Music Theory With Practica Musica
These two are sometimes handled by entirely separate programs, but we think that it's not really possible to isolate the one task completely from the other. In order to identify an interval by ear, for example (Ear Training) you must first know what the intervals are (Theory). In order to tell the scale degree of a melodic note (Ear Training) you must know the scales (Theory). You can't progress very far even in Theory without having some idea of the related sounds. And so on.
Some of the Activities in Practica Musica blend both theory and ear training and some are specifically one or the other. Practica Musica contains a large number of activities whose focus is primarily on theory. These can be divided into activities dealing with Reading Pitch Notation, Scales and Key Signatures, Rhythm and Meter Signatures,Full Sightreading, Intervals, Single Chords, and Chord Progression, Melodic Development, Voice Leading, and Free Composition
Here we will list activities that deal primarily with reading. Dictation activities are described on the Ear Training page.
Starting Pitch Notation, in Course 1, presents one pitch at a time in the treble clef, together with explanations. Lines and Spaces has four levels. In level 1 you practice melodic pitches found in the spaces of the treble G clef; in level 2 the pitches found on lines of the treble G clef. The pitches are displayed on a staff and you must find them on the screen piano or fretboard or an external instrument. You could also sing them to the microphone if you prefer. Levels 3 and 4 do the same thing for the bass clef. Single Pitches presents one pitch at a time in the clef of your choice (any clef at all) and asks you to find that pitch on the screen piano or fretboard or external instrument or again, to sing it. This time there's a balloon drop to provide time pressure, which adds fun. Repeat Pitches is a very basic activity that focuses on simply repeating a pitch that is played by the computer. This is a good one for singers using a microphone as input to the program: a correct answer means hitting that same note clearly on the first attempt. It can also be used with keyboard input, in which case it's a simple keyboard familiarity exercise.
In the textbook course, Reading Treble Clef and Reading Bass Clef give you simple melodies instead of single pitches. You find the notes on the screen piano, fretboard, an external keyboard, or by singing them into a microphone (rhythm isn't counted in this type of exercise). Reading in Keys, another textbook activity, deals specifically with reading melodies that have no accidentals but do have key signatures.Custom Library Pitch Reading lets you either make up a melody to practice with, or open a music file that was created earlier.
Reading Accidentals, from the textbook course, gives you practice in reading melodies that include accidentals (sharps or flats not
found in the key signature). Pitch Reading, one of the original 17 activities, has 4 levels of difficulty: melodies built of naturals only with no key
signature, melodies with a key signature but no accidentals, melodies with accidentals but no key signature, and melodies in key signatures with accidentals.
Transposed Pitch Reading has a special significance for those who play tranposing instruments (clarinet, trumpet, horn, etc.) It works like the normal 4-level
Pitch Reading activity except that you can set the transposition of the staff, as in a typical band or orchestra part for your instrument. When used for microphone input
you can then play the notes as you normally would, from the transposed part, and have them correctly evaluated at their concert pitch. Custom Transposed Reading is
the same, except that here you can enter the music you want to practice (or open a file saved earlier). Great for working out the pitches of a band part! Again rhythm
won't be counted: microphone input works well but is too slow for accurate rhythm evaluation because the computer needs to hear a tiny bit of the note before it can be
sure what the pitch is.
The Major Scale, in Course 1, simply asks you to play on the screen piano or any input device the notes of a major scale, starting on several starting pitches. The program then shows you what you should have done if you made an error. The following activity, A Major Scale Melody, asks you to find the notes of a major melody drawn on the staff, while the computer plays harmonic accompaniment. I.B.44. Relative Keys, in the AP course, is a simple and brief activity in which you identify the relative minor or major of a series of major or minor key signatures.
In Spelling Scales you write on the staff the notes of various scales and also choose the appropriate key signature. You may be asked to provide the scale in either ascending or descending form. In Tonics, another activity involving knowledge of key signatures, you're asked to play or write the tonic note for various key signatures (you are told if the mode is major or minor). Key Signatures asks you to identify the keys that correspond to various signatures, using multiple choice.
Building Key Signatures gives you a chance to write the signatures for requested major or minor keys. The program will correct you if
you make an error either in the number of flats or sharps, or their placement and order. I.B.53. Scales in Melody is an AP Course activity that invents random
brief melodies in various scales and asks you to identify the scale of the melody. Choices include the Church modes.
The activity Reading Simple Rhythm in Course 1 presents organized precomposed examples for you to read in real time. The metronome will sound, and you tap any pair of keys (middle row of letter keys is best, or a MIDI keyboard) to produce the desired rhythm. This begins with straight quarter notes in 4/4, and moves on to simple mixes of other values. The last of the 8 examples mixes quarters, eighths, and halves. Again pitches will be automatic; you deal only with tapping the correct rhythm. The next activity in that series is Reading with Rests, which adds the element of rests. Begin Reading Rhythm is a similar activity in the textbook series.
Rhythm Reading has 4 levels of difficulty, crossing into the advanced skills in levels 3-4. Again this is a real-time rhythm tapping activity. In Custom Rhythm Reading you can choose the type of rhythms. Reading Syncopation, from the textbook series, concentrates on syncopated rhythms. Reading Triplets, also from the textbook, does the same for triplets. Reading Rounds is an interesting variation on rhythm reading: you tap the rhythm of one part in a round, and not only do you hear the correct pitches but the program also plays the other parts of the round along with you. Placing barlines, from the textbook series, helps you to understand the meaning of various meter signatures - it generates random melodies without barlines, in various meters, and asks you to bar them appropriately. Meter Examples, also in the textbook series, is not scored. It provides examples of real music written in various meters and you can perform them with the option of hearing the metronome tick the beat.
Active Listening is unlike any other exercises you've encountered, except for Reading Rounds, above. Neither of these is actually
scored for points, but they are fun: in Active Listening you tap the rhythm of one part in a polyphonic piece, and the correct pitches are supplied and the rest of the
voices play along with you - stopping if you stop, jumping ahead if you rush ahead. A few of the pieces supplied are difficult, such as the Pachelbel Canon (wait for the fast
notes). It's best to tap the rhythms with two fingers on the middle row of letter keys - if you computer has a slow sound system (e.g. a Windows computer with a software
synthesizer) use the sampled "guitar" sound in Practica Musica or a MIDI device for output. Reading Tricky Rhythms is very difficult rhythm reading using
melodies generated by the computer (this is intended to be really, really difficult at times). Writing Rhythm in the textbook series
is an initial exercise in rhythm dictation: pitches are supplied automatically so that you can concentrate on rhythm. Generated Rhythm Dictation has 4 levels
of difficulty, the last including triplets. Library Rhythm Dictation uses examples from the literature. I.B.59. Hemiola is an AP Course activity that
explains the concept of Hemiola and asks you to locate the hemiola in several examples taken from the literature.
No-Input SightReading is not scored for points; it's just for people who want to practice singing a short random tune and then listen to it on the computer for comparison. In the AP Course there are two similar activities, II.B.1. Sightsinging Practice and II.B.2 Sightsinging Practice. Both of these present random melodies for singing practice, the first one in simple meters and the other in compound.
Intermediate to Advanced:
These scored activities in full sightreading (both rhythm and pitch together) are best done using an external MIDI keyboard.
Progressive Sight Reading has four levels of difficulty: Stepwise within the key, Adding m3 and M3,
Adding P4 and P5, and Adding Accidentals. Rhythmically these are not difficult, however. Custom Sight Reading lets you enter any melody or open a saved
file for use as a sightreading exercise. In both cases Practica Musica will mark your pitch and rhythm errors.
Vertical Sight Reading deals with chords as well as intervals, but all you have to do is to play the displayed interval or chord on the screen piano or (easier) an external instrument. There's a balloon drop timer, so using an external instrument will be more satisfying. Interval Names, in Course 1, presents an interval on the staff and gives you two possibilities to choose from: e.g. Is this a second or a third? (It also explains the difference onscreen). You are not required to understand interval qualities in this exercise - just the interval class (second, third, fourth, etc.)
I.B.45.Seeing Intervals is part of the AP course; it's a one-level activity in which you identify visual intervals quickly under the time pressure of the falling balloon. Visual Intervals also displays various intervals and asks you to identify them using multiple choice boxes. Quality distinctions don't appear until level 3, so the first two levels of this could be classed under "beginning." Custom Visual Intervals works the same except that it lets you pick which intervals you want to work with. Interval Playing asks you to play various intervals on the screen piano, fretboard, or an external instrument. It is distinct from the more advanced Interval Spelling activities in that it doesn't require that you know the correct enharmonic: all you need is to find the correct keys on the piano or other instrument. If you play the black key between F and G, and the program is looking for a Gb, it will interpret the note as a Gb instead of as an F#.
In I.B.46 Interval Inversions from the AP Course you identify the inversion of a series of random intervals.
Interval Spelling requires that you know the correct enharmonic spelling of each interval: a minor third must be, for example,
c - eb, not c - d#. You can enter the requested notes directly on the staff or else click the appropriate areas on the "enharmonic piano," which divides each key into
its various enharmonic equivalents. Building Intervals, in the textbook course, is similar but has only one level of difficulty.
Visual Chords has four levels of difficulty: triads, seventh chords, inverted triads, and inverted seventh chords. You see a chord on the staff and identify it by multiple choice. The chord is also sounded. Chord Playing is one of the original Practica Musica activities: you simply play the requested chord either on the screen piano/fretboard or an external instrument (you could even sing it in note by note via a microphone). In Chord Playing you aren't required to know the "spelling" of the chord; you just have to find the right piano keys (if the chord needs Ab a G# will be changed to the needed pitch automatically). Custom Chord Playing works the same way except that you can choose the chords you're working with.
Building Seventh Chords, from the textbook series, works like Building Triads. Chord Playing in Context asks you to play certain chords in various keys, identifying the chords by Roman numeral. For example, "play III in the key of e minor." Get that wrong and you'll get a helpful comment, e.g. "What you played was VI in the key of c minor!" Chord Spelling is almost the same as the Chord Playing activity listed above, except that now you must choose the correct enharmonic for each note of the chord, either by entering the note directly on the staff or by playing it on the "enharmonic piano" that distinguishes the enharmonics. In this activity you will need, for example, to use Eb in a c minor chord, not D#. There's also Custom Chord Spelling, the same activity except that the chords used are up to you.
Secondary Dominant Sevenths has two
levels, one for major and one for minor keys. You might be asked something like "Please play 'V7 of vi' in D major," and if you make an error the program will tell you
what you actually played (e.g. "You played 'V7 of ii in D Major."). Spelling Augmented Sixths similarly asks you for specific aug sixth chords in various keys,
e.g. "Please write the 'French' Augmented Sixth that would resolve to the dominant in the key of Bb Major." Again the programm will analyze and describe what you
actually entered. Correct enharmonics count here, so again the enharmonic piano keyboard is provided.
Most of the chord progression/harmonic dictation activities are classed under ear training and are
listed in the Ear Training page. One that is not is I.A.50. Harmonic Rhythm in the AP Course, in which
you view music examples from the literature and identify those places where the harmony changes.
Tonal Sequencing comes from the textbook series. The computer will invent a brief melodic idea and ask you to sequence it at
a given interval - to write the melody again in a tonal transposition (not leaving the key) starting at the given interval from the initial pitch.
Rhythms are provided automatically; you just place the note tool to specify the pitches. Tonal Transposition works similarly, but the ideas are
longer and you are asked to begin on a specific pitch. Real Transposition does the same, but for real (exact) transposition instead of
I.B.70.Melodic Motion, in the AP Course, is a very simple activity that asks you to identify the type of motion (similar, parallel, contrary, oblique) found in a number of two-part note pairs.
Identifying Nonharmonic Tones is a labeling exercise in which you use multiple choice boxes to label various types of non-harmonic tones in polyphony. I.B.51. Nonharmonic Tones, in the AP Course, is similar except that it uses single melodies with the prevailing harmony indicated by Roman numerals.
Chorale Writing is from the textbook series. It provides a framework for a chorale: Roman numeral chords and four voices that
each present those harmonies without regard to voiceleading. You are to move the notes to create good voiceleading for the same harmonies. Practica Musica will
evaluate your work and mark parallels, directs, and other partwriting errors. Realizing Roman Numerals uses a large group of excerpts taken from Bach's
chorale harmonizations; again Practica Musica will evaluate your work. II.B.5.Figured Bass in the AP Course is similar but here you are given the bass line
and interpret the figures in four parts. Activity II.B.7 Two Part Writing in the AP course presents three examples in which the first few measures are complete
and include Roman numeral analysis. Your task is to complete the second voice and fill in the Roman numerals for what you write.
Activity I.B.71. Performance Marks is in the AP Course and deals with distinguishing between between staccato, dotted notes, tie, slur, accent, crescendo.
Intermediate to Advanced:
Practica Musica includes several activities that consist of notation tools you can use to compose music, hear it, and print it. These differ primarily in the tools provided and the way the screen is initially set up. 2-Part Composition is set up with two staves, which can use any clefs you choose. 4-Part Writing is similarly configured with 4 staves. 4 Parts Plus Chord Symbols is the same but with the addition of a tool to add chord symbols (or Roman numerals). Composition is the most free-form - it is initially set up with two staves but you can add or delete staves at will, using any clefs. Orchestra Writing is about the same, with the important addition of being able to set the transposition of any staff, so that you can write for transposing instruments and hear them play at concert pitch.