A Brief History of Computer-Assisted Instruction in Music

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During recent years musicians have been making outstanding contributions to educational and creative computing. Computers are now being used for musical sound synthesis and composition, musical analysis, automated music printing, information storage and retrieval, and computer-based musical instruction. The earliest efforts for most of these applications, including computer-assisted instruction (CAI), were reported during the late 1960s.

In 1967 Kuhn and Allvin1 described an experimental CAI system at Stanford University in which a pitch extraction device, controlled by an IBM 1620 computer, was used to judge the pitch accuracy of melodic patterns sung into a microphone. Initial trials verified the feasibility of the system. Students reported increased pitch awareness and there was dynamic student-machine interaction. The authors suggested a number of areas for future investigation, including subject-equipment interaction, computer programming, student performance data and curriculum research.

During 1967-1969 Deihl2 at Pennsylvania State University conducted a study funded by the U.S. Office of Education to develop computer-assisted instruction in ear training for instrumental musicians. An IBM 500 computer displayed musical examples, played prerecorded tapes, and trained the students to recognize discrepancies in phrasing, articulation and rhythm by comparing seen and heard versions of the musical examples. The pilot subjects were 14 clarinetists. In a second study Deihl and Zeigler3 expanded the program to include other wind instruments, and developed criterion-referenced tests in listening and performance. Comparison of pretest and posttest scores of 25 young instrumentalists taking the program indicated significant gains both in aural discrimination and in performance.

The potential for music instruction using the PLATO computer-assisted instruction system was first investigated at the University of Illinois during 1970-73. A number of demonstration programs in various areas of music were written, and separate studies were begun by Placek—to test the feasibility of teaching rhythm with PLATO, and by Peters—to develop audio interfacing of the PLATO system for instrumental music performance judging.4

Several other significant studies were reported during the 1970s. Von Feldt5 compared a computer-assisted instruction program with the standard classroom method for teaching fundamentals of notation to seventh grade general music students. He concluded that the computer program taught equally as well in 30% less time.

Systems Development Corporation,6 working with the Wichita Kansas Public Schools and the Wurlitzer Company, conducted a study to determine the feasibility of computer-assisted instruction to bring keyboard experience programs to large numbers of elementary school children. Three approaches were considered: an instructional management system, an intermediate and an advanced level CAI system. The researchers concluded that at the time of the study (1970) computer-assisted instruction systems were both technically feasible and had high educational value, but would not be economically feasible for three to six years.

Thompson7 developed an experimental computer-assisted instruction program for teaching music students to sing pitch patterns at sight. The pitch phrases were computer-generated, the level of difficulty being controlled by the student. Subjects using the program demonstrated significant improvement as compared to a control group, and student reaction was favorable.

All the studies cited above were experimental. They helped to establish the feasibility of computer-assisted instruction in music, and the design requirements for such programs. Actual delivery of musical instruction did not begin until about 1973.

In 1974 Kuhn8 described a curriculum driver used to create ear training drill and practice exercises at Stanford University. The hardware was a PDP-10 time-sharing system interfaced with a Thomas solid-state organ under digital control. The organ was used for output only. The curriculum driver provided the curriculum author with four problem formats by which a minimum of input would define the problems and how they were to be handled, including associated musical examples to be played by the organ. Judgments for correct and wrong responses, with appropriate feedback, were provided. Students had the option to determine their instructional path, and student response data were saved automatically. The system was described in detail by Killam and Lorton, and Herrold studied its instructional effectiveness.9

Regular musical instruction on the PLATO system began at the University of Illinois in 1973.

By January 1973, twenty-five programs were available to students in music, including a lesson series developed in instrumental music by Peters. . . . By 1974 sixteen courses taught in the school of Music at the University of Illinois used PLATO programming to some extent. Several classes only used the computer for one or two lessons while others had developed a lesson sequence of from four to twenty hours of programming. Several of the courses used . . . programs written and developed by other departments in the University. An example of this sharing of program materials is the use of physics programs by the students in Music Acoustics I and II taught by music staff members. . . .

From 1975 to the present (1978), a growing number of students and music faculty have used PLATO in course offerings. An experimental lesson sequence in music theory was initiated during the Spring of 1976, and has since been incorporated into the course as a weekly requirement. A growing number of competent authors have completed a PLATO authors' course and developed music lessons for courses and professors at the University.10

At the University of Delaware an Automated Instruction and Research Laboratory was established in 1974 for the purpose of seeking ways to improve ear training instruction through investigation of the process by which musicians acquire skill in aural perception. The first task of the Laboratory was to develop a computer-based music dictation system capable of supporting the kinds of investigation proposed. The result was the GUIDO system—a set of ear training drill and practice programs designed by Hofstetter,11 programed on a large computer and delivered via a high speed graphics terminal and a small digital music synthesizer. The programs include graded sets of exercises in each of five areas: intervals, melodies, chord qualities, harmonies and rhythms.

In the drill-and-practice mode students hear dictation exercises and are asked questions about what they hear. Each one of their responses is saved and analyzed in order to give students periodic reports on their progress in ear training, and to provide a record of student learning patterns for use in research in music education.12

GUIDO was first developed on a Burroughs 6700 computer, using Tektronix graphics terminals, but has since been transferred to the University of Delaware PLATO system and is available on other PLATO systems. Though originally proposed as an interactive computing system for recording student learning patterns in ear training courses, GUIDO has proven to be effective in teaching aural skills to music students. It is now used regularly for instruction at Delaware as well as by several other PLATO network subscribers, including the University of Akron, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

During the last four years the faculty of the North Texas State University School of Music have been developing a complete CAI system for ear training drill and practice to serve 600 undergraduate music theory students. Principal hardware consists of a locally developed sound generator controlled by a microcomputer called the AMUS system, interfaced to a Hewlett-Packard 2000 time-sharing mainframe.13 At North Texas State all aspects of basic music theory instruction—ear training, sight singing, keyboard, part writing, and analysis—are integrated into the same class sections. It is the intent of the faculty to incorporate CAI ear training drill and practice as a standard part of this curriculum, and courseware development is proceeding accordingly.

The object of our CAI program is to correlate, support and reinforce the student's classroom experience. . . . Aural concepts are most effectively presented in the classroom, with student competence and mastery developed through individualized CAI. The classroom instructor brings his broad understanding of music to bear upon the learning process and demonstrates the relevance of aural skills to music literature and its performance and understanding. Student competence can then be furthered through a CAI system modeled on the curriculum explored in the classroom.14

CAI systems such as the four just described are capable of delivering musical instruction to sizable numbers of students while saving, storing and processing student response data. With the help of the computer both the mode of presentation and the collection of data can be precisely controlled. This has opened a whole new range of research possibilities, especially in the areas of musical perception, learning behavior, and curriculum development. In 1975 Killam, Lorton, and Schubert15 studied recognition and confusion patterns for students practicing recognition of harmonic and melodic intervals, using Stanford University's CAI ear training system. Their findings suggest reexamination of some prevailing theories concerning perception of intervals, and they establish the basis for several areas of future investigation. The researchers concluded among other things that small differences in playing time have no significant effect on students' recognition of intervals and that the relative difficulty of recognizing particular intervals is not primarily a function of interval size.

Between 1975 and 1978 Hofstetter16 used the GUIDO system to investigate student learning patterns in harmonic and chord quality dictation exercises and to evaluate a competency-based approach to interval recognition drills. The harmony and chord quality dictation studies resulted in the identification of a number of confusion patterns, with direct implications for the design of optimum learning sequences for these behaviors. In the competency-based learning experiment a comparison of achievement, learning styles, and student attitudes was made between two groups of students learning to recognize intervals through CAI drill and practice. The experimental group had to meet a competency level of 90% for each drill unit, while the control group only had to practice a minimum number of intervals. Results of the study revealed an interesting incongruity.

Whereas measures of achievement and learning style show that the competency-based students learned significantly more in the same amount of time as spent by students in the control group, an attitudinal study shows that they have negative feelings toward the approach. The competency-based students felt that the required competencies were not helping them to learn. On the contrary, they considered the competency-based approach to be a frustrating experience in which needless dictation exercises were done just in order to meet the competencies.17

A major landmark in the professional growth of CAI in music occurred in August 1975 when representatives of eleven universities met on the campus of the University of Delaware to form the National Consortium for Computer-Based Musical Instruction (NCCBMI), proving a means for the dissemination and sharing of information and ideas in the field. The stated purposes of the Consortium are:

First, to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas among developers and users of computer-based systems for musical instruction; second, to establish and maintain a library of music courseware; third, to reduce redundant effort among courseware and hardware developers; fourth, to provide consultation for new users of computer-based musical instruction.18

The Consortium is affiliated as a special interest group with the Association for the Development of Computer-Based Instructional Systems (ADCIS). It publishes its own Yearbook, as a special issue of the Journal of Computer-Based Instruction (the ADCIS journal), publishes a newsletter, and participates in the national conferences of ADCIS. During 1979 a cooperative affiliation was formed between NCCBMI and the College Music Society.

During the last three years much of the activity in music CAI has focused on courseware development and experimentation with new hardware. A number of researchers are continuing to seek better solutions to digital sound synthesis, randomly accessible recorded sound, and pitch extraction for performance judging. The recent proliferation of low cost microcomputers is attracting musicians to investigate their possibilities for delivering instruction, as well as to create instructional programs for them. There also is a growing interest in developing stand-alone student stations controlled by microcomputers, which use programs developed on a large mainframe system. Most of these activities are too exploratory to be reported yet, but there are some exceptions.19

The prospects for further research related to music CAI have been enhanced by the recent initiation at Florida State University of a Center for Music Research (CMR). The CMR combines the facilities of an electronic music studio with an interactive graphics computer system, with the goal of creating an ideal environment for computer-based music research.

Initially, the CMR will be dedicated to basic research in music perception, memory, and the aesthetic and cognitive processes of music composition and performance.

Long range plans include the development of prototype music hardware and software, and at the conclusion of a five year period the CMR will complete the Integrated Cybernetic Music System (ICMS), a comprehensive system of music hardware and software subsystems interfaced to a general music database that resides in the interactive computer system . . . The School of Music intends to invite performing musicians, composers, researchers, and computer specialists to use the resources of the CMR. . . .

This year a digital melody programmer with parameter readouts was completed, and other prototypes well underway include a performance console with "dynamic" (speed sensitive) keyboards, and a "pitch extractor," a computer peripheral which accurately determines the pitch of vocal and instrumental sounds.

At the beginning of Spring Quarter 1980 a new computer-based instructional system created by CMR researchers will be implemented, . . . This "MEDICI" program will instruct all undergraduate music majors in melodic dictation, automatically selecting from some 4,000 graded examples.20

In 1975 Jones found 23 out of 429 institutions surveyed indicating some involvement in music CAI. He perceived a reluctance at that time for the music education community to accept and develop CAI, as evidenced by the following:

. . . (1) Few music educators are involved in teaching by computer systems, (2) Few students are involved with CAI as learners, (3) Few music educators and graduate students are involved in research in CAI, (4) Few quality course materials are available, and (5) No formal mechanism exists for sharing CAI efforts in music.21

From the foregoing it should be evident that Jones's analysis no longer holds, and that acceptance and development of computer-assisted music instruction is now widespread and growing. Indeed, we have come a long way in less than fifteen years.


1Wolfgang Kuhn and Reynold Allvin, "Computer-assisted Teaching: A New Approach to Research in Music," Journal of Research in Music Education XV (1967), 305-315.

2Ned C. Deihl, "Computer-assisted Instruction and Instrumental Music: Implications for Teaching and Research," Journal of Research in Music Education XIX (1971), 299-306.

3Ned C. Deihl and Ray H. Zeigler, "Evaluation of a CAI Program in Articulation, Phrasing, and Rhythm for Intermediate Instrumentalists," Council for Research in Music Education XXXI (1973), 1-11.

4G. David Peters, "Capabilities of Computer-assisted Instruction in Music: The PLATO Music Project," paper presented at the conference of the Association for the Development of Computer-Based Instructional Systems, Dallas, Texas, March 1, 1978; see also Robert W. Placek, "Design and Trial of a Computer-assisted Lesson in Rhythm," Journal of Research in Music Education XXII (1974), 13-23; and G. David Peters, Feasibility of Computer-assisted Instruction for Instrumental Music Education (dissertation, University of Illinois, 1974).

5James R. Von Feldt, Computer-assisted Instruction in the Public School General Music Class: A Comparative Study (dissertation, University of Missouri-Kansas City, 1971).

6William P. Kent, Feasibility of Computer-Assisted Elementary Keyboard Music Instruction, Falls Church: Systems Development Corporation, 1970. (Eric Document Reproduction Service no. ED 038 039).

7Edgar Joseph Thompson, Sightreading Constant Rhythm Phrases: A Computer Assisted Instructional System (dissertation, University of Utah, 1973).

8Wolfgang Kuhn, "Computer-assisted Instruction in Music: Drill and Practice in Dictation, College Music Symposium 14 (1974), 89-101.

9See Rosemary Killam and Paul Lorton, "Computer-assisted Instruction in Music: Ear-training Drill and Practice," Proceedings of the Fifth Conference on Computers in the Undergraduate Curriculum (1974); and Rebecca Herrold, "Computer-assisted Instruction: A Study of Student Performance in a CAI Ear Training Program" (D.M.A. project, Stanford University, 1974).

10Peters, 1978, p. 1.

11Fred T. Hofstetter, "GUIDO: An Interactive Computer-based System for Improvement of Instruction and Research in Ear Training," Journal of Computer-Based Instruction I, No. 4 (1975), 100.

12Ibid., p. 101.

13Robert W. Ottman et al., "Development of a Concept-centered Ear-training CAI System," Journal of Computer-Based Instruction VI, No. 3 (1980), 80.

14Ibid., p. 79.

15Rosemary Killam, Paul Lorton and Earl Schubert, "Interval Recognition: Identification of Harmonic and Melodic Intervals," Journal of Music Theory XIX, No. 2 (1975), 212-234.

16See Fred T. Hofstetter, "Computer-based Recognition of Perceptual Patterns in Chord Quality Dictation Exercises," Journal of Research in Music Education XXVIII (1980), 83-91; Fred T. Hofstetter, "Computer-based Recognition of Perceptual Patterns in Harmonic Dictation Exercises," Journal of Research in Music Education XXVI (1978), 111-119; and Fred T. Hofstetter, "Controlled Evaluation of a Competency-based Approach to Teaching Aural Interval Identification," Journal of Research in Music Education XXVII (1979), 201-213.

17Hofstetter, 1979, pp. 212-213.

18Fred T. Hofstetter, "Foundation, Organization, and Purpose of the National Consortium for Computer-Based Musical Instruction," Journal of Computer-Based Instruction III, No. 1 (1976), 30.

19See Arthur B. Hunkins, "A Low-cost Microcomputer Music Theory Lab," Proceedings of the 1980 Conference of the Association for the Development of Computer-Based Instructional Systems (1980); J. Timothy Kolosick, "SETS: A Program for the Application of Set Theory to Music Analysis," Proceedings of the 1980 Conference of the Association for the Development of Computer-Based Instructional Systems (1980), pp. 209-212; G. David Peters, "Courseware Development for Micro-computer Based Education in Music," Proceedings of the 1979 Conference of the Association for the Development of Computer-Based Instructional Systems (1979), pp. 922-929; Martin Prevel, "Low-cost, Computer-assisted Ear Training," Journal of Computer-Based Instruction VI, No. 3 (1980), 77-78; David L. Shrader and David B. Williams, "The Development of a Microcomputer Based Music Instruction Lab," paper presented at the Music Educators National Conference, Miami, Fla., April 9, 1980; Colette Jousse Wilkins, "Report on Initial Development of Microcomputer Programs in Reading and Aural Training for Music Students," Proceedings of the 1980 Conference of the Association for the Development of Computer-Based Instructional Systems (1980), pp. 20-23.

20Jack A. Taylor, "Activities at Florida State University," ADCIS News XII, No. 6 (1980), 58-59.

21Morgan J. Jones, Computer-assisted Instruction in Music: A Survey with Attendant Recommendations (dissertation, Northwestern University, 1975, Dissertation Abstracts International Vol. 36 [1976], p. 7465A).

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