An Amazing App for Learning Music

A simple idea—notation synced with recordings—done beautifully
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Soundslice

All musical notation is a kind of compression, which is to say a compromise between ease of transmission and depth of reception. 

The notes on a score tell you a lot about a song, but not everything. The same goes for guitar tabs, which tell you where to put your fingers, not what the notes are. 

So, if you want to learn a song, it's best to hear someone playing it decompressed, while using the notation as an aide-mémoire. 

This isn't an easy thing to do, especially in the repetitive way that's necessary to learn a song.

Or it wasn't until Adrian Holovaty and PJ Macklin created Soundslice, a beautiful HTML5 app that syncs professional studio recordings with sheet music and guitar tablature. Soundslice debuted in late 2012, but they released a new version of the software for sheet music yesterday, and it's wonderful. You can check out the functions in the video below.

But really, go play around with the app. There's a nice version of "Auld Lang Syne." Do it on any device. Phone, tablet, laptop. Soundslice works beautifully. Not just functionally, but smoothly, responsively. Writer, developer, and all around web guy Paul Ford said that "it sings," and that's a great way of putting it. 

And it sings everywhere, or as Holovaty put it to me and Ford on Twitter, "HTML5 FTW! Screw native apps and their walled gardens." The problem with that has always been speed. Generally speaking, native apps respond to touch better; you caress, they respond. HTML5 apps tend to be laggier and just don't have that polished, quick feel. Soundslice shows it can be done, though.

The service does have limitations, of course: Only songs that they've commissioned or had transcribed by their community are available to learn. 

And I'm sure people might question the business model, too, or wonder whether it's the best way to maximize the profits from this kind of technology. But that's like asking John McPhee why he's not Malcolm Gladwell. 

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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