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Show HN: HTML5 guitar lessons with pitch detection (getinstinct.com)
218 points by b1ake on June 30, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 59 comments

We first launched here on HN 1.5 years ago, and we're pretty excited to share v2.

Our goal with Instinct is to add deep interactivity to any music lesson. We think that one day, every lesson on YouTube might have pitch detection, scrolling notation, a scoring system and personalized feedback.

This v2 is a big first step in that direction. We've teamed up with a bunch of online teachers to create fully interactive video courses, as a way of showing what's possible with the tech.

There's much more to do though! At this stage, we're looking for as much input as possible from users and teachers.

I bought a guitar 3 years ago and I've tried to learn it on and off but never really went past the c chord because I always lose interest.

I just finished my first lesson and this is superb for me. I love the scoring system which motivates me to try and do better each time and just the ease and simplicity with which I can immerse myself into learning it at my own pace.

Just a minor thing that confused me was that the music tab layout(maybe that's the standard) is different from the layout of the strings in the animation (which is the same as my guitar). I think both should be the same as the guitar.

I haven't tried Instinct, but having learned guitar off and on many years ago, the biggest 'leap' I made between knowing a few chords, and a few riffs, and actually learning enough to pick up a guitar at a party without embarrassing myself occurred when I started learning full-length songs.

There are a plethora of very simple songs that are super easy to play, and if you learn some that people might like singing along to (even guiltily, like "Bon Jovi's Wanted Dead or Alive"), you'll likely bound ahead in skill by a lot.

To that effect, I'd recommend hitting up YouTube for an instructor like Marty Schwartz (user 'martyzsongs') and finding some of his easy tutorials, then learning a few songs to string together. Get 15-20 of those easy songs under your belt, and everything starts getting a lot easier from there.


the biggest 'leap' I made between knowing a few chords, and a few riffs, and actually learning enough to pick up a guitar at a party without embarrassing myself occurred when I started learning full-length songs.

I am in the middle of that journey myself. I bought a guitar a little over ten years ago, got some starter pointers from a passing acquaintance, then spent ten years picking up the guitar every few months, pounding out some open chords reading tabs, and not progressing at all. Bought various software to help (guitar pro, rocksmith) which is good software, but doesn't correct bad habits.

Finally I got tired of just being shit and went to a teacher. Almost every lesson he's correcting a bad habit or providing insight into what I personally am doing incorrectly, and the practice I'm am given each fortnight relates to improving those specific weaknesses. Rocksmith is a hell of a lot of fun, but it's also quite sloppy in what it expects and you can get away with horrible habits (despite this, it's a very impressive bit of software). Guitar Pro is good for isolating the track you want to play in a popular song and repeating things to get the timing right. But for me, personally, it's a meatspace teacher that is making the difference. A teacher isn't cheap - one lesson is roughly the same as the software above - but I can see which of my skills are progressing and by how much.

The journey is interesting. I'm smart, but have no penchant for applying elbow grease. I'm used to picking things up quickly... and the skills in playing a musical instrument well can't be gained in a short time - you have to put in the hours. It's also interesting that the more I learn about the instrument, the further away the target of 'doesn't suck' seems to get :)

Grats on the progress. I know how painful the journey can be, especially when you feel like you're only so far away from being able to do so much more.

I'm kind of in the same boat, which is that I generally learn things quickly, but the hand-eye coordination aspect of guitar has proven to be a whole new degree of difficulty. It's not surprising when you think about it, but at the same time, watching somebody play something that looks easy and then being unable to replicated it is a nightmare. It took a long time to learn that their ease is simply indicative of the talent they possess, and not as much my lack thereof.

As pertaining bad habits, I've found that a lot of them are self-correcting as you add more songs to your repertoire. I originally learned to cheat the A chord (barring it with two fingers, instead of either barring the three notes with one, or fingering the three notes with three fingers) because my early training hadn't built up the finger strength to do otherwise, but trying to learn Jane's Addictions "Jane Says" made that an untenable situation, and forced me to learn it the right way.

That's no indictment of an instructor, mind you... I've used them, and they're invaluable, especially in their ability to craft exercises that correct bad habits, or help to improve on your weak areas -- you'll never get that out of a YouTube video... but I think that the defining factor between feeling crappy and feeling like you're making progress is good, constructive practice. Practicing the same three songs over and over again will of course be beneficial, but not nearly as beneficial as practicing a different three songs each week, and/or progressively learning new techniques.

+1 for sticking with it.

I've been using Rocksmith. I think it only lets you get away with bad habits as long as you are comfortable with whatever rating it gives you. I know I was stuck in terms of progress until I learned proper technique elsewhere, then I could do the fast and difficult passages and getting 100%s on more songs. I learned those proper techniques off YouTube, but am also thinking of getting a proper teacher.

Have you ever heard of Rocksmith?

Awesome, so glad that your first lesson was a good experience!

Yeah I agree about the layout of strings in tab notation being confusing as a new guitarist. We wanted to default to the standard layout for tab, but then it gets a little confusing because it's different than the guitar layout below.

One trick with Instinct is that you can flip the notation by clicking on the string names along the left side of the tab.

In the future, we also want to give you the option to flip the guitar, but so far we've only implemented that in our pro courses (i.e. the courses that have pictures of real teachers on them).

"Just a minor thing that confused me was that the music tab layout(maybe that's the standard) is different from the layout of the strings in the animation (which is the same as my guitar). I think both should be the same as the guitar."

I agree. Tabs are normally an inversion of the guitar, or more accurately, how you view the strings when looking down at the guitar in your lap (high string is on the "top" of the neck, low string on the "bottom" of the neck)

i also found the left handed guitar player a little weird :)

Please add the function to see music sheet alongside guitar tab. It will be a great help for any serious guitar learner.

I've been learning guitar for about 5 years now and would consider myself a serious guitar learner (i.e. I could happily play all day given the time). As a reformed sheet music reader during my saxophone playing youth, I would disagree with the idea that serious players should learn to read music, at least not at first. Serious learners should work on the most important part of any instrument: their ears. I don't read sheet music or tabs on guitar, and while I'm not Slash or BB King, I am confident that I could learn either of their songs by ear without too much trouble. I might never get fully up to speed on a Slash solo, or have the nuance of BB King, but reading music won't teach you either of those anyway. I'd suggest getting a program that can slow down music without changing pitch, I personally use Transcribe and am reasonably happy with it, and try learning one of your favorite songs by ear.

It will be painful at first if you don't naturally have good ears, it was painful for me (which is why I avoided doing so on saxophone), but the payoff is huge. It changes you as a musician. I've heard songs on the radio where I knew the chord progression and thus knew how to play the song before even picking up the guitar, that is pretty cool. I might come up with a bit of a song in the shower or in the car and when I sit down at the guitar and figure it out. Neither of these would be possible if I hadn't put in the hours listening to bits of songs again and again.

At the same time, if you are a beginner or intermediate player, I'd recommend justinguitar.com to get started. His youtube channel is extensive, and he and Marty Schwartz were my two main guitar teachers.

Also, I've met people who have played guitar for some time but cannot play bar chords. This simply shouldn't happen. There will be a song you want to play where you will need a bar chord, and you will either have to learn how to play bar chords or learn a way to "cheat" on that particular chord. Bar chords are awesome, piano players would kill to have a movable shape that makes transcription trivial (they'd also kill for a capo). They are well worth the initial effort and once you can finally play them you'll realize that they aren't that hard.

Sheet music is important because it allows someone to play music they have never heard. It is also important in providing the context for music even after you have heard it. That is to say, many musicians play other than what is written (Julian Bream), and music on paper contains more information (regarding intent) than sound. The latter is particularly true for the guitar where some notes can be played on every string. Music, once performed, is limiting- it has already been interpreted. I'd expect most musicians have a better shot at a good interpretation reading rather than copying (playing by ear). At any rate, you are describing the Suzuki Method (I've never seen this outside of the Violin) which to the best of my knowledge is at best simply a different teaching method - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzuki_method#Criticism_and_res....

Both of my kids went through Suzuki string programs. I'll admit that I was skeptical due to some of the criticisms noted in your link. I learned according to what my teachers called the "European" method that focused on reading from the very first note.

However, what I've observed is that most American teachers don't adhere strictly to Suzuki's methods. Within the space of no more than a couple years, most kids are reading, and using repertoire from outside of the "official" Suzuki books. In other words they're sight-reading by age 10.

Both of my kids now read quite well, but they also pick things up by ear easily, for instance fiddle tunes or even popular music.

Now, I follow web forums for bassists, and the issue of reading is phenomenally divisive. As I understand it, most guitarists and electric bassists learn to play without reading standard music notation, and there is relatively little written literature available for popular music genres. A fair number of transcribed bass parts from recordings circulate in tabulature format.

There is somewhat of a division in the music world depending on reading skill, but plenty of enjoyment to be had on either side. I happen to be both a fluent sight-reader and good ear player, but I'm lucky to play in situations that exercise both of those skills regularly.

I'm guessing you are coming from a classical music background where if you can read the music you can pretty much play the tune. I tried applying this method to jazz and it was a complete disaster. I could happily play transcriptions of all of my favorite artists, but the second you took away the magic book with the black dots I was helpless and couldn't make my own music.

If what you want out of music is to press the correct keys in the correct order then reading music will get you a long way. But if you are leaning more towards jazz or pop and making your own music then reading can be a horrible crutch. And the better you are at reading music the more you will rely on it and you rob yourself of developing a functional ear.

And what happens when you fall in love with an obscure indie artist where no transcriptions exist?

Concerning which string on a guitar is used, you can often tell by the tone of the note. Even with muted strings that give a percussive "pluck" you can often tell which note was fretted. For the most part if you are familiar with the style of music you can make very good guesses as to where on the guitar something was played, and if you cannot tell the difference then I would argue that it doesn't really matter.

Finally, out of the long list of musicians I admire in jazz, blues, and pop, I cannot think of one example where they admit they cannot play by ear. In the subset that teach I cannot think of one example where they do not strongly suggest learning music by ear.

Great point, totally agree.

I got a acoustic guitar for birthday and from since I've sat hours before Youtube videos and tried to learn it. It has been a bumpy ride and I've merely learned anything. Mainly because it's hard to learn from the people who are already good players. They play fast and keeping track with them using YouTube video player is really annoying.

Today I found GetInstinct and tried it out for like 30 minutes. I feel I've accomplished something and what is more important for me, I feel I've learned something.

It's easy, understandable and really enjoyable.

You'll make dozens (if not millions) of people enjoy playing guitar and hopefully other instruments. Keep up the good work!

Is testimonial writing your profession? But, seriously, this is a pretty nifty app.

Heh, no. I'm a professional programmer (go figure...)

You should go to a music school, thats what I did and in 5 months I'm playing pretty decent (I'm a professional programmer too).

> Sorry, Flash isn't playing nice with your browser. Try refreshing or use another browser.

HTML5 indeed. Though I suppose taken literally the title doesn't claim html5 for the pitch detection part.

Yeah the core of the pitch detection is in Flash, so that it can work in browsers that don't yet support HTML5 audio, such as Safari, and in older browsers. But where possible, we do grab the audio and do some of the signal processing using HTML5. Also, all of the UI is HTML5 and JS.

To be pedantic Flash is included in the HTML 5 spec via the object tag.

Flash is embedded into HTML via <object>, but that has nothing to do with the HTML5 spec. Flash is not part of the Web Platfrom or HTML5.

I've just been watching this IO talk on WebRTC, so it's certainly possible in Chrome and Firefox. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMH1vM-dSc0

It actually does use WebRTC in Chrome. It falls back to Flash in FF right now.

Why? Firefox has had WebRTC support for a while.

Edit: Ok I see below you want Firefox to give you access to the users microphone without asking permission.

Firefox 30, Shockwave Flash 11.2 r202 enabled, Ubuntu 14.10 - I see the flash dialog, but am unable to allow access to my microphone.

Why not use getUserMedia({audio:true}) instead?

I second that. Flash does not work well for me, a fully functional HTML5 version would totally get my money.

Yeah we like HTML5 / WebRTC a lot better too. In Chrome, Instinct actually uses WebRTC instead of flash to access the mic.

We had a few issues with Firefox WebRTC though, still trying to work through those.

Would you mind telling me your issues? I'm a Firefox dev, working on getUserMedia/Web audio api. I'm sure we can fix them so that Firefox users can enjoy your app without flash as well. I'm padenot at mozilla dot com, or padenot on Twitter.

Great app anyhow!

Hey, thx for writing! So the Firefox issue is that the browser asks for microphone approval on every lesson, which can get a little annoying as a user. Is there a way to get Firefox to ask only once and remember what the user chooses?

To see what happens, try a few lessons in real guitar mode on our staging box. This box allows getUserMedia() even for FF:


(also just a heads up that our staging box is small, so if a lot of people hit it, it might get slow)

So, this is known, and tracked in our bug tracker [1]. In the meantime, you can ask your users to use the drop-down in the doorhanger (the little panel that come down), they can whitelist your site this way (it says: "always share with this website" or something).

As you see in the bug (and in a duplicate [2]), this behaviour may change in the future. As you can understand, this need to be changed with care, it's rather easy to screw up, and could have serious privacy implication for our users (of course, your use case it absolutly legit, but websites get hacked, and some website are clearly malicious).

In general, if you want to talk to the team because you suspect a bug in Firefox, or anything, really, come in #media on irc.mozilla.org, or come and talk to us on the dev-media mailing list [3]. We don't bite, and love to hear about the crazy stuff people make with our APIs :-).

Keep up the good work !

[1]: https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=819413

[2]: https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=893945

[3]: https://lists.mozilla.org/listinfo/dev-media

Not sure how closely you pay attention to what fingerings are shown, but on this lesson: https://getinstinct.com/courses/intro-to-guitar/low-strings/...

I noticed the last 4 notes are fingered 2-1-1-open, which has a slide on the first finger. Probably better to not encourage sliding on first finger unless needed. I wonder if other lessons might have less than optimal fingerings shown?

edit: but, very cool! :)

Any plans for other instruments? Would be really interested in a piano version

Yeah I'd love for us to make a piano version too. We haven't started it yet, but maybe it's percolating - I've been spending a ton of time on the piano lately. :)

I would be really, really happy if you can get a piano version out soon. :)

Kickstarter... here you come... :)

Have you heard of Synthesia?[1]

Works with any (most?) midi keyboards. I use it with an M-Audio ProKeys 88 (weighted keys). It's an awesome program. You can load any .mid file in to it and select the instruments you want to play on keys, and have it display the sheet music along with the note cascade.

I cannot recommend this program enough, and the learning method in general. Synthesia and YouTube videos have been my sole learning method / teaching aid, and in the past 18 months I've learned to play a handful of short pieces well enough to put a huge grin on my face.

1. http://www.synthesiagame.com/

(Edit: speeling and gramma)

Really great - played first lesson. Second lesson crashed on https://getinstinct.com/courses/intro-to-guitar/amazing-grac... before I could play along with the review of part-1.

Would like regular music notation as I already know that. Also it's a bit quiet, would love to have a voice guide rather than just reading the prompts.

One slight problem is that on parts where the section to play starts on the same note as the end, and uses an open string, the sustained note of the string automatically skips the first note of the repeat playthrough. Perhaps the algo needs to look for an amplitude peak at the start of the students playthrough to avoid this?

Incidentally the tuner is better than any of the simple tuners I've used on Android, haven't tried it on my phone however. It coped with my children talking over it and still helped me tune very quickly.

Great points, and thanks so much for the kind words about the tuner.

Agree that sheet music would be great, and also that the lessons do feel a little quiet / less lively than they could. Your voiceover idea is really cool. We've also thought about adding backing tracks as another way to increase the energy level.

We've also run into that wraparound issue you describe, where a section that starts and ends with the same note can cause an issue when you get to the end and sustain the note. I think you're right about the solution, i.e. better attack detection by looking at the amplitude of the signal.

I'm sure it's on your list of possible future enhancements but I'd be interested in a Ukulele version.

Now I've done 4 full lessons and some riffs - I'm finding the scrolling on the tab a bit hard to follow, TBH I think it would be fine if it were a bit more compressed (so less scrolling were needed) and also possibly you could but a visual break [like a coloured vertical bar or similar] so that the eye can more easily pick out the move? Happy to give further feedback, I'm pbhj on your system.

Sure, please do keep the feedback coming. You can message us thru the site when logged in (we use Intercom for this) or email us at hello@getinstinct.com .

How do you even play the demo? I move my mouse and the hand moves with it, and it tells me to play the string, but I click, hold, press buttons, the hand just moves and nothing happens... A help screen would be very beneficial...

Ah in demo mode, just move the mouse over the highlighted strings at the bottom and they will play. No need to click or anything.

Did that, nothing happened. Just air guitar like a gangsta.

Haha, sorry about that, probably a bug.

If you don't mind sending us OS / browser / version + the lesson you played, we can try to debug. Our email is hello@getinstinct.com.

Pretty neat! I plugged in my rocksmith cable and it just works. One thing though, it needs some kind of calibration. The tiniest bit of string noise and the lessons shoot off without me, even when I have my strings muted.

Yes it does work with the Rocksmith cable and we've seen a bunch of users discovering that. As you point out, pitch detection can be a little sensitive with that cable (depending on the guitar), and you're right that we could / should do some calibrating to improve it.

Wow, really impressive. I tried the first Jazz lesson, completed it, was prompted to register, happily signed up and I'm very excited about the other lessons!

Ha, time to dust up my guitar. I've always wanted to learn but know nothing of musical notation. This should give me another excuse get back to learning

Wow, I love this. Played around with it this morning and works surprisingly well. Great idea and great execution, wish you all the best.

Looks great. Can't wait to try it after work!

This is pretty awesome. Nice work! I've been playing for 30 years but I am eager to try it out and learn some new stuff :).

Any ukulele lessons coming up? :D

Haha - Actually, we've thought about it multiple times. With the right teacher, it wouldn't be that hard!

+1 for the Uke.

Nice stuff, Blake.

I wish you a resounding success, thank you for making more art and artists in the world.

easydrum[1] is a similar student project dedicated to drums. As far as I know it uses MIDI and the flash plugin to connect to electronic drums.

[1] http://easydrum.binsofrei.at/

any chance you have ukulele coming up next? :)

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