Thursday, July 22, 2010

Review: Music Learning Community

For the last year, I’ve been using the computer theory games at MusicLearningCommunity.com, and have found them to be a great addition to my studio!

About the games

MLC offers over 350 individual games arranged in levels from primary to level 4, from finding the two and three black keys all the way to diatonic intervals, major and minor scales and triads, I-IV-V7 chord progressions, chord inversions, and more. Ear-training is incorporated at every level. The games are fun, colorful, and easy to navigate. All of my students have been able to pick up on what to do with little help from me. (Click here for free game previews and click here for a video presentation showcasing several games.)

Christine, the site’s creator, has provided several printouts that make it easy to incorporate MLC into your studio. There are teachers’ guides for each level, student assignment pages, and even student assignment pages which are aligned with popular method books such as Faber, Alfred Premiere, and Hal Leonard. There are also printable certificates, letters to parents, and helpful articles and an archive of newsletters on the site.

What I Like

Using MLC frees up more lesson time for sight-reading, technique, and performance.

I was able to use MLC immediately. I have some other theory instruction software that comes with a manual of more than 130 pages. I still don’t know how to use all of the features. MLC is very user-friendly.

The games provide concentrated bursts of practice on one skill or concept. Feedback is very quick, and students are very motivated to play again and improve their scores.

It’s easy to customize instruction. With MLC, if I see that a student made or exceeded a target score with only one try, I don’t assign more games that cover the same concept. If I see that they are having trouble reaching a target score, I know to address that concept in the lesson and assign more practice games in that area.

It’s very easy for the students to navigate the site on their own and track their own progress. They can access the games at home for extra practice, and parents can see their scores and progress as well.

It’s working! All of my students performed very well on the theory exams at our local festival, and they all prefer MLC to workbooks. Even my adult student voluntarily plays the games at home!

How I’m Using MLC

I teach 45-minute lessons, and then students use MLC on the computer for another 15 minutes. The computer time overlaps with the next student at the piano. I’ve set up a laptop with headphones on a desk in my foyer, right outside the piano room. I’ve made up a notebook with an assignment page for each student. Each week, I mark the games I want them to play, and they check them off when they’ve reached the target score. I double-check their scores later. After the first couple of weeks last year, students were able to do everything on their own. I add a nominal monthly fee to students’ accounts for the subscription. It’s actually more cost-effective than workbooks. One student’s yearly computer fees are less than the cost of two books, and the students are getting much more theory practice. I never hear, “I forgot to do my theory pages!”

One example of success

All of the games have a learning version, a practice version, and a quiz. Some also have a challenge level. When students play the challenge games, the scores accumulate the more times you repeat the game. MLC will show the high scores on these games for all of the students everywhere who have played it. Last year, I held studio-wide competitions over a 4-week period and gave prizes for the highest scores on some of the note-naming games at the challenge level. After the first week, I posted our 3 highest scores on my white board along with their “national ranking” on the MLC site. Over the next 3 weeks, I’ve never seen such note-naming! A few of my most competitive types played the games over and over to boost their scores and make the “national top 10!” I had to make my own daughter turn off the computer and go to bed one night because she was so determined to be No. 1 in the nation!

Cons

I really have very few complaints with MLC, but nothing’s perfect! There are a few little inconveniences with navigation. For instance, when you type your name and password, you can’t hit “enter” – you have to put the cursor on the submit button and click it. It’s a very small thing, but it gets me every single time I log in.

My only real problem is something that MLC can’t control - my own internet connection. Occasionally, our service goes down. Thankfully, this probably happened fewer than half a dozen times over last school year, but I feel the need to keep some folder games or other computer software ready to use as a backup.

Try it for free!

Christine is offering a one month free trial of Music Learning Community! I hope you’ll explore the site and perhaps give it a try! If you've been using MLC in your studio, I'd be interested in hearing how you implement it and what you think!

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