Music app helps students to learn music theory

A University professor has created an app to aid instructors and students in the process of teaching and learning music theory. The app, Harmonia, was created by Heinrich Taube, associate professor in the School of Music, and is currently free and downloadable in Apple’s App Store.

“Music theory is an intensive study, and the kinds of work that students do is both analysis and composition — you have to do both of those things in order to learn pedagogically how music is connected,” Taube said. “You have to take it apart and analyze it, and then once you have those skills, you want to be able to compose music that exhibits those things.”

He said it is very difficult to give feedback to large classes because grading these types of assignments can be time-consuming and detail-oriented.

Music students also believe this app will be helpful, including Joey Neuenschwander, a junior in music education.

“This app would be very beneficial,” Neuenschwander said. “We are taught to analyze and study scores, but we hardly ever learn how to check others’ work. As future educators, we also need to be very aware of common mistakes and how to go about fixing them.”

He said he believes the app could improve students’ understanding of the content taught in a music theory class, but it should only be used as a supplement.

“The topics covered in theory may seem tedious but are very important,” Neuenschwander said. “As long as this app is used to supplement the hands-on learning and studying, I think it could be very successful.”

Taube explained that music is traditionally written on paper, so in a music theory class, the teaching assistant would have to analyze each individual assignment to figure out where the problems are. He said this is not scalable with a class of more than 120 students. Taube currently teaches 80 students.

“What this means really is that there’s a … lesser opportunity for (students) to learn,” he said.

Taube said the basic idea behind creating the app was to use a computer to analyze the various elements of sophisticated music, which will let the user know if there are problems in the composition.

He also said the computer system could save instructors a lot of time.

“If the computer can understand complex music — if it can process music by Bach, by Beethoven, and it can do that in a good enough fashion, well then that analytical capability can be applied to teaching.”

However useful, some students like the traditional way music theory is currently taught. Neuenschwander said there are definitely benefits to having a hard copy of music in hand because it allows students to make notes and jot down comments for themselves.

“It also causes critical thinking because in order to check to see if the answer is right, the student must ask a colleague or look up the answers in the textbook,” he said. “Electronic scores can be beneficial, but should never completely replace hard copies.”

Though the app is already available and usable for students, Taube said he is still working to improve the functionality of the app to bring it into the classroom.

Bryan can be reached at [email protected]