Brain Composer—'thinking' melodies onto a musical score

September 11, 2017 by Tu Graz, Graz University of Technology
Gernot Müller-Putz, head of TU Graz' Institute of Neural Engineering and expert on brain-computer interfaces. Credit: Lunghammer - TU Graz

TU Graz researchers develop new brain-computer interface application that allows music to be composed by the power of thought. They have published their results in the current issue of the journal PLOS ONE.

Brain-computer interfaces (BCI) can replace bodily functions to a certain degree. Thanks to BCI, physically impaired persons can control special prostheses via their minds, surf the internet and write emails.

A group led by BCI expert Gernot Müller-Putz from TU Graz's Institute of Neural Engineering shows that experiences of quite a different tone can be sounded from the keys of brain-computer interfaces. Derived from an established BCI method for writing, the team has developed a new application by which music can be composed and transferred onto a musical score through the power of thought. It employs a special cap that measures , the adapted BCI, music composition software, and a bit of musical knowledge.

In the BCI the researchers used, options such as musical notes, pauses and chords flash consecutively on a table. A trained subject focuses on the desired option while it lights up, causing a minute change in their brain waves. The BCI recognises this change and draws conclusions about the chosen option.

Musical test subjects

Eighteen chosen for the study were asked to "think" melodies onto a musical score. All test subjects were in good health during the study and had a certain degree of basic musical and compositional knowledge, as they all played musical instruments to some degree. Among the subjects was the late Graz composer and clarinettist Franz Cibulka.

Sheet Music by Mind: Towards a Brain-Computer Interface for Composing. Credit: Graz University of Technology
"The results of the BCI compositions can really be heard, and most importantly, the subjects enjoyed it. After a short training session, they could all compose, read the score and then play the compositions. The very positive results of the study are the first step in a possible expansion of the BCI to patients," says Müller-Putz.

"20 years ago, the idea of composing a piece of using the power of the mind was unimaginable. We still need a bit more time before BCI is mature enough for daily applications"

Explore further: Creating music by thought alone

More information: Andreas Pinegger et al. Composing only by thought: Novel application of the P300 brain-computer interface, PLOS ONE (2017). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0181584

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