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An inquiry into musical learning

This project looks into how a student of music is educated about musical intervals and how do they internalise these intervals inside their own process of creating music. The western classical music has a systematic approach of identifying and classifying these intervals through specific names. The distance between any two notes is termed as an interval. During music theory training, the practice of identifying musical intervals is deemed extremely important as it helps the musician recognise what’s playing in their head and in turn produce it on the instrument that they’re playing.

Diving into my areas of interest

During this phase I conducted precedent studies of projects that fascinated me during all this time. My intitl starting keywords were revolving around music, musical learning & augmented realitychosen. I narrowed down to "Electronic Music" from these to conduct a detailed study of existing projects done in the selected theme/domain that interested me.

Some of the projects in the domain of electronic music and music learning  that caught my fancy were:

theremin

Thereminovox

Made in 1924 by Leo Theremin in Russia I got interested towards experimental music and instruments that pushed the curve of traditional musical experiences

Things to note: The thereminovox produces music that is controlled by gestures as interactions. Playing an instrument without physical contact.

intune synth

Synthesizer

Made in 1955 by Harry Olson & Herbert Belar in  USA

Things to note: The instrument was basically an analogue computer; the only input to the machine was a typewriter-style keyboard where the musician wrote a score in a type of binary code.

smak_my_pitch_up

Smack My Pitch Up

An interactive website completely dedicated to ear training for sound engineers.

theta_music_trainer

Interval Ear Trainer

A web app that trains your ear with fun music games sharpen your sense of pitch and tone.

Analysing the precedent study

After this study I further narrowed down to the final key words of musical education and learning tools, I came up with different ideas of creating a gamified experience that requires the user to repeat a musical interval through a piano based interface. The levels would gradually progress and the complexity of the intervals would increase as the player progresses. Some of the sketches below illustrate many more:

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Prototyping rapidly

After some initial sketches I decided to start work on the idea of creating random intervals and letting the user identify them. Rapid prototyping took place to build the tactile hand held user interface.

Prototype 1

This program explores the random function of generating musical notes randomly and allowing the selection through a dropdown UI element and visually indicating the correct or incorrect selection.

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Prototype 2

Once it was tested on the bread board, I could go ahead and solder it on the GPB. This gave it a more compact form and also condensed the entire circuit tending towards a much more manageable interface to use the device.

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Prototype 3

Making a fully labeled interface panel to be mounted on top of the circuit and testing it out for the functionality on a much smaller scale.

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Prototype 4

The pre final assembly which is USB powered and functions exactly as per required with all the hardware assembly abstracted away by the UI.

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Prototype 5

After the functional prototype was ready it was now time to make the device fully portable with its own power supply and give it a form that is much easier to hold and operate. This prototype exploration process was what ensued.

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The final prototype

Although I landed at an interface but the process of iterating it had stopped and I had kind of frozen and fixated on the idea of that this being the only way to interact with the device as of now. The final prototype was a more conceptual approach taken from the perspective of how the form of the device would evolve with the context of the intended users.

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I started out adopting a traditional industrial design approach of sketching forms and trying to arrive at a form that feels comfortable to hold and has the desired aesthetic quality with respect to the material, form, colour and texture of the device.

After a review and some discussions I had to decide to think about the device from two POVs:

  • The Industrial Design approach: focusing on the form, material, colour and texture of the device
  • The Interaction Design approach: “How does the user interact with the device?”, “What is the feedback mechanism?”, “Is it mobile?”, “Can i operate it just my thumb?”

This got me thinking about the various ways that we can interact with a button and how I can link the different functions in the current interface with a single one in order to achieve a cleverly abstracted interface. Some interactions with the device could be:

  1. Single Tap
  2. Double Tap
  3. Long Press
  4. Triple Tap

Till now I had decided to let the rotary selector dial be as it is because it coincides with the narrative of the entire octave (set of notes) being cyclic in nature, hence also being the reason for that kind of interaction. The most important function was the creation of the interval, hence a single tap should create a random interval that can later be identified from an usable interaction design perspective.

  1. Create Interval (primary)
  2. Identify (primary)
  3. Repeat Interval (secondary)
  4. Reveal Interval (secondary)
  5. Help (secondary)

Taking this as my base I decided to build a form that would facilitate this interaction:

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This iteration took care of making explicit all the functions that I would need to perform on the device while also presenting a layout that would work single handedly. So I decided to quickly prototype and test it out in MDF, wood and acrylic. The final iteration resolved to a stage where I had explicitly placed all the interface elements in a layout but what I was missing was the abstraction of the interface in a manner that it would simplify the layering of the functions and would also result in a visually less disturbing layout resulting in lesser cognitive load. Hence, I decided to have only two primary UI elements

  1. The Selector Dial
  2. The “Create Interval” call to action which:
    “Creates Interval” on a single tap
    “Repeats Interval” on a double tap
    “Reveals Answer” on a long press

It was also important that the feedback process was also thought out hence I decided to further reiterate the flow as:

Create Interval
Just rotate the dial to what you think the interval is and wait
The device waits for a period of 1.5s and lets you know whether you answered correctly or incorrectly using sound and vibration as feedback mechanisms

A concept video to demonstrate contextual usage

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