September 16, 2011 at 2:48 pm

Tonara for iPad Makes Music Scores Smarter, Page-Turners Obsolete

tonara ipadAnyone who has ever turned pages for a classical musician will recognize the value of the Tonara iPad app, which aims to give sheet music its own smarts so it knows when to turn the page on its own, based on what the musician is playing.

Using polyphonic pitch detection — something computers have only recently figured out how to do — a cursor follows the notes along as they are played, regardless of tempo, using the iPad 2′s microphone. According to what Tonara founder and CEO Yair Levy told, it can even work with multiple instruments playing at the same time. (Levy quit a physics PhD program in order to start the company.)

The Tonara app is free; each song costs between $1 and $4 depending on its length and complexity. Classical music, whose practitioners typically carry around heavy musical scores, are an obvious target audience for an app like this. However, Levy said pop music could soon find its way into the app too.

“Currently we have a couple hundred classical pieces, and we are in rough negotiations with the publishers of popular music,” explained Levy. “In a couple of months, we hope to get thousands of popular songs like Beyonce and Bruno Mars, because this can [also work with] vocals.”

The iPad is already transforming the way people read music, and coupling the score with the microphone, the way Tonara does, evolves it far beyond its paper counterpart — and, some would say, it’s about time.

I’d never trade in memories of turning pages for my father, but I slipped up plenty of times back in the old days, causing him to scramble to turn the page himself while playing. Human error is a normal part of the page-turning equation — but not, it appears, with Tonara.

San Francisco-based violinist Matthias McIntire, who demonstrated Tonara for TechCrunch Disrupt attendees, told us the app makes a lot of sense from his perspective.

“As a musician, this software is really amazing, what it does,” explained McIntire. “I’ve had so many page-turning fiascos on-stage — you turn too many, there’s not enough time, the music has ended up on the floor — and I don’t need to worry about any of that anymore.”

We witnessed him demonstrate Tonara with his violin, and it worked flawlessly, even on the noisy TechCrunch show floor, amidst thousands of over-caffeinated conversations about monetization. Listen here, as Tonara’s smart cursor follows McIntire’s every note, turning the page at the right time:

Matthew McIntire demonstrates Tonara at TechCrunch Disrupt