Learning to play any instrument isn’t just about correctly following every last note on a sheet of music. Being expressive, and imaginative, is just as important to learn. That’s what led MIT’s Xiao Xiao and Hiroshi Ishii to develop Andante, which adds lively animated figures to a self-playing piano.

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Will it help develop the fundamental skills needed to be a great pianist one day? Possibly. The characters could certainly guide novices and reveal what key needs to be played next. And, as explained in a research paper, the movements of the characters can help children to better understand the rhythm of a piece based on the gait of the walking, running, or leaping characters.

Andante was brought to life using a projector pointed at a screen just above a piano’s keys, and hand-drawn animations triggered via a MIDI system from a previously recorded performance. But its creators are developing a new approach where the figures, and their motions, are automatically generated based on what’s currently being played.

Suddenly a night at a seedy piano bar doesn’t seem as unappealing.

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[MIT Media Lab Tangible Media Group via Boing Boing]