Warning to pianists: Artificial Intelligence can play just like you

Warning to pianists: Artificial Intelligence can play just like you


norman lebrecht

February 25, 2021

Massive Technologies in Canada has issued a video of AI simulating a pianist’s hands while playing a pre-recorded track.

It’s alarming.




  • A.L. says:

    What could go wrong? The future is here. A.I. will make the unemployment caused by the pandemic a mere hiccup. On the upside, maybe great (synthetic) voices will emerge, especially ones that can once again sing Wagner.

  • Roman says:

    Doesn’t impress me much, to be honest. It is quite easy to understand what notes are being played and animate character accordingly, it doesn’t even require AI. What it is really this render lacking is correct touch of keys. The render plays everything very flat, while the music if full of impression. You just cannot achieve that sound with such hands movement.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      You’re absolutely right, Roman.

    • kuma says:

      I agree. Interesting to hear what we get if input was Richter’s Etudes.

    • John Borstlap says:

      “It is quite easy to understand what notes are being played and animate character accordingly, it doesn’t even require AI.” There are already quite some pianists who imitate AI instead of the other way around.

      Incredible that there are still people who prefer the imitation to the original, and the fake to the real. It is a form of escapism and misunderstood ‘modernity’.

  • A.L. says:

    And no need to mention cost effectiveness. But, expensively-trained musicians, Costco will be hiring. Oh wait, those jobs are going automatic, too.

  • Violin accordion says:


  • DAVID says:

    This really doesn’t say much, except that we now have robots which can physically perform the gestures of a live human. The real interesting thing would be to see whether we can have a robot that can both read a score and perform it in an interesting manner. And that will never happen, because artificial intelligence, in many ways, is fated to remain fundamentally dumb. The main reason for this is that it can never relate to the world the same way a human can, it can never properly encounter the world, in the Heideggerian sense. It may well be able to learn, but there’s much more involved in musical interpretation than just learning. That’s the reason why, in the few seconds or so that we see Krystian Zimmerman play in this excerpt, he immediately stands out as an immense pianist and musician. Unless the next generation is happy going to performances offering the same level of depth and insight as a MIDI file, this really says nothing, except for our dumb obsession with technological feats and our misguided perception of what perfection might be.

    • “that will never happen, because…”

      Now, there’s a statement that has a long history of turning out to be wrong…

      • DAVID says:

        You are confusing the realm of technology with that of art, which has nothing to do and will never have anything to do with technology. This is why I stand behind my statement. I am assuming your argument is that many of today’s technological advances had been deemed impossible in prior generations and proven wrong. However, you might be missing the point, which is that a machine, in its very essence, can never understand, relate, and interpret the world the way a human being can, and that’s because a machine literally is worldless. To have a world, you need to be able to act within it, be affected by it, and most importantly be aware of how you are being affected by it, although such awareness is never complete. These are the reasons why a machine will never be able to pick up a score, read it, learn it, interpret it, and then play it in a meaningful manner each time, as well as slightly differently each time. I’m sure we are going to see mind-boggling technological advances in the near future, but I’m not expecting an interesting reading of Beethoven sonatas by artificial intelligence anytime soon.

        • Terence says:

          The time will come soon enough when you won’t be able to tell the difference just by listening.

          Blind – better yet, double blind – tests have proven that we imagine differences which aren’t there in many areas, to the fury of wine buffs among others.

          AI can already be programmed with fuzzy logic to not repeat the same task exactly.

          Why worry? I enjoy playing and don’t give a damn if a machine can play better. They are already stronger and faster.

          • John Borstlap says:

            ‘Better’ is not the same as ‘stronger and faster’. The whole comment is, with due respect, of a bottomless stupidity.

        • Miguel Domingos says:

          Just wait and you will be seeing a different nwrqttive unfold

        • CV says:

          We teach sometimes stupid people to learn to play, so… we can teach also robots…
          ones a successful methodology was being used on people … anyway human world becomes robotic.

    • John Borstlap says:


      Whatever technical feats AI will be able to deliver, it will always remain a machine. And machines don’t think, don’t live, don’t feel, and have no consciousness.

  • sam says:

    One day, AI will take over this site, there will be an AI “sam”, who, after analyzing all my prior posts, will reproduce exactly the same kinds of comments in the same voice.

    Proof: this was written by my program.

      • John Borstlap says:

        What people don’t know, is that the SD website is created by AI because Norman is much too busy to keep an eye on it. I’ve seen it myself when I came to complain about something. Also, I’m myself an AI, it seems, since I’m scolded often for exercizing merely artifical intelligence and not a real one. I don’t quite understand it, but you can feel the contempt. Maybe it’s because I yell ‘ai!’ when discovering a mistyping in the letters.


  • Fred Funk says:

    Gotta wonder how artificial intelligence will simulate the brain of a viola player…..

  • just another person says:

    Don’t we alreadhy have plenty of humans who play like robots…?

  • MusicBear88 says:

    Some years ago a piece of software was developed that could write a piece of music that was a reasonable approximation of a Bach two-part invention, at least contrapuntally speaking. Some famous musician was asked what he thought about it and said “call me back when it writes St Matthew Passion.”

    • John Borstlap says:

      in 2016 a Moscovite software programme wrote a ‘Passion according to St Hilarius’ the result of which fully met the requirements of the subject.

  • Brettermeier says:

    “Artificial Intelligence can play just like you”

    That bad, hm?

  • SVM says:

    At its current level, it is difficult to see any point in this, beyond making animated films (but part of the aesthetic of animated films is that they are *not* trying to be indistinguishable from the real thing) and possibly some rudimentary pedagogical resources for hand position. If we have the sound of a real human performer, why would anybody be interested in seeing a superimposed fake video trying to resemble the performer? Surely, audio-only would be better in those circumstances.

  • buxtehude says:

    Very highly spooky indeed, because this is only a hint of the beginning.

    I agree with Roman’s comment on touch, and David on spirit, but these will soon enough become spoofable to fine degrees and subject to human touch only for a final pat or two, and by very few humans as well, seated at a console of trackwheels, buttons and knobs.

    This will allow one or two people to do the work of hundreds. There will still be musicians who persist in penetrating into this empty space, because they cannot do otherwise, and any genius who might emerge can be thrown into the mix and serve as one of the fresher templates as well; she will soon be competing against herself!

    Bear in mind too that it is the rare audience member who will have the discernment of the musicians commenting here, who will be able to hear, or sense, or imagine the difference.

    If you don’t believe me look at film, which would seem immune from this march of the robots. Digital editing has taken over much of the work once required of lighting crews, set builders, and the whole feather-bedded crowd required to set up on location, since locations, real or artificial, can be shot MOS by a couple of people and laid into the background with a few keystrokes. Red Square? Shakespeare’s London? Lava flowing through the streets of San Francisco? High-schoolers will be doing this in their bedroom at home.

    Backgrounds, which look and act as if three-dimensional, can be fashioned from one or two stills.

    You’ve heard of the “de-aging” of stars in recent features? It won’t be long before the templates of known actors will be “acting” in new productions, and new stars fashioned from 1s and 0s.

    You’ll need a script of course, but AI comes in here too, doesn’t it? What’s really needed is not so much an editor and a supervisor, but a supervisor of the supervisors and of course a promotion budget.

    How to stand upright in the winds the winds that will blow then? I offer Buxtehude’s guaranteed and bullet-proof method for ending up with a million bucks on the stock market: start with two million.

    Then again the future’s not ours to see. Something just might pull a rabbit out of the hat, brexit for example . . .

    • John Borstlap says:

      The problem is the erosion of the sense of the real.

      This is a result of a movement in thinking that began with the industrial revolution – subjecting and exploiting nature and the human being – and will end with the Fall of the West if not stopped.

  • Sol Siegel says:

    There was a device just like that 100 years ago: Piano rolls.