Every potential virtuoso needs a mentor. It just so happens that this one is a computer.
Called BACh – for Brain Automated Chorales – the system helps beginners learn to play Bach chorales on piano by measuring how hard their brains are working. It only offers a new line of music to learn when the brain isn’t working too hard, avoiding information overload.
Developed byand of Tufts University in Massachusetts, BACh estimates the brain’s workload (fNIRS), a technique that measures oxygen levels in the brain – in this case in the prefrontal cortex. A brain that’s working hard pulls in more oxygen. Sensors strapped to the player’s forehead talk to a computer, which delivers the new music.
To test whether BACh works, Yuksel and Jacob got 16 inexperienced piano players to learn two chorales, one with the system’s assistance, and one on their own. BACh first gave the musicians only the soprano line. When their cognitive load fell below a certain threshold, it added the bass part, then later the alto and tenor parts.
In 15 minutes of learning each piece, pianists played more accurately and faster with BACh than without. People who identified themselves as beginners benefited more than those who rated their skills as intermediate. Yuksel and Jacob will present BACh at a conference in San Jose, California, in May.
The approach could help with learning any subject, Yuksel says – maths, engineering, programming, foreign languages or reading.
“I find it exciting,” saysan educational psychologist at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. “It’s individually based, and that’s one of the big things we are searching for: to make learning more adapted to the individual.”
Yuksel plans to add emotion sensing to the program. High cognitive load combined with positive emotions might indicate productive learning, while negative emotions could signal frustration. “When they’re overloaded,” Yuksel says, “to maybe remove some information might be even more effective for learning”.
You wouldn’t want to carry around Yuksel’s fNIRS machine all day to help you learn – it’s the size of a microwave oven – but more portable fNIRS technology is being developed. “The idea of wearing brain sensors is still not widely accepted,” says Erin Solovey of Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “However, people are starting to wear more sensors, so brain sensors are just going to follow along in that trend.”
Journal reference: ACM CHI 2016, DOI:
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