracticeSuite PRO has four main interactive components: virtual guitar (bass and piano) with layers, the toolkit, the content viewer, and the help system.

  • The virtual instruments can be swapped between (e.g., play out a chord progression on “guitar”, and continue on “piano”).  Two layers are available, interactive, and non-interactive.
  • The toolkit contains several tools, and scale, chord, and interval libraries.  These can all be edited.  For example, when a chord is on “guitar”, clicking on an occupied string deletes the previous note, and the result is analysed. Chords can be inverted.  Scale patterns transposed.  All constructs can be relocated by click or drag.  Scales can be shifted through 5 regions (like CAGED) and changed to three notes per string.  Single notes can be hovered over, to hear them in their wider context (such as the middle note of a chord voicing after listening to the full chord), or to hear a chord rooted at that note.  Rhythm-X handles all aspects of rhythm (see below).  There is also an ear-trainer, and a tool for investigating musical relationships between chords and scales, chords and chords, and scales and scales.
  • The content viewer handles all interactive content, for example clicking on a scale image to load it onto the virtual guitar or loading in a chord progression or backing track.
  • When active, interactions on the user interface bring up help videos rather than carrying out their usual job.  Help can be suspended and resumed so the actual interaction can be performed.

We deliver interactive content from the web, designed for users to immerse themselves in practice and learning experiences, for example learning about tension tones in different scale types, hearing them in context, seeing them in context, and being tested on them (such as listening to a short run of notes and indicating on virtual instrument how to resolve the last note heard).  Tests can be autocorrected, for visual and aural comparison.  The content is designed to strengthen the visual, aural, and tactile associations with related concepts.

What made you want to create this kind of technology?

Once I realised how simple music theory is, when stripped back to its foundations and jargon reduced, it became my mission to get the word out so everyone else that struggled like me to understand theory, could have that same revelation. (This was after I’d taken an intermediate/advanced guitar course at the Guitar Institute in Acton some years before, and subsequently studied for years with one of the UK’s top guitarists / teachers, Shaun Baxter) It’s always struck me as mad to ask a new learner with no burning desire to be professional to detour via another language to learn the language of interest.  Who’d have the patience to learn the Thai language because all cookbooks are in Thai, but (s)he only wants to cook a few noodles for friends?

What’s new with MusicIncite, are there any new products in the pipeline?

First off, we’ve just created a new home page, https://emuso.buzz !  But due to unforeseen technical issues,  the videos there are still about our previous product, emuso/Studio.  PracticeSuite PRO videos will be available by this Friday.

emuso/PracticeSuite PRO is just coming out after several trials.  We’ve been getting amazing feedback.  This provides the essentials for guitar teachers and students.  Teachers demonstrate and share knowledge and practice advice, online or face-to-face.   Guitarists have everything they need to practice and learn with, developing their musical skills.

Its features are briefly presented at https://emuso.buzz/practicesuite-pro-features

It includes under the hood virtual machine technology combined with a music knowledge engine that can drive the user interface, and analyse responses made by the user on the “guitar” (“bass”, “piano”) and correct any mistakes, for visual and aural comparison.  PracticeSuite/PRO also comes with a set of interactive quick start guides that take the user through much of the system, including building a chord progression and melody with bass and drums.

There are many unique aspects to PracticeSuite/PRO.  The most unique being how rhythm is handled.  The Rhythm-X tool allows rhythm parts to be designed independently of pitch.  Parts are then imprinted with notes selected “on-instrument” (e.g., an arpeggio pattern selected from a scale).  Combined with a scale-aware pattern transposer, this means an intense arpeggio practice regime can be created in under a minute and saved off and shared.  The rhythm can always be edited. The notes are distributed or removed as needed.  Rhythmic groupings can be created by stressing onsets.  Polyrhythms can be created. N-tuplets created with one or two clicks.  This is especially powerful for practice, such as playing 5 notes against 4.  Chords imprinted from “instrument” with one click.

The parts can be visualised on up to two layers, and memos can be added to remind the guitarists of some scale shape or chord shape to concentrate on over the next few bars.  Up to two rhythm parts can be visualised during playback, (even on different instruments, such as guitar part on piano), effectively creating dynamic tab, but with a big difference.  The notes can be labelled in many ways to convey their meaning, and not just as occupied locations on the guitar (though this can be achieved for student testing purposes).  This all drives home the musical relationships on-instrument, both static and temporal, in a way that tab and notation cannot.

The technology can also synchronise UI interactions with multimedia timeline, for example to recreate on the “guitar” content demonstrated on video, such as a chord progression.  We are finalising frame-accurate sync for this currently.  This can then be saved off, edited, and reused for practice.  We have a separate product, emuso/Foundry, currently at beta-level, that enables this content to be created.  With this, multimedia is imported, and interactions (tests and tasks) are designed and associated with frame-accurate points on the media timeline.  The result is saved as a “lesson” that PracticeSuite PRO imports. Where the student watches/listens to the media, and the tests/tasks are triggered, optionally stopping playback.

We will very shortly be looking for a few music education companies and/or schools to work with us, trialling and providing feedback on this product.


What has been the highlight of your career so far?

This has to be when I was presented to the Queen at Buckingham Palace, to receive the Queen’s Award for Technological Achievement, on behalf of Insignia Solutions PLC (now defunct), which I co-founded.  And again when the Queen visited Insignia the next year.  We sold tons of product (virtual machine technology that allowed RISC computers to run Windows) including Apple, IBM, Microsoft, and many others.  Music-wise, was when my band, Eazy Money, was chosen to be on EMI’s compilation album,  “Metal for Muthas Vol 2”.  Iron Maiden were on Vol 1.  I remember Bruce Dickenson coming to see us … we had an incredible vocalist, Marc Storace.

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