[ Thumbnail ] Making Self-Expression Accessible for Everyone #3

Making Self-Expression Accessible for Everyone

#3 Musical Instruments That Set Your Creativity Free

March 29, 2023

Connecting with Others Through Self-Expression

Daredemo Piano allows anyone to discover the joys of performing an instrument with its auto-accompaniment technology, while VOCALOID™ synthesizes vocals to provide anyone with the tools to create songs with lyrics. Although these two musical instruments greatly differ in their characteristics and user groups, they share a common goal — to make musical self-expression accessible to as many people as possible.

You may be asking why self-expression is so important to begin with.

Dai Ichikawa, who is in charge of the marketing of VOCALOID, says self-expression through music “allows us to connect more deeply with others than through words alone.” As a DJ, Ichikawa frequently performs at events and even hosts events of his own. “I like to think that people come to see me perform because they find something in my music that they can relate to,” he says. Perhaps one of the real pleasures of expressing yourself through music is allowing it to carry your inner feelings far and wide, expanding the circle of people who resonate with who you are.

Creators who produce songs using VOCALOID certainly seem to think this way. According to Ichikawa and Yoshida, members of the team behind VOCALOID, many users write in to talk about the delight of having their work recognized. It can be fulfilling to see fans comment on your music and post covers and fan art inspired by it. Developing this deep connection with others is what motivates creators to take on the next artistic challenge. One Vocalo-P (Vocaloid producer) went as far as to say it was thanks to VOCALOID that they were able to continue making music and make new connections through their artwork.

Motoichi Tamura, who contributed to the development of Daredemo Piano, also believes that the purpose of self-expression is to feel connected with the world. “Not everyone makes music with an audience in mind, but I do think it can be extremely fulfilling to know someone is listening to your performance.” The fact that the listeners’ responses can inspire further creativity suggests that self-expression is not purely done by the individual alone. Perhaps the desire to express ourselves is rooted in a desire to connect with others.

Nursing homes that have implemented Daredemo Piano have witnessed the formation of a community surrounding the piano. “People are naturally drawn to the piano when someone is playing it. They are not necessarily talking more or working together to achieve something, but the act of gathering itself makes them feel closer to each other. I think it’s incredible that Daredemo Piano can play such a central role in creating those unspoken yet meaningful bonds.”

Greater Expressive Freedom for Music Creators

VOCALOID has not only established a new musical genre, but has also developed into a unique culture that extends beyond music. While Yoshida and his team cherish the growth of this unique culture, they also hope that moving forward, VOCALOID will be recognized more as a musical instrument so that the creators themselves can enjoy the limelight.

[ Thumbnail ] Masafumi Yoshida from Audio Contents Group, Digital Musical Instruments Development Dept.
Masafumi Yoshida from Audio Contents Group, Digital Musical Instruments Development Dept.

“When drum synthesizing technology was still new, some people would wonder every time they listen to music whether the drum sounds were synthesized or played on real drums,” Yoshida says. “Most people nowadays, though, don’t consider that as being significant. I think we’re approaching a similar era for vocals as well. People are starting to focus more on the music itself rather than whether the vocals were sung by a human or by a VOCALOID. They choose to listen to VOCALOID songs not because they were made using VOCALOID, but because they were made by talented artists.”

Yoshida wants to empower creators more by expanding the capabilities of VOCALOID as a musical instrument. For example, he hopes to provide a wider selection of voicebanks to cater to diverse musical needs, as well as develop the technology so that it can replicate human vocal expressions in ways that it still can’t. He hopes these advancements will allow VOCALOID to grow into an instrument that is used by all types of creators regardless of genre.

“Our goal is not to imitate human singers perfectly,” Yoshida says, “but we do want to provide creators with choices. Humans are capable of such a diverse range of vocal expressions, and we want to accomplish more of them on VOCALOID so that creators will see it as a trusty instrument that can meet their exact expressive needs.”

[ Thumbnail ] Dai Ichikawa from Digital Musical Instruments Strategy Planning Group, Digital Musical Instruments Division
Dai Ichikawa from Digital Musical Instruments Strategy Planning Group, Digital Musical Instruments Division

The more choices VOCALOID offers, the more freedom creators have in expressing their musical ideas. Ichikawa therefore believes that preserving the earlier voicebank options is equally as important as pushing the frontiers of the technology. “Some performers today still love to use the classic synthesizers of the 1970s,” says Ichikawa. “In the same way, the distinctive voice of Hatsune Miku, an iconic virtual singer born in 2007, may sound nostalgically appealing to those in the far future. That’s why we want to leave a range of options on the table.” Yoshida and Ichikawa both believe that their role is not to steer the future of VOCALOID music in a certain direction, but to open up the possibilities for creators to freely choose their own musical ventures.

The Untapped Potential of Musical Instruments

Tamura is also working on improving Daredemo Piano in order to widen the range of users that can benefit from it. “Different people require different forms and levels of support when they play the Daredemo Piano,” Tamura says. “We’re in the process of developing an AI system so that the piano can automatically cater to each individual player based on how they press the keys. We want to develop a system that can provide optimal support for every user, whether they are a child, an older adult, a person with a disability, or someone who has just never played an instrument before.”

[ Thumbnail ] Motoichi Tamura from the R&D Planning Group, Research and Development Division
Motoichi Tamura from the R&D Planning Group, Research and Development Division

Tamura’s main focus in doing so is ensuring each user feels engaged with just the right amount of challenge. “Playing the piano can be difficult even if you’re performing with just one finger,” he says, “but it’s the repetitive practice that gives you a sense of achievement when you finally get it right.”

The intent behind the Daredemo Piano is not to make playing the piano feel “effortless.” The system can be adjusted to any skill level so there’s always a new goal to strive for. It supports the user through every challenge, accompanying them throughout their musical journey. As long as there’s a desire to express yourself through music, the Daredemo Piano is there for you at every step.

In Tamura’s eye, musical instruments should be “a partner to enjoy music with” rather than “a tool to master.” They have the potential to be great companions, staying by the player’s side and responding to their every movement with beautiful sound. Whether you’re feeling up or feeling down, in the flow or stuck on a phrase, an instrument can be there to accept your every note and transform it into music. Responsive instruments like the Daredemo Piano, Tamura believes, could be the key to reducing isolation and loneliness. He is now engaged in a new project with the Tokyo University of the Arts to create a more inclusive world where no one feels alone.

VOCALOID helps creators shine in their own unique ways by stretching the possibilities of their musical expressions. Meanwhile, Daredemo Piano acts as a supportive partner that accompanies the player as they relish in the joy of performing music. The future envisioned by Yoshida, Ichikawa, and Tamura is one where everyone can proudly express themselves through music, producing heart-trembling moments that bring people together in harmony.

(Interview date: October 2022)

Previous Page #2 The Universal Piano that Takes Just One Finger to Play

Three-Part Series: Making Self-Expression Accessible for Everyone

#1 The Instrument Expanding the Freedom of Music Creators

#2 The Universal Piano that Takes Just One Finger to Play

#3 Musical Instruments That Set Your Creativity Free

More Stories in Harmony