When my nine-year-old daughter came to me and expressed an interest in learning how to read music, I knew I was ill equipped to teach her myself. Although I had taken piano lessons for years as a child, my music theory skills were basically non-existent.
I turned to a friend who was a music teacher and she recommended I look into some of the computer software options available. My search led me to purchase the software program Practica Musica. I read that it offered an in depth music theory training program, originally developed for the Mac, and now available cross-platform to include PC users.
The study of music theory is fundamental to understanding the music that you create and play. When you consider that music is a language, you realize that music theory skills provide the foundation for fluency. As my child wanted to learn to read music in particular, I knew honing these skills with the aid of a music theory software program would not only help her become a better student, it would instill in her a lifelong appreciation and discerning ear for music.
In my experience, the Practica Musica series is ideal for students of any age and provides a wide range of activities, from basic to complex. Each activity includes four different skill levels and those levels can be modified in countless ways. Many PC users may find the programming unfamiliar, as was the case with me. It took some practice to figure out the different options and icons. However, getting started with the basics was fairly straightforward and I found I could start on the fundamental exercises within a few moments of installing the program. While the learning curve was a little steep, once I got the hang of it, the system was easy to navigate. In no time, my daughter was moving throughout the program with ease.
A general overview of the activities and interactive sessions the program covers include:
- Pitch and Rhythm matching, reading and dictation
- Real time rhythm tapping
- Interval and chord playing
- Chord progression writing, reading and dictation
For each activity, a piano or fret board display is utilized for entering answers and checking your work for comparison to the original. The program is MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) compatible but does not require you to physically connect an electronic musical instrument. Most of the activities in Practica Musica do not need a MIDI keyboard. We either use the mouse to click on the computer screen’s piano keyboard or, to my daughter’s delight; she found she could use the letter keys on the computer as a little piano!
For each exercise, my child was awarded points for correct answers and deducted points for incorrect answers. The exercises became more difficult as my daughter’s level of understanding increased and we both enjoyed this progressive instruction. The ability to hear the right answers compared to the wrong answers is a great feature that really helps with ear training. The software program concentrates on letting you set up exercises to implement the theory you study in the book. Almost every example found in the text can also be found as a file in the software, allowing you to listen and experiment with the examples. This interactive component of the program really sets it apart and allows a greater degree of stylized learning.
Practica Musica software includes numerous exercises and examples. In addition, you also have the ability to create your own activities from scratch or modify the existing activities to fit your needs. This is a feature my daughter really responded to. As she became more comfortable with expanding her music theory skills, she loved the freedom of challenging herself. The options were only limited by her imagination, as virtually any element of an exercise could be customized. I imagine in the hands of a music teacher, the ability to choose your own personal layout of the staff or fine tune the instructions for your students would be a real plus. I would recommend, until you have had ample experience creating your own activities, it is easier to modify the existing options rather than start from scratch.
A textbook companion is included in the Practica Musica program. Written for the beginner in mind, this book covers just about everything you could want to know about music theory. Almost every example in the textbook is found as a file in the software, allowing us to listen to and experiment with the examples. In addition to providing examples in text, the workbook provides extra staff paper, pullout worksheets and exercises. This is a wonderful stand-alone resource, which gave both my daughter and me the ability to clarify any questions we had about the software aspect of the program. For example, in the software program, the menu to choose from is a drop down list of activities with no real guidelines on where to begin. The textbook provided an efficient guideline that we could follow along with.
Once programming activities becomes intuitive, you will find the possibilities this software offers are limitless. Which is a good thing for us, because my younger son just announced that it is now his turn to learn to read music! Having the Practica Musica series has been an excellent investment in a lifelong study of music theory, for myself as well as my children. As someone who was looking to create a working knowledge of music theory that I could share along with my children, I have found this program and workbook to be an essential tool in our family library.
Would you like to try it for yourself? You can get your own copy here: Ars Nova Practica Musica 5