Interview with Eric Yung, Founder and CEO, Playnote


Music and technology looks like something hard to be put together, as music is something emotional and artistic but technology is all about calculation and science. Nevertheless, there is a tech company called Playnote, which is dedicated to combine music education with technology. Founded in 2010, Playnote has developed three products: AURALBOOK, SCALEBOOK and Rehearsal Partner. Both AURALBOOK and SCALEBOOK are designed to help student to prepare the aural and scale tests in the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) exam, and Rehearsal Partner is designed to help student prepare for Hong Kong Schools Music Festival Competition.

Why does Playnote choose music education as their direction of development? What makes Playnote’s products special in educating music? We interviewed Mr. Eric Yung, Founder and CEO of Playnote, to answer these questions.

Playnote’s SCALEBOOK is the Grand Award winner in Hong Kong ICT Awards 2017: Best Mobile Apps Award

All the three products that are developed by Playnote are designed for music education, why did you choose that as the focus of Playnote?

Mainly because I am passionate about music. Before I founded Playnote, I have worked on many traditional jobs in the music industry. I was a performer, vocalist, composer, orchestra consultant and also a music teacher. And then one day, I realized these positions should not be the only things that I can contribute to the music industry. Thus, I chose to establish Playnote, a tech company that is dedicated to music education.

Learning music is a phase that every musician has to go through, no matter what kind of music they are performing. Although music education is fundamental for the development of music, not many people are trying to provide an innovative solution on it. That is another reason why we chose music education as our development direction.

Both AURALBOOK and SCALEBOOK are designed to teach components included in music exams from different regions, including ABRSM exam, which is commonly taken by Hong Kong students. Why did you choose these as the focus of your products?

It’s because both aural test and scales are something that music teacher seldom want to teach (laughter). As a music teacher, it will be a relief for me if artificial intelligence (AI) can help me to accomplish these tasks and solve the issue that we music teacher are facing, and that is the goal for us to create these products.

Another reason why we develop AURALBOOK and SCALEBOOK is to solve a common problem in music industry – there are many people who want to learn music but do not have enough resources for them to do so. For example, they may not have time to take regular music lessons. Our solution is letting AI to do part of the teaching, and thus people can learn music with less resource.

AI is a core component for Playnote’s product. Why is Playnote so keen to incorporate AI in music?

Music is not a rule-based thing, on the contrary, it is very subjective. In music exams, even if a music performance can be judged by the marking scheme, one examiner may find it excellent, another may not.

Music is not limited to 0 and 1, and there are many possibilities in between. Thus, traditional rule-based software would not be capable to handle music. That is why we incorporate AI in music – we want our products to evaluate a music performance in the same way humans do. When people listen to a musical performance, most of us will rely on our overall impression of the performance to judge if it is good or bad. We want AI to help us explain and induct this abstract “impression”.

Both AURALBOOK (released in 2012) and SCALEBOOK (released in 2017) have adopted AI in their features. How has AI advanced these past 5 years?

AI has become more capable of human expression. Alongside with a real human voice commenting function, the AI in AURALBOOK can already give users an impression that there is a human instructor teaching them music. Still, as the way AI speak remains relatively straightforward, a user is able to find out eventually that it is a machine responding and not an actual person, therefore there is still some ways to go before the technology matures.

And now in SCALEBOOK, when user completes a mock examination, the app will be able to provide a written report with details, comments and scores for each question, which is composed by the AI music examiner. As we have advanced the communication skill of the AI, it will be harder for the user to distinguish if the report is written by human or machine – and this is what we want to achieve. After all, music is a language for human. We always emphasize that our final goal is creating a program can communicate in a way with no difference to how humans talk.

For Playnote, what will be your next step in developing AI?

The three products that are developed by Playnote are all focused on musicianship such as intonation and tempo. For next step, we hope to develop an AI that can evaluate music performance.

We anticipate that AI can become a music critic in the future. By analyzing the details of a performance, the AI should be able to determine whether a piece of music is an outstanding performance, and explain why it is or why it isn’t. That’s the next level of AI we want to develop.

Lastly, can you share the proudest moment in your career?

It would be opportunities for moments like this now where I can talk about music to someone, to let more people learn about, appreciate and enjoy music, that is always the mission of Playnote.

專訪:Playnote創辦人及行政總裁 容志偉先生