ToneTree Brings Music Anywhere

Whether it's the radio, playing an instrument, or singing, music is part of everyday lives. A group of RPI students turned their love of music into a business, and are now bringing their product to the classroom. Jon Dougherty introduces you to ToneTree in this week's Capital Region Business Beat.

CASTLETON-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. -- There's a familiar sound inside Mrs. Gibney's music room at Castleton Elementary School -- students learning to play the recorder.

However, it's not the only instrument they've played this school year. In fact, they're making their own thanks to the startup company ToneTree.

"It's not only a new to approach music education, but it's a way to simultaneously get kids of all ages involved in STEM," ToneTree Co-founder & CEO Brian Cook said.

Cooked founded the company with fellow RPI students Ronald Sardarian, Max Escaler and Patrick Strohbeen.

Their Birch device uses lasers and cameras to make any surface into an instrument.

"Any flat surface; A wall, a floor, a table. We usually say you could play piano on a park bench or even invent an instrument on your dining room table just by drawing it," Cook said.

This spring, ToneTree began testing pilots in the Schodack and North Colonie school districts.

"This is one of those outlets where they could take this instrument wherever they wanted and create it," Schodack music teacher Christina Gibney said.

ToneTree is still in a pilot phase and will begin a funding campaign in early 2016.

Using the Birch, anyone can draw their own instrument and control the sound. Cook said once manufactured, their technology will be less expensive than most real instruments, and more portable as well.

"Many students already have phones so they could have their own custom sound library that they enjoy, and just come into class and plug it in, or it will work with computers that schools already have iPads that schools already have," said Cook.

"They can play around with the sounds and choose the sounds that they like to use as they're going through and creating their own compositions," Gibney said.

ToneTree is for all ages. It's currently on software to stimulate audio and visual learning among younger students. This summer it plans to begin work on a smart phone app.

All four said music inspired them growing up. The now business owners said they hope to pass that love of music on.

"To change kids a kid's life with music, if we could even just do it to one kid like it happened to me, that's the end goal," Cook said.

To ToneTree, that would be the ultimate sound of success.

If you know a company that you think should be featured on the Capital Region Business Beat, submit an email to Jon.Dougherty@twcnews.com or follow Jon on Twitter: @JonDTWCNews.

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