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UBC Reports | Vol. 48 | No. 11 | Sep. 5 , 2002

Breaking Barriers In Music Education

High tech tunes teach complex concepts

By Helen Lewis

So you've never played a note on a piano - don't let that stop you from writing a fabulous four-part composition.

UBC Arts One lecturer Brandon Konoval says technology is taking music education into a new realm, where students can experience a music lab from home, and where inexperience is no barrier to grasping complex musical concepts.

Of course, it's all done with computers.

Konoval created an on-line introductory music theory course (Music 103) last year. He is now developing an on-line course in music appreciation. But how do you give students an engaging music class experience without putting a teacher and a piano in front of them?

A music notation software program called NoteAbility Lite has made the task much easier.

NoteAbility Lite (a simplified version of the NoteAbilityPro program developed by UBC's Prof. Keith Hamel) allows students to play back any piece of music - including their own compositions - from a home computer.

They can create complex four-part compositions and hear them played back by various instruments, sample other works to explore musical concepts, and submit their finished pieces to Konoval by e-mail. At the touch of a button, he hears the results of his students' efforts.

For Konoval, it means his classroom extends far beyond the walls of UBC.

"For students in an on-line community, it's crucial to take theory out of the realm of 'notes on paper' and to make the subject come alive," he says.

Konoval is a distance education teacher (in music appreciation, for students as far away as Jamaica, Hong Kong and Taiwan) and music theory lecturer for UBC Science and Arts majors.

What he needed was someone who could make the technology easy and rewarding to use - so he teamed up with "web designer, multimedia wizard and musician" Jeff Miller, a course designer in UBC's Distance Education and Technology division.

Together they build on-line courses that recreate the immediacy and practicality of a music studio.

"In a classroom I'll draw a diagram of the theory then demonstrate by playing it on the piano," Konoval says. "But this technology will not only recreate a classroom experience - it will be a completely different approach. I created a multi-media text that's student-driven because they can explore the concepts themselves."

With NoteAbility Lite, Konoval uses Hollywood themes to illustrate concepts in classical music for his students. Clicking on the laptop, he plays Star Wars' familiar Darth Vader theme - and bringing up one of Wagner's themes from Tristan und Isolde alongside it, he makes the parallels between the works immediately obvious.

"I look for examples that will interest students, in everything from medieval chant to Sting songs. It makes the point much more effectively because they can both see it and hear it at once," he says.

The on-line course in music appreciation is expected to be ready by January 2004.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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