IBM Research

Training Watson To Be Your Musical Muse

Watson already helps chefs and home cooks alike come up with never-before-eaten recipes. It also assists artists and helped one color coordinate a mural, and another make a cognitive dress for the Met Gala in New York. Now researchers are working to make the system capable of collaborating with musicians to produce original songs and scores.

Watson Beat is a cognitive cloud-based app being developed by machine learning and artificial intelligence expert Janani Mukundan, a Dire Straits fan with no musical training but a PhD in computer engineering, and Richard Daskas, a composer and professional musician.

Janani Mukandan (L) and Richard Daskas ready to demo Watson Beat in the lab.

Janani Mukandan (L) and Richard Daskas ready to demo Watson Beat in the lab.

Together, they have taught Watson about the specifics of rhythm, pitch, and instrumentation, as well as the differences in genres. All of it combines in algorithms running through Watson’s neural network to help artists create a original compositions.

“Watson Beat knows what sounds good to us. And based on input, it knows, for example that if a user wants a ‘dark’ or ‘gloomy’ song, that it should use a minor key,” Janani said.

Listen and learn

Watson Beat then keeps learning from its users. In as few as eight bars or 15 seconds of input, it can churn out a multi-instrument, minutes-long track that can be adjusted according to the mood and genre any budding Beethoven chooses. Here is a sample of an original piece by Richard:

Richard only wrote it for, and played it on the piano. But he decided to amp it up – give it an up-tempo sound with a bass line, drum kit, and a Middle Eastern beat. With just the sample above, here is what Watson Beat banged out:

“Watson Beat can understand MIDI (file) inputs of entire songs – even multiple songs – or individual instruments. Or, like the sample above, it can comprehend live play. I plugged a keyboard into my laptop and ran the app as I played,” Richard said.

Richard determined the upbeat style of the song, as well as the variation of the additional instruments, by introducing perturbations into Watson Beat’s neural network. These adjustments, done via an app, tell the system how similar or different the collaborative composition should be, compared to the original. This sliding scale of cognitive computing influence can come in especially handy for those whose last piano lesson stopped with Mary Had a Little Lamb!

The sound of opportunity

Watson Beat, like its smart app-in-the-cloud brethren, collaborates. It can help a musician get over writer’s block or remove hidden biases in genre or style by introducing something quite literally unheard of before. It might also be used in a music therapy setting.

For now, Janani and Richard’s creation is still a proof of concept. Attendees at SXSW, Tribeca, and Moogfest had a first-hand opportunity to listen to and even try creating their own music. Longer term, the pair wants to offer Watson Beat as an app for the public.

Listen to more samples on our soundcloud playlist.

Share this post:

Share on LinkedIn

Add Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.Required fields are marked *

Raghunandan Srinivasan

Congratulations ! For some time now, I had been thinking about the “musical” side of Cognitive and was quite happy to see the team’s success in the first, crucial step.



Watson is everywhere , Watson Beat is really a great app and this concept will help many musicians


Mario Henrique Margelo Carlos



Eric Seftel

Interesting and clearly a first step, but how is this going to improve on the research and (somewhat dubious) results in Algorithmic Composition that have been ongoing at places such as IRCAM for the past 40+ years?


Hemakumar Janyavula

Congratulations… its good to see Watson exploring Musical side of us.



Great stuff! Would like to process some of my tunes through Watson.


B Shilpa Shetty

Fantastic app!!! Watson is extending to every field.


Mark Johnson

Have to agree with one of the earlier comments. I appreciate that this is a first step (for Watson), but feels like it has not taken things forward from previous research into this form of composition, which has been running for decades. (Hopefully i am missing something here.)


Zach Goldman

Very cool work indeed!

Reminds me of Liquid Notes, an intelligent music composition and harmonic analysis software!

Let me know if you ever need beta-testers! :)


Bijoyeta Banerjee

Wow..thats great indeed :) Watson is now almost everywhere !! Congrats.



Very interesting. Computers are integral to today´s music industry, and Watson´s cognitive abilities are certainly helpful. This reminds me of the chess competition in the late 90s, when IBM´s supercomputer beat the world champion. Will Watson evolve to become creative? I believe so yes, even though the end result of ‘creativity’ will be the result of complex algorythms. A welcome addition to art!


Dusan Belak

This is simply awesome! Watson & Music, what an interesting area to be explored and full of inspiration. Congrats!


Vinita Jain

Fantastic Idea !! Hope to see my Son a drummer make use of it one day.


Kylie LIN

I want to create unique ringtones from IBM song with Watson 😀


S A Dwarakanath

Wow! Good News. Hope, this will help musicians to a great extent, in the days to come.



Sounds interessting.. Where can I find this app, guys?



But can Watson drop the bass?


Peggy Robinson

It would be interesting to see this used for those who are physically impaired and don’t have the capacity to play an instrument. They may be gifted musically, but challenged physically.


Cindy Mullen

Watson Beat, a terrific cognitive cloud-based app. Very nice!


Wechita Dsouza

Good One…!!!!


Jairo Logan

Sounds good!, I’ll wait for DJ Watson in next tomorrowland festival.



Poland executed this technology.


[…] Training Watson To Be Your Musical Muse […]


[…] Training Watson To Be Your Musical Muse […]



And if the entire world music was and is just a music companies manipulation? We will just listen to the same music we have already listened. Hopefully I am missing something here!


Bence Kutrik

How can I try it?


Lone Ranger

Hope ‘Watson’ doesn’t mind co-writting with 10-15 other ‘Watson’s’ struggling to write a two-chord, 8-word urban smash!
BTW, how do they do the splits…?

More IBM Research Stories

Cognitive Research Grows in Canada

Research is a key driver of how the world is shaped. It provides insight into society’s most important challenges and issues. It drives innovation, creates jobs, and contributes to the economy and the treatment and prevention of diseases. It also enhances our culture and diversity. Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario is one of Canada’s leading […]

Age Matters

Today, most people can expect to live into their seventies and beyond. According to a US Census Bureau report, within the next 15 years the world will have close to a billion people over the age of 65, and for the first time in human history, people aged 65 and over will outnumber children under […]

Bringing ‘Hidden Figures’ of Innovation to STEM

When I saw the movie Hidden Figures, I was struck by the determination of the so-called human “computers” – the African-American women whose mathematical calculations made it possible for astronaut John Glenn to be launched into orbit during the 1960s Space Race that coincided with American advances in Civil Rights. The inspiring stories of these […]