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Devin Maxwell

Devin Maxwell

Music Composition/School of Music


ascolta_cantare 1.0:
Software to Enable Group Musicianship Exercises for Accelerated and More Comprehensive Development of Fundamental Aural Skills

Faculty Mentor: Pamela Palmer Jones - Music/School of Music


Aural skills classes are required for incoming undergraduate music students. There are two fundamental learning outcomes that students attempt to obtain upon completion of the course: the ability to sight-sing, that is look at musical notation and be able to hear it with an inner ear and then reproduce it with their voice, and the ability to listen to music and write out the musical notation that would produce the same musical result. Some call it the “eye that hears and the ear that sees.” n most classroom situations, there are a number of challenges that aural skills instructors face. First off, there are usually only two timbres available in the classroom, that of the human voice, and that of the piano. This is problematic for dictations exercises because timbre plays a huge role in how to transcribe music. It’s a problem while running singing exercises because there are no long-tones to tune to and there is the potential to run “off-pitch.” Additionally, students become used to singing along with the piano, but nothing else. Finally, in order to run most exercises, the instructor needs to be an active participant in the exercise. This sets up a situation where individual students may not be fully participating in the exercise, but the instructor may not be able to identify and correct the mistakes or lack of participation. While a strong instructor has a number of resources to counterbalance the problems inherent in teaching aural skills, the reality is that most aural skills instructors are not only teaching aural skills for the first time, but teaching for the first time period.


I am currently developing software called ascolta_cantare that will enable group musicianship exercises that will address some of these fundamental challenges. While there is some software that is available to help individual students practice, there is no software currently available that can be used in the classroom by instructors. In regards to timbre, my software will be able to play back recordings of string, brass, wind, and percussion instruments as well as electronically developed sounds. This will resolve the problem of the students learning how to transcribe and sing to piano and piano alone. It will also give the students sustained pitches to tune against. This software will also allow for the instructor to disengage from the activity and focus on individual attention for students who are struggling. In some ways, it is like a musical pitching machine. If the hitting coach were also throwing the pitches during batting practice, there wouldn’t be a great way to get real-time information about the flaws of the batter's swing.


Teaching assistants will benefit through having a tested, pedagogically sound software that is easy to use and graded in difficulty for Musicianship I. This will allow the instructor to have more efficient class pacing and students should show quicker, more comprehensive skill development. Additionally, departments outside the school of music will be able to examine the project and the pedagogical effectiveness of building skills through software-led group exercises. The software will go into use for Musicianship I in Fall of 2013 and assessment will be done through faculty review, student surveys and interviews, and test score comparison year over year.


Devin Maxwell Poster
Last Updated: 7/27/18