How an ASU professor is teaching piano in Arizona to his China-based students

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An ASU music professor found an innovative way to teach piano to his China-based students unable to return to the U.S. due to COVID-19. This new method involves playing more than one piano at the same time, even keyboards halfway around the world.

We learned more about all this from Cathal Breslin, who teaches the class.

Breslin explained that his Yamaha piano model is able to communicate to another piano of the same model in any other country. The keys will start playing by themselves as the information is transmitted from piano to piano. The system can connect up to four pianos at one time.

Breslin also uses Zoom to see his students’ pianos and talk with them at the same time.

“It’s kind of an unusual experience, but the students loved it,” Breslin said.

Breslin explained that the process is very fast and simple: the data travels from ASU, is bounced off a server in Tokyo and then is played in real time to all the other pianos in China. Breslin mentioned that the data from the pedals of the piano can also be transmitted. However, he did not always feel this way.

“I was very skeptical years ago when I first used this technology, that ‘well, I need to test it to its limits,'” Breslin said. “[But] even if you play a note, the slowest possible note and it barely makes a sound, that’s exactly what comes out the other end.”

Breslin stated that this technology has existed since the 90s, but it has certainly developed greatly since it was first released.

With this advancement, Breslin believes there are many benefits, such as enhanced virtual recitals and virtual learning.

“I think it certainly allows us to reach more people and the potential to remove difficulties such as travel,” Breslin said. “The possibilities are certainly endless.”

Cathal Breslin, ASU Assistant Professor of Piano

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