Click, play, listen
High-tech music lessons will eventually be available through the use of newly developed, multi-lingual tuition software. The software complements traditional teaching methods through the integration of various modern technologies.
The project responsible for this software is headquartered near Athens, Greece, where some younger music students are putting the software into use. Illyrios Manthios, a professional oboist, helps his children, Michalis and Daphne, who are learning to play the flute. Together they are using a computer program that listens to the students, records their music, identifies their mistakes and evaluates their performance. The program gives children the independence to learn without constant adult or teacher supervision. It has the added convenience that music students do not necessarily have to travel anywhere to learn. Alternatively, as practised by Michalis and Daphne, the students can take their laptops with them to their school, where their real-life music teacher can refer to the recordings made at home to show the music students where the mistakes are being made.
The computer program is, for both young and old, an interesting and interactive method of learning an instrument. Younger children see it as more of a toy with which they want to experiment, whereas older children use it as a tool to improve their playing. The researchers have developed various interactive interfaces involving graphical and communication elements. Students can, for example, stay in close contact with other students and teachers via the internet, while they practise.
The system, called VEMUS (Virtual European Music School), is the work of engineers at a language-processing lab near Athens. For the VEMUS coordinator, George Tambouratzis, it is important that the program is seen as an aid for human teachers, not as a replacement.
A primary aim of the project was to give students a method of objectively evaluating their work. Further testing is being done to optimise the way in which the students receive feedback from the program. It is obviously important that the program offers constructive comments without discouraging the student.
Wafai and Cătălin from Cluj, Romania, are using the VEMUS program while learning the clarinet. It gives them a link between what is learnt in the classroom and what is practised at home. Furthermore, the practice done at home can be supported with a real-time link over the internet with the music teacher. The teacher can see the sheet music from which the student is playing and then write comments, which can instantly be seen by the student on his or her monitor.
At a nearby Music Academy in Cluj, composers are adapting music scores for the VEMUS software, for the purpose of distance e-learning. But for professional musicians, the limitations of the program are quite clear. For example, the software does not show various styles of playing. The program cannot teach something like interpretation, which further shows the need for the continued involvement of human teachers.
Learning a musical instrument takes a lot of time and patience. With a combination of e-learning and traditional face-to-face lessons the learning process can be enhanced to deliver the best results. But there can be no avoiding the need for more and more practice!