i-Maestro – Improving Music Education

i-Maestro is an acronym for “Interactive Multimedia Environment for Technology Enhanced Music Education and Creative Collaborative Composition and Performance”. i-Maestro is a new European Commission supported research project involving a number of nations in Europe working together to use ongoing information technology developments to make musical education more accessible in both self-learning environments as well as computer-assisted tuition in classrooms. i-Maestro is specifically related to music education and training, in both performance and theory.

Music tuition is traditionally based on verbal communication from the teacher, with relatively short periods of teacher-student interaction. New technologies can make more options available to both teachers and students by the development of new teaching tools to enhance the entire learning experience. This could be either by providing additional forms of feedback or by creating access to interactive training materials during the lesson or on a self-tuition basis.

One of the avenues being explored is gesture analysis through the i-Maestro 3D Augmented Mirror. The use of motion-capturing technology will provide feedback to a musician on posture and technique, factors which can significantly influence the quality of sound produced. With the use of twelve infrared cameras, the performer’s movements are captured in 3D with synchronized video and audio recordings. The software then analyzes the motion data and provides feedback by means of auditory and visual displays. A performed gesture can be compared with pre-recorded gestures of the desired result, enabling both the student and the teacher to see detailed nuances of posture and bowing technique.

Ways of presenting and accessing musical score is another facet of i-Maestro. MPEG Symbolic Music Representation (SMR) helps integrate multimedia functions and musical score information and can be used as a tool for interactive home learning, in classroom situations and to improve accessibility of music to individuals with visual or other impairments. This highly advanced program is able to track the musician’s location within the score, allowing functions such as automated page turning. Learning to play along with other musicians is an essential part of musical education which is sometimes limited due to lack of opportunity. The SMR program could provide a backing track which is synchronized to the musician’s performance, allowing the musician to practice with virtual musicians.

Part of the i-Maestro project focuses specifically on music education in schools by providing novel tools for teachers and students in a networked school setting. In this virtual school, students will be able to access material from home with teachers monitoring students via the network. Teachers will be able to personalize teaching exercises to suit the level of the student or group of students by means of i-Maestro.

Validating and refining i-Maestro is well underway, with students and teachers participating in the initial testing phase. It is anticipated that i-Maestro will be beneficial in assisting many budding musicians to achieve their full potential.