Dr Frelét de Villiers, Lecturer at the Odeion School of Music at the University Free state, developed an interactive, educational app for piano learners, as an aid to learn piano notation. The need for such an app originated in her years of frustration as a piano teacher, of children note knowing their notes. She got the idea for such an app, after watching her children play Sing Star on the Play Station, where the game can detect how accurately you sing. That gave her inspiration to follow her dream of developing an app that can function as a game, but at the same teach the beginner learner how to read notes.
The app is based on the idea of a flash card system, where a note is shown on the screen of the cell phone or tablet, and the learner has to play the note on the piano (or keyboard). After capturing the sound by means of the built-in microphone, the application will indicate, whether the execution by the learner was correct or wrong. When it was wrong, the correct position on the piano is shown.
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The interface has colourful imagery because it is a known fact that colour and concrete images can have a positive influence on the learning experience. The note/s are written on a complete staff with a treble, bass clef and bar lines. This is in order for them to get use to what sheet music look like. The application consists of different levels of difficulty. It starts with one concept at a time for example only spaces or only lines of one hand. As you progress through the levels, it becomes more intricate. The app is user friendly and each level is indicated by an icon that shows the learner what is being practised in that level. A tutorial gives you a step-by-step explanation of basic elements of notation and beginner tuition. Although the app is developed for piano, it is also used with great success for other instruments.
A reward system is built in. There is a score for each level and when a level is completed without a mistake, the learner can progress to the next level. Once the levels are ‘open’, you can play any level. The learner also competes against him/herself. This will help the learner to validate him/herself and it can add to the enjoyment of the application which is grounded in the theory that learning experiences have a more positive outcome when people enjoy what they are doing.
The innovative components that distinguish this app from other existing apps, are the following:
- Instant note recognition.
- The fact that a real piano is used and not a plugin keyboard or notes on the screen.
- The indication of the correct notes.
- Real time feedback.
- You don’t tap on the screen but play the note in the piano
The educational value of this app is:
- It is working like a game so they learn while having fun.
- The learner competes against him/herself.
- Scoreboard with time and marks allocated.
- Time can be saved in the music lesson if the lecturer does not have to serve this aspect of the learning process
We live in a society where everything is ruled and influenced by technology. This must be taken advantage of and taken into consideration, especially in the music teaching and learning environment. We must come to the understanding that perhaps, it is not enough anymore, to just rely on “old” and trusted methods alone. The use of a tablet app to learn music notation can be used in any learning environment, and especially in the safe environment of the student’s home or practice room. The universal language of music, and the availability and accessibility of devices can make this a fun way for students to learn music notation.