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Virtual Music Teacher

European researchers are working on developing interactive "smart" programs to teach musical instruments. Most people will agree that no one wants to see a time when computers will stand in for real teachers, but they have already proven their worth as a supportive tool for learning. Music is just one more discipline in which computers can become a valuable teaching aid.

Understanding Software

The main issue in developing such a program is building software that can react to music and understand when mistakes are made. Researchers from six European countries have worked on the EU-funded Vemus project for three years with much success.

Vemus focused on creating a program to teach beginner and intermediate students how to play wind instruments like recorders, trumpets, flutes, clarinets, and saxophones. The coordinator of the project, George Tambouratzis explained that it would be simpler to create software to react with monophonic wind instruments rather than polyphonic instruments like the piano. A survey performed by the researchers also found that these were the five most popular instruments that beginning music students choose.

Vemus then identified three types of learning environments: home practice, distance learning, and the conventional classroom. In every case, a music score is fed into the platform so the system can identify if the correct notes are played for the right length of time. The system notes any deviations and reports them to the student. In each scenario, the system provides feedback that is visible to students and helps them improve.

Positive Feedback

The instruments and the three different platforms have all been tested in the field by various members of the projects in countries such as Sweden, Romania, Lithuania, Greece, and Estonia. Tambouratzis says the feedback is positive and a project report will be issued quite soon. The main benefit encountered with Vemus, says Tambouratzis, is that students seem to learn faster than they do through the conventional teaching methods. “Motivated by interaction with their computers, the Vemus students also study longer and learn more pieces than the control group students,” he says.

The project is nearing its end, but the Vemus platform will remain available at the website for the next three years, where students and teachers can download trial versions free of cost. Tambouratzis hopes that the software will remain free of charge and available to all. The program is very adaptable and the interface can be changed to just about any language. It's a simple process for teachers to add new scores into the system. More complicated would be adding polyphonic instruments to the meld.


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