Founder Acharya His Divine Grace
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

AI for Teaching Kirtan Music
By Dr. Vipul Arora   |  Dec 04, 2021
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“Ma, I wish I could learn Kirtan on harmonium”, little Jahnava spontaneously expressed to her mother during the 24-hour Kirtan festival in the UK. The mother could only echo with her desire but finding an expert devotee teacher in her town seems too big an ask.

“I wish I could teach this wonderful service to more devotees”, elder Hari spontaneously expressed to the devotee playing mridanga for him in a temple in India. Hari has been leading Kirtans on the harmonium for decades and pulling one and all into the transcendental whirlpool of Gauranga’s Sankirtan. But how much can he extend himself to teach on a regular basis beyond his local temple community?

In the modern fast-paced world, technology is playing a significant role in assisting Gauranga Mahaprabhu’s movement to penetrate every town and village. Technological gadgets are in everyone’s hands. Can they serve to connect both – Jahnava and Hari?

Online teaching is the new mode of teaching and learning. Its utility has been realized even more during the pandemic. Likewise, recent research in AI has been making it even better in terms of enhancing the experience and engagement. People have been using online learning for school education, skill development, language learning and so on. Some recent platforms have come up to teach music too.

A group of engineers, who somehow got the blessings of Srila Prabhupada, got inspired to build an online platform for teaching Sankirtan music. The efforts started a year ago and they have come up with a platform called Narottam, named after our Acarya, Srila Narottama Das Thakura, the original propagator of the Sankirtan music of Sri Gauranga. The platform is available to use by devotees all around the world in the form of an Android application free of cost.

The project has been funded by the Government of India as a research project. We are a team of engineers and PhD students, who implemented the concept. The journey became more challenging in midst of the lockdown restrictions due to the pandemic. But the mercy of Srila Prabhupada kept the project going.

Currently, the application is useful for learning vocal music and melodic instruments, such as harmonium, flute, and violin. Accompaniment instruments such as Tanpura, Kartal and Mridanga are available to play in the background.

The teachers and students can get onboard the application with a personal login. A teacher can create courses. The lessons could be in three modes:

  • Video and audio lessons
  • Text write-ups
  • Audio assignments

The first two are one-way instructions from the teacher and are more conventional in nature. The third one allows the student to perform along with the teacher’s recorded voice. The teacher records his/her performance (with background accompaniment) at a BPM rate and tonic scale of his/her choice. Later, the student can modify the BPM rate and tonic scale of the teacher as per his/her convenience and sing along. The AI-based algorithms analyze the pitch of both the teacher and the student and compare them to find mistakes in student’s singing. Instantly, feedback is given to the student so s/he may improve on those errors. Finally, the student’s performance is submitted to the teacher along with the automatic assessment. A short video depicting its features is here: https://youtu.be/B8qMN5H6phc.

The application is more suited for music – with low latency – allowing learners to practice. This application brings in the benefit of online learning while preserving the sacred personal relationship between the teacher and the learner. It can be used to complement popular teleconferencing services such as Skype or Zoom, which have a large latency, or even teaching in physical proximity. It can also be used as an LMS (learning management system) akin to gradescope or canvas.

While the Government grant is nearing its completion now, the application is available to use on Google playstore. The project website is here: https://vipular.github.io/narottam.github.io/. During this project, we strongly realized the need for devotees from different areas of expertise to come together and work collaboratively. We invite the worldwide community of Kirtaniyas as well as that of software engineers to join hands in service to Srila Prabhupada. Feel free to write to vipular@iitk.ac.in.

Tag: ai , kirtan
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