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Karaoke Fans, Take Note

By Leslie Walker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 7, 2005; 12:32 PM

Every now and then the gear-heads make a product for the rest of us. I saw one last night at a media reception filled wiith mostly me-too products. Called "Singing Coach," this software program aims to help people learn to sing in key, even if they're tone deaf.

The software is deceptively simple, relying on an animated microphone named Mike and various cartoon singers to teach you about pitch, tempo and the basics of music.

Ken Spiegel, chief operating officer of Carry-A-Tune Technologies, hums along with pre-recorded music and watches the computer analyze his pitch and tempo performance in real time. (Leslie Walker - The Washington Post)

But its behind-the-scenes technology is sophisticated. The software reads your voice -- it pegged me as a tenor based on my humming as high and low as I could into a microphone--and generates a visual drawing of your pitch on a computer screen in real time as you sing pre-loaded songs.

A color-coded pitch line tracks your performance, spiking up and down above the proper pitch line as you sing. It lets you see how you're doing as you go -- and rates your vocal performance on a score of 1 to 100 afterward. (Click here for a version of this posting that has a photo of Singing Coach in use.)

"When you hum and see you are way off the blue line, you say, 'Hey, I've got to do something about that.'" said Ken Spiegel, chief operating officer of Carry-A-Tune Technologies, the Tampa, Fla. firm that created the software. "You learn how changes in your biology -- what you do with your breathing and posture and throat -- will affect your pitch."

It remains to be seen if Singing Coach can get me close to those elusive pitch lines, of course.

The software went on sale in Fry's Electronics stores a few weeks ago and is available online at www.carryatune.com. The company also is in talks with other major retailers to sell the product, which costs $50 for the standard version and $100 for additional features and recording capabilities.

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