March 22, 2023
Imagine sitting in front of a piano and being able to perform like an accomplished pianist. It may sound like a dream for most, but this is the experience made possible by the Daredemo Piano (Auto-Accompanied Piano). All it takes is one finger to play the melody, and the piano follows along with its auto accompaniment and pedal movement, giving anyone a chance to discover the joys of playing music.
This is #2 of a three-part series.
Daredemo Piano was born in 2015 through a collaboration project between Yamaha and the Inclusive Arts Research Group, based in Tokyo University of the Arts’ COI Site. It was initially developed by building on the auto accompaniment technology of Yamaha Disklavier™ piano. Users now have the option to play Daredemo Piano by using Disklavier’s built-in functions or by connecting it to an app that uses AI technology to produce an even smoother performance.
No matter how much time it takes a player to find the notes, Daredemo Piano is there to catch them, enhancing their performance with its auto accompaniment. It was named Daredemo Piano — meaning “the piano anyone can play” in Japanese — to reflect the fact that it allows every user to enjoy performing at their own pace.
The Dream That Pointed the Way
The inspiration for Daredemo Piano came from one high school student. She has a disability which means she is unable to move most of her body, but she dreamed of playing Chopin on the piano. Touched by the girl’s passion, researchers at the Tokyo University of Arts reached out to Yamaha for technological assistance. This is how the collaborative project began.
Motoichi Tamura, who was involved in the planning, development, and research of Daredemo Piano, explains, “One finger was all she could use to play the piano, but her mind was always filled with the music of Chopin. At the time, she would practice playing her favorite Nocturne by having her music teacher cover the parts that she couldn’t play. Her ultimate dream, however, was to be able to perform the piece by herself.”
Inspired by the student’s determination, the Yamaha team collaborated with the Tokyo University of the Arts to develop a prototype of Daredemo Piano. They aimed to finish it in three months to make it in time for a concert she would be performing in. Because they were building on the existing technology of Yamaha Disklavier Piano, the technical aspects of the auto accompaniment — controlling the movement of the keys and pedals — were not complicated to develop. The biggest challenge, according to Tamura, was rewriting the musical data specifically for a “one-finger performance.”
“We had to work out a way to compensate for the fact that she cannot use the sustain pedal,” Tamura recalls. In “Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2.,” the piece in question, the melody starts out in legato, which means the notes are meant to be played smoothly and without interruption. On the piano, legato is typically achieved by keeping your finger on a note while you use another finger to play the next note. Because the student could only use one finger to play, the team had to rewrite the auto accompaniment data in a way that would make her notes sound connected. This meant triggering the pedal in parts of the piece that do not usually involve the pedal. Driven by the determination to maintain the characteristic mood of the piece, the team was committed to finding the optimal timing and pedal movements that would result in natural legato sounds.
Members of the team visited the student numerous times to observe her performance. They would create a prototype of the piano based on their findings, then have it delivered to her school for her to play. Any issues would then be addressed in the development of the next prototype. Three months and several prototypes later, the student successfully delivered her piano performance on stage.
Since then, Yamaha has continued to work with the Tokyo University of the Arts to expand the use of Disklavier technology, adding improvements and new functions to cater to various scenarios. Current initiatives include conducting workshops and events for people to experience the Daredemo Piano, as well as cooperating with medical institutions to quantify the benefits of playing the instrument.
An Engaging Piano for Everyone Regardless of Skill
Although Daredemo Piano was born to fulfill the dream of a student with special needs, Tamura emphasizes that the instrument is not exclusively for people with disabilities.
At events and workshops, a wide range of players enjoy performing the Daredemo Piano. “The key aspect of Daredemo Piano is that really anyone can play it,” says Tamura. “A lot of people want to learn to play the piano but assume it’s too difficult for them. That feeling has nothing to do with age, gender, or disability.” One example of a user who was transformed by the Daredemo Piano is an elderly man with no prior experience with music. After several months of practicing, he mastered the right-hand part of Beethoven’s “Für Elise” and even went on to perform confidently in front of an audience with the Daredemo Piano there to support him with the left-hand parts.
“It’s a common belief that the piano requires a lot of time and discipline to learn,” says Tamura. “I’m sure that when many people see a street piano, they’re curious about what it would feel like to play, but they are too afraid to try. Even those who have learned the piano will shy away because of the fear of judgment. I think the experience of performing the piano would be much less frightening if you knew you could have fun with it using just one finger.” There is no doubt that the Daredemo Piano has the power to eliminate people’s emotional barriers to playing the piano.
For Tamura himself, music has always been a part of life. He attended Yamaha music lessons from a young age and continued to enjoy playing music throughout his student life, experimenting with various genres such as classical music and rock. Although he played the organ and Electone in his childhood, Tamura says he gradually distanced himself from keyboard instruments as time passed by. “I had become insecure about playing the piano, but that was what made this project so relatable for me,” he says. The idea of a piano that could support his playing was what strengthened Tamura’s motivation to create the Daredemo Piano.
Toward a “Legato Society” Assisted by Musical Instruments
What would the world look like if more people could enjoy performing and expressing themselves through music?
In the medical and nursing fields, it is speculated that there is a correlation between playing an instrument and benefits such as decreased risk of dementia. However, Tamura points out that “knowing the medical benefits alone can’t help you if you don’t know how to play an instrument.” For many people, the means to the goal is out of reach.
“That’s why it’s so meaningful to have an instrument that helps people to play,” Tamura continues. “We’re currently in the process of assessing the effects that Daredemo Piano can have on medical patients.”
Another benefit that one can expect from performing an instrument is developing a deeper connection with music. “There’s a big difference between listening to music and performing it,” Tamura says. “You can only understand what it feels like to play an instrument by trying it yourself. Even a brief experience can open your eyes to the true value of musical performance.” With the help of Daredemo Piano, people who have only ever walked in the shoes of a listener can now discover the joys of being on the player side.
Perhaps it could be said that while Daredemo Piano connects musical notes in a beautiful legato, it also connects people as well. It blurs the many boundaries that separate us — between performers and listeners, and between people that have disabilities and people that don’t. It offers opportunities to enrich the world with new kinds of relationships — smoothly connecting people together into a “legato society” and tightening the bonds between people and music.
So far in this three-part series, we have introduced VOCALOID, a voice synthesizing instrument that expands creators’ expressive possibilities, as well as Daredemo Piano, a universal instrument that allows anyone to enjoy playing the piano. Although they may seem different on the surface, these two instruments share the same ethos in supporting people who want to take a step forward in their self-expression. Stay tuned for the finale of this series, where we explore the Key that connects these two stories.
Tamura leads co-creation activities in the Research and Development Division. He researched Artificial Intelligence during university and joined Yamaha Corporation in 1988 with hopes of making use of his experience in playing musical instruments. Tamura developed new sound engines for digital musical instruments during his time in the R&D Division, then contributed to the international marketing of VOCALOID in the Business Development Division before returning to R&D. He has been collaborating with the COI Site of Tokyo University of the Arts since 2015, pioneering new musical experiences through the invention of instruments such as Daredemo Piano.
*Bio as of the time of the interview
Three-Part Series: Making Self-Expression Accessible for Everyone
#2 The Universal Piano that Takes Just One Finger to Play