“Accountability” is the buzzword for survival in music education today. With the help of state-of-the-art music technology, we can now validate our instruction and show growth via assessments or performances as never before. Some excellent music theory and ear training software applications have arrived with attractive new features that can facilitate growth and learning and make assessment a breeze.
Alfred’s Essentials of Music Theory 3 (EMT3) and Datasonics’ Mastering Music are now available in Web-based versions for flexible instruction, and several companies have created software designed to prepare students for the music portion of the Advanced Placement exams. Keeping records of music theory and ear training progress is easier than ever with detailed analysis and reports readily available for parents, students and faculty. Teachers can create customized instruction to meet their individual curriculum needs. New product updates offer more modules, cleaner interfaces with more graphic presentations and generally make music theory and ear training instruction a lot more fun to learn.
Take a look at this buffet of instruction:
The granddaddy of all music theory software products is Practica Musica by Ars-Nova (www.ars-nova.com). It offers a complete drill and practice tutor for both music theory and ear training with well over 100 activities. With a friendly, coordinated onscreen “Exploring Theory” textbook and hundreds of interactive learning activities, it provides a well-thought out learning experience for both beginners and advanced students.
The AP Prep Course provided with current editions of Practica Musica is a comprehensive set of learning activities that follow the organization of the 2003 Music Theory Released Exam. Each question in the exam is represented by one or more Practica Musica activities that provide practice answering that type of question, with computer feedback plus background material practice required by the question. Other courses in Practica Musica, particularly the one associated with the included textbook, “Exploring Theory,” provide the prerequisite training needed before beginning work on the AP material.
Music Ace Maestro and Music Ace DeluxeGlenn Kueck, an elementary general music teach in Killeen, Texas found Music Maestro particularly effective helping students with pitch and rhythm. “I have been using Music Ace in my classroom at Clifton Park Elementary School in Killeen Texas for a decade,” he says. “I believe this is the reason that all my 5th graders save the ones that just transferred from other schools can read the treble staff, why they are so good at keeping a steady beat when we play our Orff instruments and our recorders, why they can imitate rhythms readily, and why they sight sing so well. For example, about two years ago my 5th-grade students were playing recorders and having problems with a particular passage. I asked them to stop playing and sing the notes to help get the passage in their ear. Without me giving a starting pitch they sight sang the passage accurately and on pitch. I attributed this success to the ear training component of Music Ace.”
Although Music Ace Maestro by Harmonic Vision (www.harmonicvision.com) was designed for general music instruction at the elementary and middle school levels, don’t underestimate its potential for remedial instruction with vocalists and instrumentalists at the middle and high school levels who are behind on their music reading skills. Music Ace Maestro encompasses 48 lessons with four or five separate learning levels inside each lesson, covering staff and keyboard relationship, pitch identification, note reading, listening skills, key signatures, major scales, advanced lessons on rhythm, harmony and melody, and games in each.
Auralia and Musition
Rising Software offers two recently updated, exciting aural training and music theory drill and practice products at www.risingsoftware.com. Their Auralia 4 is a first-class ear training package that is a delight and easy to use. Auralia leads users through a variety of graded exercises, while presenting instant feedback. All results are recorded, and students can sing or play their answers using a microphone or MIDI keyboard. Auralia is suitable for both classical and contemporary musicians of any age and ability. Instruction is divided into 5 topic areas: Intervals Scales; Chords; Rhythm; Harmony Form; and Pitch Melody. This latest version includes customized support for students who are taking AP Music Theory courses in the form of a supplied syllabus, tests, and courses.
Rising Software’s Musition 4 (www.risingsoftware.com/musition) is a comprehensive music theory and fundamentals package for music students of all ages and abilities. It mirrors the product updates found in Auralia, along with added lessons, enhanced content, and a fresh look. Musition’s interactive teaching is designed to make learning music theory fun and easy. The structured drills and instant feedback create a stimulating learning environment, enabling students to achieve their maximum potential.
Essentials of Music Theory 3
Essentials of Music Theory 3 (www.alfred.com), a three-volume program, is the most comprehensive single music theory and ear-training software program yet created combining tutorials with drill-and-practice options. This latest version is a discovery-based, local network- or Internet-driven program with over 600 dynamic Flash video lessons that draw students into an exciting musical adventure. It has powerful accountability tools, and can be adapted to any curriculum. This all-in-one product includes concise lessons with short exercises, ear training activities, games, and reviews. Software includes narration, animated examples and clickable elements for aural reinforcement. Also available is an Educator version that also allows the instructor to add customized questions and exercises. Its narration of new concepts is unique among music theory/ear training applications, and no prior musical experience is required for middle and high school level instruction.
Alfred’s Interactive Musician
Alfred’s Interactive Musician by Morton Manus develops essential musicianship skills via pitch training, sight-reading, and rhythm. It is designed to enhance recognition of intervals, chords, scales, and rhythms, and also improve the user’s ability to sight-read. The self-paced program quickly identifies strengths and weaknesses. With over 100 levels to choose from plus customized levels, students work at their own pace, while the teacher sets up guidelines for the student to follow.
Michelle Sisler from Owatonna, Minnesota has made Alfred’s Interactive Musician a staple in her piano studio and uses it on a weekly basis during required weekly lab time. She states, “It is essential to help them practice ear training, sight reading and rhythm exercises, since we don’t always have time for these exercises during our lesson at the piano. Because of the wide range of levels in Interactive Musician, students are able to use hands-on drills tailored to their needs. The immediate, visual feedback is a great tool to help students visualize what they are working on. My students have more accurate and solid skills after using this program in combination with my teaching.”
EarMaster 5, distributed by eMedia (www.emediamusic.com), is a flexible and comprehensive ear-training package. The program includes over 650 ear-training lessons for recognizing and transcribing intervals, chords, scales, rhythms, and melodies, among which are 211 jazz lessons for recognizing, jazz chords, progressions, and rhythms. You can also create your own customized exercises. EarMaster is available in three editions for students, educators and schools. A product comparison chart is featured at www.earmaster.com by clicking on the “comparison” link.
EarMaster makes it possible to sing or play exercises directly into a computer’s microphone with any instrument or MIDI device. Students can also perform and input rhythm exercises by clapping into a microphone or using a mouse, keyboard, or any MIDI instrument. The instant feedback provides the most detailed statistics I have found in any program.
Music Lessons I II
Music Lessons I Fundamentals and Music Lessons II Chords and Harmony by MiBAC (www.mibac.com) are substantial drill and practice-based music theory and ear training programs for PC and Mac. Music Lessons I interactive drills move gently from elementary exercises all the way up to college level music theory. I particularly like its user-friendly learn-by-doing style. It provides immediate feedback on every question, and if you’re stuck, the software shows you the answer. If you don’t understand something, help screens clearly explain every theory concept needed to master the drills. Topics covered include note reading, circle of fifths, key signatures, major/minor scales, modes, jazz scales, scale degrees, intervals, note/rest durations, and ear training in intervals and scales.
Music Lessons II may be the most comprehensive chords and harmony software available. It’s pedagogically sound, developing all four essential musical skill areas: visual recognition, written notation, playing (piano and guitar), and ear training. Users can switch between the naming, writing, and playing study activities in every drill, which helps sustain interest and reinforce learning. Topics include chord elements (roots, thirds, fifths), triads, triads ear training, seventh chords, seventh chords ear training, Roman numeral chord identification, secondary dominants, Neapolitan and augmented sixth chords. The Roman numeral identification drills are great preparation for the Advanced Placement Music Theory Exam.
Dr. Terry Eder of Plano Senior High School in Plano, Texas, says, “I have used Music Lessons I II for the past six years in the music theory lab at Plano Senior HS. They are excellent programs which allow students at several levels of understanding, from beginning to even more advanced musicians, to practice the skills and fundamentals of music literacy. The fact that students can practice both written and aural skills in music is a real plus, and the feedback is immediate.”
Mastering Music (www.datasonics.com.au) is a comprehensive musical suite of six applications over 400 music lessons providing music outcomes in performing, composing, digital audio, notation, aural training, music theory and film scoring. The Musicianship section is particularly worth a look. Mastering Music contains an impressive number of lessons for Music Theory and Ear Training.
Erin Contrady of Kingston, New York uses Mastering Music with her 6th-grade students, which allows her to maximize class time and customize instruction for students. Currently, her sixth graders are finishing up their review of musical notation. She gives them a checklist of lessons to work through for the first unit: Rhythmic and Melodic Dictation, Writing Counts, and Note Recognition. They do whole-class instruction together. Erin demonstrates the Mastering Music lesson using a SmartBoard, and students take turns at the board for whole-class practice. Then students work individually through the lesson. Kids who finish quickly can move on to the creative projects, and students who need more practice can take all the time they need. Her school district purchased the Mastering Music Web-connect option, so she can also assign additional practice for homework. The students receive instant feedback, which improves retention and helps her see at a glance how individual students are progressing. With this information, Erin can effectively provide extra help or enrichment. When the drill-and-practice lessons are finished, students use the same interface to compose music in Mastering Music. Their compositions are saved, printed out, and (the ultimate gratification for an 11-year-old!) performed by other students on classroom instruments. It makes the study of music more meaningful and the assessment more authentic. Teaching this way also encourages the 21st century thinking skills of creativity, synthesis, and problem-solving.
Seeing is Believing
Music technology has changed once boring ear training exercises and theory into an exciting musical challenge. Most manufacturers have free demos available for both teachers and students to investigate and, in this case, seeing really is believing. One look at these applications in action will give you a better understanding of how powerful and useful they can be for you and your students in and outside of your classroom.