I recently had a discussion with a fellow music teacher on their thoughts regarding the rising popularity of interactive music apps — more specifically Yousician. Does using Yousician and other interactive music learning platforms help or hinder the process of learning an instrument? My quick answer is that it does help and i’ll get to some of the reasons why later. To be clear, i'm speaking from personal experience as someone who has used Yousician myself (I just had to take it out for a test drive!). Concerns around this topic were wafting around the air during my time at the CDBaby Independent Musicians Conference in Chicago in October. I think the concerns are well warranted in a profession where it’s hard enough to make ends meet to begin with let alone suffering the threat of being put out of work by machines. I’ve done some thinking and i’ll explain why I think this won’t be the case.
One of the benefits in adding Yousician to my students' curriculum has been that it encourages them to play and practice during the week in between their lessons. More often than not, students will practice just before a lesson out of guilt or parental command. Yousician allows a teacher to monitor the progress of a student by simply seeing how many exercises a student has or has not completed. This isn’t possible in the traditional book approach to music lessons. There is definitely more compliance when Big Brother is watching you!
Yousician is dynamic and engaging. Books don’t congratulate or tally your progress. I also find that the exercises found in the Yousician targets specific rudiments quite well. A great example of this is how Yousician requires a student to integrate both visual and aural sensory information simultaneously. This isn’t easily achievable in the traditional book approach. There is a lot of experimental evidence to back up the benefits of multisensory learning (Shams & Seitz, 2008). Our brains learn better when more than one sensory modality is engaged because we evolved in environments where sound, sight, and touch were all involved in the same cognitive task.
Boredom is a big hurdle in any established practice routine. Because Yousician tracks a students progress in real-time, I often find my students engaging in a fierce competition with themselves. These students get the opposite of bored: they strive for perfection with excitement! Glenn Kurtz in his book Practicing: A Musician's Return to Music quite brilliantly states that “When you sit down to practice, however casually, you cast yourself as the hero and victim of your own myth.” The best learning comes from being in competition with yourself.
I don’t think that we should underestimate the primacy of human contact. Nothing can replace the experience of contact between teacher and student. Within this contact emerges respect, care, encouragement, trust, and support — virtues that promote and foster a productive mentorship. How “influential” and “inspirational” can a machine be? Do we ever attribute these adjectives to non-humans? Marvelling at the skill and aptitude of a machine seems absurd. “Wow that Chopin Nocturne sounded fantastic— now play it a but more rubato” said no one ever to a player piano or MIDI file. I would personally marvel more at the human who developed the algorithm for a machine to play rubato.
I am and will continue to encourage my fellow peers in music education to embrace learning software like Yousician as a tool — not a ominous mainframe that threatens to take over their profession. I feel that teachers should be more concerned about the rising ubiquity of guitar tuner apps since they serve as impediments to a student developing an ear for tuning a guitar relative to itself and other instruments. The day smartphones die, guitars everywhere around the world are doomed to dissonance.
So don’t sweat it too much. Yousician doesn’t have to put you out of business or threaten your livelihood anymore than the invention of the car did to the wheel…
Human relationships are critical in any type of learning. Most other jobs that have been or are in threat of being automated relate to manufacturing. We shouldn’t be in the business of manufacturing musicians or artists anyway.
Kurtz, Glenn. (2008). Practicing: A Musician's Return to Music. New York: Vintage Books.
Shams, L., Seitz, A. (2008). Benefits of multisensory learning. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 12(11), 411-417.