U of A researcher's new app will help guitarists stay in tune

University of Alberta researcher Greg Burlet has developed software that listens to a guitar being played and then generates sheet music based on the audio recording.

Transcription program helps performers determine the best way to play their six-string

University of Alberta researcher Greg Burlet has developed software that listens to a guitar being played and then generates sheet music based on the audio recording. 5:45

In the not-too-distant future man and machine will make beautiful music together.

University of Alberta researcher Greg Burlet has developed software that listens to a guitar being played and then generates sheet music based on the audio recording.

The program not only helps composers transcribe their work, it also helps performers by determining the most efficient way for a guitarist to play and select the best chords.

The app, called Frettable, is still in development, but is expected to be released by March 2016.

Burlet, a computing science masters graduate, started his transcription program following a frustrating jam session.

"It's a really difficult problem, which I soon found out. I've been working on this for four of five years now."

Studying computing science by day, Burlet would often collaborate with his bandmate Dan Armbruster to write songs. But that became difficult when Armbruster relocated to Vancouver.

"I was composing a whole bunch of music and forgetting completely what I wrote, and trying to convey to a guitarist, over email, what I had actually played. So we would send audio files to each other and that obviously didn't work that well. "

The software, similar to voice-recognition systems such as Siri, listens to a single sound and works to determine what's being played.

According to Burlet the code processes music much like the human brain, but requires more training.

"It actually constructs a digital representation of a whole bunch of neurons firing in our brain. But you can think of this 'brain' as being really stupid and really naive about the world. It has no idea what guitar chords are."

In order to "teach" the software how to process guitar chords, Burlet turned to his personal music collection.

"You present a whole bunch of music to it, so I fed it Nirvana, Radiohead, Led Zeppelin, a whole bunch of Beatles songs  . . . and eventually it could figure out what chords are, what pitches are, what are notes are."

As for his band, Burlet still plays, but admits his obsession with artificial intelligence really strikes the right chord.