Can computers replace humans as music teachers?


When browsing an apps store, there is always a large section about education, which aims at helping people acquire new knowledge and skills. But is this kind of software as good as a real teacher?

The paper ‘Computers in Music Education’ explores the role of computer software in music education. One of the conclusions is that computers are well suited for certain tasks like concept presentation and knowledge testing, but are not as good in providing a “full” music education experience compared to human teachers, who can for example correct wrong techniques and give personal advise.

Computers are precise. They make no mistakes and are accurate in their analysis of data. Furthermore they offer more flexibility and (usually) a lower cost than real teachers.

But they don’t think like human beings. Human teachers know what to look/listen for and can meet the student’s individual needs. The techniques and nuances that give emotion to music can also be recognized by people, whereas for computers this is really a tough subject (though not impossible: there exist algorithms to predict the emotional response of people to a piece of music!).

We could go deeper in this comparison, but first we would like to hear from you. What do you think? To which extent can/should computers have an active teaching role in (music) education?

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10 Responses to Can computers replace humans as music teachers?

  1. Nice post! I agree with you, up to a certain point. I think you have to be more precise with the targeted audience…
    If you’re trying to use a computer to teach a student that has an advanced level, it’s quite likely that the computer won’t be enough to really teach him something. However, if you’re teaching a novice, the pc can be good enough. The biggest problem with novices is not to teach them the nuances, but to teach them the basics. For example, if the software shows the techniques clearly, adds tips and other comments, and is able to recognize the mistakes played and suggest corrections, that’s definitely good enough for a novice. Nuances will come later…

    • lichenzha says:

      Thanks for your comment! It is very valuable for us.
      Yes, the target group does matter when you judge this question. If I understand correctly, you meant a computer could replace a real teacher when the target people are beginners, but for high-level study, the computer is probably useless.
      Well, personally, I partially agree with you. Indeed, the beginning learning is focusing on techniques. If you give enough tips/skill explanations to the beginner, a computer is enough. BUT! I think you only think in the way it works for adults. Often the novices that you speak of are children, who require a more active mood to motivate them to continue, so in that case a real teacher is very important. I don’t know if you agree with me on that or not? Actually I did not really think in this way before your comment. Your comment helps inspire us to make a new post on it later to talk about this question for different ages of the student.
      And for the higher level learner, the computer is indeed not that useful as for the beginners. But they still could help when you start a new piece for the first time. It could help you get the right rhythm sooner.

      • Okay, that’s true, I hadn’t thought of the age issue. But maybe that’s just another challenge of the software? Try to motivate the students, keep challenging them…
        If the software is only marginally interesting for more advanced users, what’s going to motivate them to spend money on it?

    • lichenzha says:

      Yes… Technically you could say that it will be a challenge to make the software more and more like human teacher(is that what you mean?). It is indeed the target of the education software but not the current situation we have now. Personally I did not know any education software which could make people feel like learning with real human. Maybe you could give me an example? Actually what I am thinking is:
      What is the difference between human teacher and education software;
      Does those difference really matter during the educating process. Or let’s say, does those difference are negligible.
      Also, as you mentioned the cost of the software, the design/algorithm is not gonna be cheap if you really want a better human-like software or you expect better performance from the software. If it is very expensive to have a human-like software that could replace real human teacher, why not just hire human teacher then? But that is another aspect for this topic. It is about how to decide the marketing positioning.

    • Lichen already replied last week, but I’d like to add my own views to it.
      Definitely we have to take the target audience into account, but I don’t necessarily agree that a “computer teacher” works better for novices. Of course the approach should be different:
      For beginning musicians, the computer needs to give general feedback without taking the smaller nuances into account and that could be done. On the other hand they need more guidance, especially if they’re children (which is often the case for novices as Lichen pointed out). That’s a more undefined task and therefore harder for a computer to deal with.
      For more advanced musicians the feedback needs to be more specific, but that’s ok if we also make the exercises more specific. For example when a student wants to work on his timing, like a guitar player who wants to improve the consistency of his alternate picking technique, this could be monitored by software that can give feedback about his timing with high precision.
      So I think more advanced players can still benefit if the computer program focuses on specific tasks and techniques. I’m not saying a computer is better, since a human teacher can also do these things, while above that also keeping the general progress in mind, but I believe that in some scenarios the education can be facilitated with software.

  2. Lu Hongyang says:

    I don’t think that human teacher can be replaced, or at least the computers are not developed so intelligent that it can replace human teachers.
    Computers or music educational apps are good coadjutants when people learn music. But as mentioned in the post, computers hardly meet the student’s individual needs. The most significant obstacle of developing these kinds of softwares is the interaction between the users and softwares. An easier, more precise and more free interaction can result in a better educational software.

    • lichenzha says:

      Thanks for your comment! I do think computers could handle a lot calculations/delectations/analyzations better than human. But the issue is: How to deal with the non-technique parts, mostly the emotion. The emotion could be the encourage from the teacher, or the music feeling if you only take this issue on music. Indeed, there are a thousand hamlets in a thousand people’s eyes. People’s needs from teacher in educating process is always different. And to find a software perfectly suits every learner is impossible. The only question is: Does those difference between the different learners could be roughly solved by one solution(software algorithm).

  3. Good post. Being a guitar player myself for over 10 years now, i think these new tools can be a great asset to the existing ways of teaching how to play an instrument. I have had several teachers before. I am not convinced that at the current state that applications like Rocksmith or the project you are working on can be a replacement for a human reacher. But for people who want to learn an instrument at their own pace, this gives them the freedom to practice what they want, when they want and at a fraction of the cost of a real teacher (trust me, i know how expensive these can be).

    This has the potential to make the ‘self learning’ of instruments a lot more effective and efficient. I’m looking forward to hear more of your progress!

  4. Pingback: Interview with Peter Breugelmans – Part 1 | virtualmusicteacher

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