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Learning Music Notation via Games?

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I apologize in advance if the moderators feel my post is not in the correct forum, but after debating if this should be posted under the Game Design or the Music and Sound forum, I decided on Music and Sound figuring more people with the appropriate knowledge and experience would read it. For years I've always wanted to try to learn how to play a musical instrument (as a hobby) but never had the time to learn until recently. I have no musical experience, BTW. I purchased the book Learn to Read Music by Howard Shanet along with a 61 key keyboard. For those unfamiliar with the book, it's divided into several parts, with part I teaching strictly rhythm, and part II teaching pitch. I finished (and stopped) after reading the first section about rhythm. The author stresses not to go on to the section about pitch until I can perform all the rhythm exercises with, as he calls it, "military precision". After about week of practice, I still haven't mastered recognizing the 83 rhythm signatures he stresses are absolutely critical to learn before moving forward. He writes it's like learning multiplication tables, that if a student doesn't learn to instantly know that 3 times 5 is 15, he will have great difficulty solving more advance problems. I've had difficulty in the past learning "mechanical" things like touch typing. Back in high school, my typing instructor pulled me aside three or four weeks into the half semester course and told me she never seen in her thirty years of teaching a student progressing so slowly. This was the first time she had to ask a student (who wasn't inattentive or disruptive) to practice outside of the class. She suggested since I have a home computer to try some tutorial software. I tried a few, and began practicing with the one I liked most and by the end of the course, I was able to learn how to type 40 words per minute with less than 3 errors in a 5 minute drill. I got a B in the course, and I touch type to this day (I work as a software engineer, so I do a lot of typing). After playing around with a few programs found the net, I didn't find anything I felt was fully appropriate to learning these rhythm signatures. None of them met *all* of the following criteria I wanted in a practice exercise:
  1. Focused solely on rhythm
  2. Allowed me to practice one bar/measure at a time, multiple times in a row
  3. Kept track of my accuracy
  4. Allowed me to adjust the beats per minute
  5. Allowed me to use a really slow BPM (e.g. < 30)
  6. Allowed me to chose the rhythm pattern to practice
  7. Gave visual feedback on when a note was should be played (e.g. light it up)
  8. Turn the metronome on or off
  9. Turn the playing of the notes on or off
  10. Turn visual feedback on or off
  11. Notes are monotone (no difference in pitch)
Assuming there isn't a free (or relatively cheap) program that meets all of my requirements, should I develop it myself, under the guise of a game? I came up with the following pros and cons of such a project, although some of my assumptions may not necessarily be true:
  • Pros
    1. Writing a game about it will help reinforce the music theory I've learned.
    2. By making it available for free, other people can quickly point out any programming mistakes or my lack of understanding regarding rhythm notation.
    3. If the game actually does help me learn, it can be used to help others as well.
    4. Research seems to suggest that people seem to learn more quickly when something is taught through a game
  • Cons
    1. The game may become a "crutch", meaning that a user may not necessarily be able to recognize and duplicate the rhythm from sheet music outside of the program.
The basic game mechanics is as follows:
  1. Player picks the BPM
  2. Player picks the time signature (2/4, 3/4, or 4/4)
  3. Player picks a target accuracy score they need to advance (maybe as low as 80% to 100%)
  4. Player is presented with a single bar/measure.
  5. The metronome starts.
  6. After metronome finishes ticking for one bar, a visual indicator (maybe a big GO) lets the player know the round has started and they should start "playing" the presented notes.
  7. The player presses and holds space for each note shown in the bar at the appropriate time for the appropriate duration, and presses nothing for rests for the appropriate duration. Notes and rest symbols will "light up" at the appropriate times and duration. A monotone tone will play for the duration of each note (with a slight fade out right before the next note, rest, or bar ending).
  8. Once the bar ends, it repeats immediately, for four times total.
  9. After four bars complete, the player is presented an accuracy score.
  10. If they beat the chosen accuracy score (in step 3), they get presented the next practice bar for the time signature.
  11. Once they finish all the practice bars for the time signature, the game ends with a final accuracy score. Results of all gameplay are saved.
Besides the gameplay outlined above, the player at anytime can go into a general practice area where he can pick the time signature and rhythm pattern to practice along with the number of repetitions, the BPM, if the metronome should be audible and/or visible, if the notes should be audible and/or lit up, etc. Should I go ahead and build a prototype as outlined above? Does anyone have any criticisms, suggestions or caveats to what I'm proposing? Am I doing myself any disadvantage using such a mechanism to learn? As for my credentials, I've participated and submitted game entries in several gamedev.net contests, including 4E6, MAGIC, One Week/One Button, the 2007 Fish Tank simulator, and the 2007 Labor Day weekend contest, so programming this is not going to be an issue. I figure I can have a basic prototype built by the end of next weekend demonstrating the basic concept for the game if I start mid-week. My question really boils down to if creating such a thing is a good idea or not.

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"I still haven't mastered recognizing the 83 rhythm signatures he stresses are absolutely critical to learn before moving forward."

It seems that author of the book you're reading is quite the perfectionist, then. I'd wager that the vast majority of musicians will never have serious need of any time signature outside of:

4/4, 2/4, 3/4, 4/2, 1/2, 6/8, 12/8, 9/8, and maybe the odd time signatures with 5, 7, or 11 beats per measure. But those are pretty rare. Anything beyond those is pretty much (pardon the term) mental masturbation.

As for the usefulness of your idea: There are tons of freeware games out there to learn music notation. Do a Google search for "game music notation freeware". So you could take the time to program it if you really want to, but it's already been done.

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