CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - A University of Illinois music professor who developed a computer application for teaching music theory has received a National Science Foundation grant to complete development of a prototype and test it in a classroom next fall.
U. of I. music professor Heinrich Taube received a $225,000 grant through NSF's Small Business Technology Transfer program, which provides money for research and development at small businesses working to commercialize innovative technology. Taube developed Harmonia, a program that will change the way music theory is taught by automating the creation of assignments and the analysis and grading of lessons, thus allowing music theory to be taught more efficiently to larger groups of students, including in online courses.
"Basically, our software can understand music," Taube said. "It can parse it and figure out its theoretical content - how it's made, what its chord progressions are, any anomalies in the music."
Taube's goal is to have a solid prototype ready to use in a U. of I. classroom in the fall, where its effectiveness will be measured against traditional methods of instruction. The grant money will help to make improvements to the program and to design materials for the fall course.
Taube said the application already can deconstruct complicated music, such as chorales. Now, he said, the software needs to be able to handle other kinds of musical exercises that are the nuts and bolts of teaching music theory.
"We need to be able to support many different kinds of music assignments and music problems, not just analyzing and composing chorale-style compositions," Taube said.
He said improvements also will be made to the interface and to how information is sent to a server and then displayed to a teacher, including metrics on how the students are progressing and areas where they might be having problems.
A consultant will design the content and materials for the class. Taube said students will do some of their assignments with pencil and paper and others using his Harmonia program. A U. of I. statistics professor, Steven Culpepper, then will analyze how effective the computer application is in teaching, compared with traditional methods.
Taube expects the program to be a stronger way for students to learn because it provides feedback more quickly, allowing subsequent lessons to be tailored according to how students are performing.
Taube received a grant through the Office of Technology Management at the U. of I. to help with formation of his startup company, Illiac Software. The NSF grant will support the work next year. He said the phase one grant is geared toward partnerships between small businesses and researchers at universities or public institutions.
"That was a natural fit for us, because what we're trying to do is automate music instruction and bring it into the 21st century. The best place we could possibly do it is here at the university," he said.
If all goes well, Taube will apply for a phase two NSF grant to commercialize and market his technology.