Search within Lanny's blog:

Leave me comments so I know people are actually reading my blogs! Thanks!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Paper Review: The Music Notepad

This paper is written by researchers at Brown University and published at UIST'98.

Notating music can be done with a common UI with windows, icons, menus, and point-and-click (WIMP) such as those used in popular software synthesizers and editing tools (e.g. Cakewalk). However, the user model of using paper and pencil is very different and is more desirable because of the simplicity. This paper presents a system that allows the musicians to create music notation directly using a stylus on a Tablet PC.


The system described in this paper followed some previous work from Buxton, but added more features. The notation system allows the drawing of: notation symbols, Beams, Accidentals, Clefs and key signatures. Editing included region selection (lasso), copying, pasting, and deleting (scribble or text editing type delete gesture). The user can also assign instrument and view more of the music score using a perspective wall metaphor.

The authors developed an alternate method for entering notes by "scribbling in" a notehaed. This is different from Buxton's gestures (which had bad user experiences). This allowed accurate placement of symbols because an average position is used. This is also natural to the user because that's how they do it on paper. However, this method could be slower than point and click and also does nto convey the note duration. The video below shows how the system works.

To evaluate the system, the authors asked some users to try the system and then performed some informal interviews.

What's great about this paper is that it is the first in using gesture recognition to tackle the problem mentioned. The weak spot of the paper is its evaluation. If a more formal user study is performed to specifically measure certain aspects of the user performances by comparing old vs. new systems, the results would be more convincing. On a side note, the paper mentioned about estimating probability of posted tokens. I wish the paper had discussed more about how probability is calculated.

You can follow this link to read more about this project at Brown University.

In my humble opinion, a good UI is one where there’s minimal amount of learning/training/practicing involved. To the user it almost seems that all the designs are natural and logical conclusions (based on normal experiences of a standard user – with a certain profession or within a certain era). There might be better and more efficient ways (e.g. I can type a lot faster than write, and my handwriting is ugly), however, it might take a lot of training and practice in order to achieve the efficiency. In such cases, the best thing to do is probably to give the user the options so he/she can pick the way he/she wants it. Some incentives (with proper tutorials and demos) might be helpful to try to persuade the user to move toward the more efficient method, so he/she will endure the (maybe painful or dull) training and practice for higher efficiency. The important point is to let the user make the decision himself/herself. A forceful push toward the new method will only generate resentment (e.g. Windows Vista).

A user judges a solution based on how easy it is to to use, not how great the designer thinks it is.