Mobile App Design
Musix : RHYTHM
Music education is stuck in the 1500s!
A mobile application featuring a series of rhythm lessons and metronomes, exploring kinesthetic and visual learning methods for rhythmic concepts
Drummers/ people who want to understand rhythmic concepts
This was an individual senior capstone project for the University of Washington's Interaction Design program.
Music Education's Gate-keeping Problem
I taught music lessons for about 8 years. Upon learning what I did for a living, 80% of adults I met told me a version of this story...
"I used to love music as a kid, but I had this crazy mean piano teacher who used to grab my hand and yell at me, so I quit and I regret it!"
This is my least favorite story.
As a teacher to mostly young children, it was my mission to try and develop and curriculum based on each student's unique talents and interests. I wanted to make sure that with or without me, they kept playing, discovering, and appreciating music. I truly believe that a foundational music education, where students gain an understanding of music concepts and it's cultural contexts, is integral to a person's development. Translating emotions to words, words to song, notation to melodies, listening+playing+improvising with other musicians, these are immeasurably beneficial in the development of cognitive and inter/intrapersonal skills.
These benefits all come from the act of CREATING music, of PLAYING music, of LISTENING to the music you've created. These mostly participatory aspects of music are what makes it MAGICAL. However, in a traditional music education, this reward of playing, creating, and listening is put aside as a by-product of learning technique, theory, and (in a "westernized" society) the standard western music notation system. Traditional music education assumes that there is only one universally accepted route to become proficient at an instrument.
In a time where technological innovations are drastically changing the landscape of education, why has music ed been left behind?
What would a Magic-First Approach look like?
Western music notation is prescriptive. The goal is to allow each player to perform a written piece as close to intended by the composer through a dizzying array of symbols and a notation-specific vocabulary.
There are however, much more descriptive styles, where interpretation differs from player to player. These descriptive notation methods require less translation. It encourages an understanding of the context and genre, but allows the player to reach that magical collaborative performance level much faster than prescriptive methods.
Through professor Shannon Dudley's ethnomusicology class at the University Of Washington, I was exposed to the notation systems used by Indonesian gamelan players, Indian classical players, and West African drum ensembles. A crucial commonality among these styles were the participatory elements of a music practice. Indonesian gamelan music is never performed as a showcase, but rather as accompaniment to a dance. West African drum ensembles often feature apprentice drummers, who learn through watching a master drummer, and always alongside dancers. In more and more cases, I realized that a focus on watching, on movement, can be just as integral as an auditory focus when learning music.
I used the already existing TUBS notation system as a jumping off point. It's a system that people can understand and read very quickly, relying on a number of boxes to subdivide a beat. Although TUBS is simple and intuitive, it's used more to communicate short snippets of rhythms. I wanted to see if there was a way to animate TUBS notations, to allow musicians to practice and play along, however long the drum set part might be.
In participatory music practices, the act of watching, then playing to movement, is a fundamental skill that starts being developed the second a student picks up an instrument.
Music to me, is like learning a new language. Sure, anybody can learn Italian through books and apps (I TRIED THIS FOR YEARS AND IT WAS STILL IMPOSSIBLE, BUT YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN). However, to truly become an Italian speaker, to be able to simply respond, rather than go through the motions of translating, you have to understand the subtle context-driven colloquialisms that make that language magical. You have to be immersed in the culture. An aspect of this in music is understanding the context and consequence of the output of music- the movement, the dance, the body language involved in communicating with musicians you're playing/improvising with.
Explorations: creating a visual metronome
Explorations: Visualizing concepts
I designed a series of visual transcriptions featuring a visual cue to keep the time, then asked research participants to play along and see if there was an obvious benefit in animated notation vs. the standard prescriptive notation they were used to.
In testing out these musical visualizations, I found there was a hard limit as to the information eyes can handle. Too many contrasting colors, rotating shapes, or strong colors resulted, perhaps predictably, in several seizure-related criticisms.
Results: What Works, What Doesn't Work AT ALL
Music moves in a circular form. Rhythms, phrases, melodies, themes- all repeat throughout a single song. The circular shape of the notation not only successfully communicated this idea, but gave new players a sense of safety and encouragement–knowing that if they messed up a part, it would just come right back around in a few seconds.
For display at the 2018 UW design show, I created a set of lessons to play a specific drum beat, then condensed them into a 1 minute demo-highlight reel.
This lesson utilizes an animated TUBS notation to start teaching the basic patterns of the drum set part. The zebra-printed pattern was a decision informed by my research participants. Although they appreciated having a visual metronome via a spinning wheel with 8 spokes, it was rather distracting and superfluous, since the notation itself is also spinning. A more subtle method of keeping track of the measures was needed.
The Mobile Application
So, how do people like to consume tutorials/lessons? YOUTUBE AND APPS!
....I'm not designing another youtube...so, an APP it is!!
Branding: Serious, Modern, Fun, Important!
I always thought of Art Deco styles and color schemes to be one small step away from patterns and colors associated with child-play. I wanted to communicate a playful aesthetic with a serious attitude.
Final app run-through
Musix : An all-access learning tool
2018 UW IxD Design Show!
For our final design showcase, I had to give users the ability to have a “magic” music moment. I decided to make a set of digital drum pads using conductive paint and an Arduino soundback connected to a sound board. Users we able to walk up, put on headphones, pressed play, and tap along to the lesson. The Right hand played the kick drum part, left hand the snare drum part. The parts were color-coded.
In the research for this project, I had several discussions about what advancements in Technology meant for the future of Music Education and Ethnomusicology.
In one of these discussions, a Ethnomusicology phd candidate stated that
"With advancements in technology, we must elevate our roles."
No longer can music educators be content offering the same methods that have been implemented since the 15th century. In a time where the very act of processing information is changing along with available tech, educators must be willing to accept and become competent in new software to communicate new ideas and findings, or risk music and music education falling to the wayside in favor of classes parents view as more in-line with valued skills and jobs...like tech jobs...like coding.
But the thing is, music IS coding. Music is art. Music is dance. Music is human relationships. Music is life, and life is balance.
Imagine what a population who learned about artistic expression THROUGH new technology would be capable of achieving; I hope more and more interaction designers with music backgrounds will lend their talents to exploring what is possible in integrating new tech and the design methodology into a standard music curriculum.