I recently met a gentleman named Samuel Halligan, who, among other things, makes music education utilities using Max For Live. One of them is called Pop-Up Piano. If you use Max or Ableton and you could use some help learning music theory, you should go and download it immediately. It’s a Max For Live Device that you can place on any MIDI track in Ableton, or just open as a Max standalone. The concept is simple: as you play notes on a MIDI controller, the Pop Up Piano shows you their names, and notates them on the staff. You can also set a particular key and scale, and then the Pop Up Piano will show you whether the notes you’re playing fall within that scale. In the image below, I’m holding down the notes C and E-flat, the second and fourth notes in the B-flat harmonic minor scale.
Samuel made this thing to help pianists navigate the Ableton Push. But I could see this being useful for any musician. I’m going to use it in my intro-level music theory course that I’m teaching at the New School this fall. I’d be interested to hear from any theory pedagogues out there how you would structure lessons or assignments around this tool.
I’ve done some work around music theory visualization with the NYU MusEDLab. My fondest wish would be to combine the visualization scheme of the Scale Wheel, the immediacy and physical playability of the aQWERTYon, and the music-theoretic depth of the Pop-Up Piano.
In a perfect world, this combination of instrument and music-theoretic Rosetta stone would exist both as a web app and as a DAW-native plugin. Samuel is working on adding more note representations to the Pop-Up Piano, including guitar tab, so that’s awesome. What do you say, developers? Let’s make this happen!