September Meeting: Dan Morris - Songsmith: Automatic Accompaniment for Vocal Melodies

  • 24 Sep 2009
  • 6:00 PM - 8:29 PM
  • The Boardroom in the One Union Square Building, 600 University Street, Seattle

Songsmith: Automatic Accompaniment for Vocal Melodies


Songsmith is a system that automatically chooses chords to accompany a vocal melody. A user with no musical experience can create a song with instrumental accompaniment just by singing into a microphone, and can experiment with different styles and chord patterns using interactions designed to be intuitive to non-musicians.  Our goal is to let people with no training in chords or harmonization get a taste of songwriting.

Songsmith uses a Hidden Markov Model (HMM) to optimize the chord sequence for a new melody, and we’ve trained our HMM on a database of popular music lead sheets.  In this talk, I’ll describe how Songsmith works, I’ll discuss how we let users interact directly with our HMM without requiring a degree in computer science, and I’ll show lots of audio examples to demonstrate that non-musicians are in fact able to use this system as a powerful creative tool. 

Warning: singing during this talk is inevitable.  Bring your enthusiastic singing voices or you’ll quickly get tired of hearing me sing.


Dan is a researcher in the Computational User Experiences (CUE) group at Microsoft Research, focusing on human-computer interaction, with a particular emphasis on creativity support and alternative input systems.  He received his PhD from Stanford, where he worked primarily on haptics and physical simulation for virtual surgery.  He has also worked on medical devices, particularly human neural prosthetic systems, as an undergraduate at Brown and later as a consulting engineer.  More information about his work is available at

Location and Directions

The meeting will be held in the Board Room of the One Union Square building in Seattle, (600 University St, Seattle, WA 98101-1176).

* Take the Union Street exit

* Turn Left on the Seventh Avenue Drive-thru (first light just after the Union Street exit)

* The Seventh Avenue Drive-thru travels under Two Union Square. The Garage entry is mid-block on the right.  There is a fee for parking in the garage.

* Take the Seneca Street exit

* Turn right at the first light onto Sixth Avenue

* Take a soft right at University Street (Be careful to stay left of the concrete divider separating University Street from the freeway onramp. Turning hard right will put you onto the Freeway)

* University Street curves left and becomes the Seventh Avenue Drive-thru behind Union Square. Look for the sign indicating the parking garage entrance on your left.  There is a fee for parking in the garage.

In the Parking Garage
* Park near the West garage elevators. Take the West elevators to the Fireplace Lobby. At the Fireplace Lobby, walk toward One Union Square to your right. As you exit the Fireplace Lobby you will see escalators on your left. The Union Square Boardroom is located directly behind the escalators.

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