Learning Performing Arts with Mobile Devices

25 10 2007

This is an accidental topic – one which I hadn’t planned to blog on at all – but could possibly be one of the most interesting areas for the application of mobile learning approaches.

My colleague Helen Lynch posted a YouTube video on our team blog today, featuring an accomplished Australian jazz pianist and teacher (Doug McKenzie) performing an improvisation of “Some Day My Prince Will Come” – with video of his hands and a captioned explanation of his technique. Here it is for your viewing pleasure;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LmcTByrO_ow

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/LmcTByrO_ow" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

This comes just a week after meeting Megan Iemma at mLearn. Megan is a music teacher who has terrific ideas on how to use iPods to support teaching and learning (and, in particular, music education), with many of her ideas and resources available on her blog. At the conference, she had asked me if it was possible to display the musical notation on an iPod while a song was being played. I had no idea at the time, but delving further into Doug’s videos, I found this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAoQjoJl8mI

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/KAoQjoJl8mI" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Yes – a musical performance, together with video of the performer’s hands, a digital version of the keyboard (making the fingering a little clearer), the musical notation, chords, and explanation of the performance, all in one. Wow.

This made me think about how I started learning violin (though it’s been over a decade since I last had lessons, and sadly, things are now rather rusty). I started learning with the Suzuki Method, which is basically a method of teaching a musical instrument by teaching technique, but learning songs by just listening to them. I started at the age of four years old, and didn’t even see musical notation for the first three years of my violin classes – everything was done by ear.

What does this mean? Well, for one thing, it means that it’s possible to learn music just by listening to it – as easily for a child as picking up a language. The Suzuki Method has been around for decades now, and has been proven with scores of virtuosos (myself definitely not among them!). Anyway, this would effectively make an iPod a powerful learning tool for picking up musical pieces, even if you *only* had audio. The addition of video – which can allow the annotation of a musical performance with live demonstration, musical notation and commentary makes an iPod even more interesting as a tool for learning music.

I’ve certainly tried out the use of mobile devices for learning performing arts before – for example, as described in this previous post. Learning new dance moves requires me to constantly practice them until my body develops a subconscious “muscle memory” for them; until then, however, it’s easy to completely forget how to replicate any given move, or to introduce errors of timing, movement or technique. This is why I started videoing instructors performing dance moves – so I would have a reference for revising dance moves correctly; and it’s been the most effective method for learning dance (certainly better than my initial attempt to keep a textual database of the moves!)

I also have a teaching qualification in Speech and Drama, and it got me thinking about how my Speech teacher used to do taped recordings on audio cassettes for me to listen to her delivery – for example, changes of pitch, pace, pause, power and timing – that would help me as I memorised each piece of prose or poetry. I would also have to tape myself and listen to my own recordings to pick up ways I could improve my own performances. How easy and effective this would be on today’s mobile, digital devices, compared with the low-quality, clumsy tape deck I had to use as a child! Using Gavin’s voice-based system, which I explored in a previous post, it would even be possible to exchange performances between teacher and learner for guidance and feedback easily and remotely.

There are some really terrific opportunities for the use of mobile devices in teaching and learning performing arts – it will be fantastic to explore this area of application for mobile learning in more depth in the future!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,