Melody exercises

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This page is about creating a specific type of exercise. If you are preparing your own exercise, we recommend you read Setup basics first.

SmartMusic can record a student singing a melody, and assess the performance accuracy immediately after recording. The following is a list of the main options for exercise setup:

  • as sight reading or with multiple takes allowed
  • with or without accompaniment
  • in a variety of vocal ranges and clefs

The above options can be combined in any way. For example, sight reading is possible with or without accompaniment.

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An accompanied melody submission from the end of the third semester, Schulich School of Music, McGill University


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An accompanied melody with B-flat transpostion, from the end of the fourth semester, Schulich School of Music, McGill University. When the SmartMusic instrument is clarinet instead of voice, the software occasionally misidentifies the octave register. One way of dealing with small assessment glitches is to accept all work assessed at 80% or higher for full marks.

Pedagogical uses

Practice habits

  • SmartMusic provides hard evidence of student practice.
  • Students must perform everything in tempo, with or without an audible metronome click. Besides promoting good rhythmic habits, this also promotes a fluent approach to melody reading.

Accompaniment and context

  • SmartMusic can provide a context for melody reading by playing an accompaniment. As Evan Jones and Matthew Shaftel have pointed out, this can make phenomena such as implied harmonies and modulations less abstract.[1]
  • Accompaniment can strengthen the ability to sing dissonance against another part.
  • Accompaniment for strengthen the ability to sing cross-rhythms against another part.

Metronome, tempo and rhythm

  • Use of the metronome can help students get a feel for changing meter.
  • Use of the metronome can help students learn to subdivide slow or intricate excerpts.
  • Enforcing a minumum tempo facilitates assignments that use alla breve, tempo di valse, etc.
  • Enforcing a minumum tempo helps students feel hemiola and syncopation.

Assessment

Computer assessment is possible in most types of melody assignments. Similar exercises could also be made without assessment by using the “solo” type of file in Classic SmartMusic. For the sake of simplicity, setup procedures on this page assume that assessment is being used, although much of the information would be applicable without assessment. For information about setting up exercises that do not use assessment, see Open-ended exercises.

Note that SmartMusic assessment only evaluates pitch and rhythm. It does not evaluate dynamics, articulations, solfège syllables, etc.; these can be checked by listening to the recordings. Listening to the recordings is a good way to get feedback about student progress and the effectiveness of assignments.

Setup

Entering your music

The first step is to create a score in Finale notation software (or other software when using New SmartMusic). The score must contain linked parts. It is the individual linked parts, not the score, that form the basis of melody exercises in SmartMusic. For example, in an exercise with a soprano part, SmartMusic will not display the formatting of the soprano’s music as it appears in the full score; it will use the formatting from the linked soprano part. For more about linked parts, see the user manual for your notation software.

SmartMusic “instruments”

SmartMusic requires users to tell it which instrument it is recording, and users must choose from a list of preset instruments (including voice) that SmartMusic understands. When notation files are exported or converted to SmartMusic, the software inspects the linked parts and attempts to match the instruments in the notation file with instruments that are available in SmartMusic. Matching seems to be based on staff names and which clefs are used. For example, given a staff named “soprano/alto” that uses treble clef, the software suggests the SmartMusic instrument “Treble voice.” In Finale, preset instruments chosen in the Setup Wizard or Score Manager tend to be easily recognized by SmartMusic. When the instruments in your score are not matched the way you want, it is usually possible to change them during the importing/exporting process.

Bundling several vocal parts in one exercise

SmartMusic assessment considers notes performed in the incorrect octave register to be completely wrong. To accommodate different vocal ranges, a score can be created with several “instruments,” i.e., vocal parts in different registers and clefs. These parts can contain the same music in different octaves. This technique allows instructors to distribute one SmartMusic exercise that gives students several different vocal ranges to choose from, instead of producingseparate versions of the exercise for each vocal range.

Templates

When exporting from Finale, your choices of SmartMusic instruments are saved in the Finale file. Once you have a Finale file that exports to the SmartMusic instruments you want, it can be copied and used as a template for other exercises that use the same instruments.

Options

Sight reading vs. multiple takes

By default, multiple takes are allowed in SmartMusic. However, instructors can select several sight reading options when creating an assignment, and make them required. This feature is documented thoroughly in the user manual.

Accompaniment

Audible accompaniment can be included in any melody exercise. The accompanimental instruments are entered in the same score as the parts to be performed/assessed. When the score is exported/converted to SmartMusic, the instructor selects which instruments are for assessment and which ones are for accompaniment. The accompaniment can be turned on and off by the student, but the instructor can specify if it is required, in which case only the takes recorded with the accompaniment can be submitted.

Melody exercises that use assessment are not able to display the accompaniment on screen­: students hear the accompaniment but they only see their own parts. Setup of an exercise that shows a melody and an accompaniment is be similar to setup of a sing & play or other multipart exercise, and would not use assessment.

Importance of headphones

SmartMusic picks up all sound heard in the room while recording. Playing an accompaniment through speakers during recording can interfere with assessment; the software will often interpret notes from the accompaniment as wrong notes in the melody. Using headphones during recording eliminates this problem.

Clefs and vocal ranges

Treble and bass clefs

SmartMusic’s list of available instruments includes several options for vocal music:

  • treble voice (which reads in treble clef by default),
  • tenor/bass voice reading in treble clef 8vb, and
  • tenor/bass voice reading in treble clef.

These options provide a way for all students (male and female) to sing parts notated in treble clef/octave treble clef, regardless of whether they have high or low voices. There is also way to have students with high voices read in the bass clef: parts notated in the special bass clef 8va can be exported to the “treble voice” SmartMusic instrument.

C clefs

It is possible to notate vocal parts in C clefs and export them to treble voice and tenor/bass voice (the instrument “tenor/bass voice bass clef” can be selected, even when the part is not notated in the bass clef). There are no special C clefs that allow students to read an octave higher or lower than written, so registers must be chosen carefully for each vocal range.

[image: score with tc, tc 8vb, bc and bc 8va, and C clefs, like Cynthia’s demo, as well as the instrument choices dialogue.]

Transposition

The user interface of SmartMusic includes a Transpose button that offers transposition by as much as a perfect 5th up or down. When a transposition is selected, the software displays a transposed version of the original music, and assesses the transposed version. The transposition button is enabled by default; instructors who want their students to read an assignment in a specific key must disable the transposition option when creating an assignment.

The transposition provides an easy way for vocalists to adapt music to their own range. It does not produce the effect of a transposing instrument, because the music is displayed in the sounding key.

Transposing instruments

Most notation software provides a way of notating music for transposing instruments, so that the music sounds in concert pitch but is displayed in a typical instrumental transposition. Music notated in this way can be matched to transposing instruments in SmartMusic’s preset list. This can be used to create aural skills exercises in which the student must perform the sounding pitch while reading a transposed part. B flat transposition is especially practical, because the same music can be available in two different octaves, notated for clarinet in B flat (soprano clarinet) and for bass clarinet in B flat. SmartMusic seems to be able to track the pitch of vocal performances even when it is “listening” for the timbre of clarinet. In an aural skills class, this type of exercise would be most valid when students were using fixed-do solfège, which the instructor would have to verify by listening to the recordings.

Hiding music

(main article: Hidden answers)

The scope of melody exercises can be extended by leaving some of the notation blank, i.e., by hiding notes with Staff Styles in Finale’s Staff Tool. This technique forms the basis of several types of exercises, especially aural learning and fill-in-the-blanks. Hidden answers can be combined with accompaniment to produce exercises in canonical imitation that can accurately assessed by the computer.

Additional examples

Please share your examples here.

References

  1. Jones and Shaftel state that “Melodies presented without harmonic context are often of limited use in class because the harmonic support, the cadential articulation, and even the phrase structure may be unknowable or ambiguous from the melody alone. Knowledge of the harmonic underpinnings of a melody is essential for the performance of melodic leaps and provides insight into the function of particular melodic tones. To deny students what might be essential information about a melody is to impose artificial limitations and to diminish their chances for successfully acquiring the necessary aural skills.” Jones, Evan et al (2014). Aural Skills in Context. Oxford, xiii.