Music: Classical and Devotional Singing with AI

By Aks And Lakshmi

ELECTRONIC MUSIC HAS BEEN WITH US LONGER than you might think. The 19th century electric Telharmonium could accurately produce the sounds of an entire orchestra. It did have certain drawbacks, such as weighing 210 tons and requiring 671 kW of power. Fortunately, we’ve come a long way since then and that 6-ounce iPhone in your pocket that uses 4 kWh per year supports apps with remarkable abilities when it comes to classical Indian music. In this article, we will discuss two: first iTablaPro, which provides relatively simple musical accompaniment; and second, the highly sophisticated NaadSadhana, designed for training singers and recording oneself with full ensemble background support. While there are apps equivalent to iTablaPro for Android, it takes the the iPhone’s programming capabilities to unleash the remarkable acoustic abilities of NaadSadhana.

iTablaPro: for Everyone

iTablaPro is one of the most widely used apps in the world of Indian classical music. It generates the sounds of one or two tanpuras, a traditional sur-peti or shruti box, tabla drums, manjira (cymbals) and a swar mandal (akin to a zither or autoharp), and it has the complete range of pitches suitable for both male and female singers.

Its tabla feature is especially well done, able to play 42 different beat patterns such as teental (16 beats) and ektaal (12 beats). Devotional singers can particularly enjoy singing with the bhajani setting on the tabla and cymbals for an eight-beat cycle.

The app offers more than a hundred popular ragas. By inputting the pitch and a specific raga, it automatically sets up the two tanpuras with the corresponding notes as well as a recommended tala cycle. Any of these can be changed according to the user’s preference and saved as a “favorite.” The app is $24.99, with an extra cost for the recording feature. There are also free apps with less functionality, such as iSruthi-Tampura Sruthi Box.


NaadSadhana: the Next Level

Developed originally as a teaching aid by Sandeep Ranade of Pune, India, NaadSadhana lets you record your performance of Hindustani classical and devotional music with full instrumental accompaniment, generated in real time using artificial intelligence.

The first challenge for new students of music is obtaining the correct pitch for each note. In the old gurukulams, students spend hours with their teachers each day receiving guidance and correction; today they might spend an hour a week with a teacher and the rest of the time on their own—and likely practicing off key.

NaadSadhana, which could be translated as “disciplined attainment of correct pitch,” uses sophisticated AI to have the iPhone analyze your pitch in real time. A green circle (see screenshot at left) means you are right on; a red circle, way off. The color changes as you sing, indicating to go higher or lower.

With the “Perform” tab at the bottom, you can select vocal pitch, desired raga, tala and tempo as well as record. The “Mixer” tab allows power users to customize accompaniment instruments. Options include tone and pluck tempo for the tanpura, accompaniment modes for tabla (“gentle,” “lively” and “dynamo”), and reverb and equalization options for the voice. The “Piano” tab presents a keyboard set to play only the notes of the selected raga. It’s a wonderful tool for learning a new raga. The “Studio” tab keeps track of your recordings and allows post-recording adjustment of individual instruments.

The app’s AI does a remarkable job of creating a full-sounding accompaniment for solo vocalists regardless of skill level. While it leans heavily towards Hindustani ragas and talas, one could certainly use it for devotional singing. The tanpura plays throughout, while the swarmandal and piano chords trigger at various times in an intuitive way. The tabla and cymbals play along at the set tempo and introduce rhythmic variations that feel more natural than the loop-based sound of iTablaPro and similar programs.

Another fascinating feature is face tracking: using the front camera and specific facial expressions, a user is able to start and stop the rhythm hands-free. For example, open your eyes and the tabla starts.

Overall, NaadSadhana is an excellent tool for vocal practice and solo performance. It has a $35 annual fee, which can be canceled without charge in the first month.