CAMI (Part 2)
Review of various educational music programs from America
'CAMI' stands for Computer-Assisted Musical Instruction and is really all about making life easier for teachers trying to teach music or for those attempting to teach themselves.
The use of computers in music education in the USA is big business these days, and more and more companies are getting in on the act. Two companies that have made strong moves in this direction are Passport Designs (who make the Soundchaser) and Syntauri (of alphaSyntauri fame). Another firm that has been around longer, and has therefore accumulated a more sizeable array of educational software, is Micro Music (now under the aegis of a Washington company called Temporal Acuity Products). Not surprisingly, all three base their software around the evergreen Apple. This month, we're taking a look at what Passport Designs and Temporal Acuity Products have to offer.
Music Tutor is the name of the CAI software from Passport Designs, written by Dr. Charles Boody of the University of Minnesota. The software is designed to be used in conjunction with the Soundchaser keyboard (Figure 1) and Mountain Computer MusicSystem digital synthesiser boards. As the latter two add up to just under £1,000, and Music Tutor costs £180 (both prices VAT inclusive), the system is by no means cheap (possibly more than many schools and education authorities would be comfortable parting with), but it does add up to a pretty impressive aid for teaching composition, orchestration, and that perennial bugbear of musical education — ear training.
Basically, Music Tutor incorporates four 'training units' — intervals, matching & tuning, chords and melodic games — that are designed to develop a number of aural skills and introduce general music concepts and principles. An important factor is that students can elect either to follow drills at their own speed or engage in ones that set some sort of goal by virtue of response times. There's also plenty of flexibility when it comes to how you enter your responses. For instance, when you're engaged in 'Matching a growing tune' (a sort of 'Simon' game without the distraction of flashing lights), you can opt to play the notes on either the Apple keyboard (using an overlay to show which keys correspond to what notes) or the Soundchaser keyboard itself. Furthermore, you can also choose whether or not you want visual feedback help (displayed solfege or notes on stave). All in all, there's lots of potential for ringing the sort of changes that one's likely to encounter in actual musical practice.
A set of displays associated with each training unit provides instruction, encouragement, progressive feedback, scores and selection of drill parameters (see Figures 2 and 3 for examples). The only real criticism I have of the way in which information is presented to the student lies with the complexity of some of the displays, which might prove off-putting to the newcomer. Whatever difficulties may be encountered in understanding the displays is adequately made up for by the helpful and friendly manual. I really like the laid-back style of humour typified by the following excerpt!
The Intervals software will sharpen your aural (listening) skills and help you to learn to identify the interval between any given notes. These skills are more difficult to learn than the skills of playing Space Invaders, and for two good reasons:
1. It is more difficult to train your ear bones.
2. It requires more patience than saving the Earth from an alien invasion.
Most people feel a deeper sense of satisfaction with finely-tuned aural skills than with 2-D video game skills. As you keep reading, you should feel the first waves of satisfaction rolling in shortly.
"The hurrier I go, the behinder you get."
Well, I don't know who 'Grandpa Verny' is (the Californian equivalent of Confucius, I guess), but one thing that's certain is that Music Tutor makes ear training really enjoyable, and that's no small achievement.
As the software stands at present, it's very much designed for the individual student wanting to apply a bit of self-help to improve his or her musical skills. For the rigours of classroom use, some sort of unerasable report and statistical analysis of each student's performance is needed, and this is to be added to the next version of the software.
Micro Music programs are rather more reasonable in terms of their hardware requirements in addition to the Apple itself. This time, all one needs is a simple digital-to-analogue converter (DAC) board (costing $175) that slots into the back of the Apple. The quality of sound from this bit of hardware is way below that of the MusicSystem boards used by Passport's software, but it certainly suffices for teaching purposes. The range of Micro Music CAI programs is impressive to put it mildly, so I've listed them below:
Name that tune
Sir William Wrong Note
Pitch Drills w/o accidentals
Pitch Drills with accidentals
Foreign Instrument Names
Composers and their works
Temporal Acuity Products were actually kind enough to send me all these programs for review, but faced with 28 disks, you need several bottles of plonk and a lot of stamina to wade through the contents of all of them, and, to be honest, my patience started waning after the first ten. Mind you, that's no reflection on the quality of the software; it's just amazingly tedious to have to boot up disk after disk in order to move from melodic (Melodious Dictator) to harmonic (Harmonious Dictator) and then to free (Interval Mania) interval presentation. And therein lies the big problem with the Micro Music software: lots of separate disks means lots of money. Taking the three intervals-training disks as examples, the purchase of those as well as the compulsory DAC board would set one back $745 (around £650), which seems one helluva lot to pay for just one corner of musical CAI.
Going even further to consider the cost of all 28 disks, the sum would be a cool $3,355 (leaving you little change from £3,000, I'd imagine). That might buy you a really amazing CAI set-up, but at what a cost! Surely educational software should be cheap rather than in the business software bracket? The annoying fact about all this is that Micro Music's software is excellent, especially their 'error detection' programs which have no competition on the market. A program like 'Sebastian' (no relationship to teddy bears, I hasten to add) would surely be valuable in a huge number of educational situations, since it displays a line of music (Figure 4), either pre-programmed or entered by the teacher, plays it with an error of tempo, rhythm, or pitch, and then asks (and cajoles) the student into saying what mistake has been perpetrated and where it lies. This is, quite simply, a superb program, but even this, at $190, is too expensive for the cost-conscious educational market.
What Temporal Acuity Products need to do is halve their prices, put related programs on a single disk, and remove the very effective copy protection. Otherwise, I don't see much chance of educational Apples in this country benefiting from Micro Music's expertise.
Availability: Music Tutor software and Soundchaser keyboard from Triangle Software Ltd., (Contact Details); Micro Music software and DAC board from Temporal Acuity Products, (Contact Details).
Feature by David Ellis
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