Senior Justin Rogers is working a com­puter program that can use sets of numbers to identify the pitch and instrument of a note.
Courtesy |

Music meets math in senior Justin Rogers’ research. For his senior project, Rogers is attempting to make a com­puter program that can listen to a tone and identify its note and what instrument made it. 

Although it is an area most closely related with voice-to-text and speech recog­nition, such software would have other uses, too. 

“I envision some­thing where you can record yourself and an app that can record sheet music for you,” Rogers said. “I think that would be really cool, and it’s not too far from what I have now.” 

Rogers, a math major and psy­chology minor, has played the bass for five years and per­cussion for 10 years. He will present his research, titled “Har­monic, Sta­tis­tical, and Topo­logical Methods for Audio Clas­si­fi­cation,” at noon on Thursday in Dow Science 113.

“I like music. I like math,” Rogers said. “I wanted a project that was the inter­section of both of them.” 

When a com­puter is recording a sound, it actually records the changes in air pressure on a micro­phone as a series of numbers. These numbers are then used to play back the sound. Rogers is working a program that can use these sets of numbers to identify the pitch and instrument of a note. 

So far, the program is 85 percent suc­cessful at iden­ti­fying notes and 80 percent suc­cessful iden­ti­fying instruments. 

“I’m not sure I would be able to identify instru­ments that well,” said Mark Panaggio, assistant pro­fessor of math­e­matics and Rogers’ adviser. 

Panaggio said the research Rogers is doing is pre­lim­inary research that could be used in the future, though there are no plans to do so at this point. 

“Solving the problem is not the ultimate goal,” Panaggio said. “It’s about learning.” 

Even so, some musi­cians said that such a program would be useful. 

“I think it’s a good idea if it helps people compose easier,” sophomore musician Montie Mont­gomery said. “It would allow them to com­poser music a lot more quickly.” 

Both Panaggio and Rogers had to work outside their areas of expertise, dab­bling in fields like alge­braic topology and zero-dimen­sional per­sis­tence diagrams. 

Rogers said he orig­i­nally studied alge­braic topology, which he says tries to give pat­terns to an “amor­phous blob” of geometry, for its own sake. 

“You get this crazy abstract stuff, and I’m pretty happy it’s useful in appli­cation here,” Rogers said. “I never expected to use this material.”

Still, Panaggio said they have a ways to go. 

“We’re not quite at Google’s level,” he said, “but we’re having fun exploring the problem.”