(Wii) Music to my ears

wii music

Image by alphalead via Flickr

Yesterday, my husband and I received our copy of Wii Music, but before I can tell you about my musings about Wii Music, you first need some understanding of my musical history.

When I was in elementary school, I sang enthusiastically in the school chorus.  In 5th grade, I tried out for All-county chorus and was the first person cut.  The sour, disgusted look of the music teacher’s face has haunted me for years.  Still, I liked music and made several attempts to become musical.

I took piano lessons during middle school.  My piano teacher didn’t believe in teaching her students how to read music.  She wrote all the notes above the music and had us memorize the pieces.  I didn’t realize that I was being shortchanged until I switched teachers in high school.  My new teacher was not kind about my musical illiteracy.  “Even my six year old daughter can read music,” she frequently told me.  I gave up playing shortly afterward.

About the same time, someone decided that it would be a good idea to form a youth choir at my church.  I politely declined the invitation to join, explaining that I could not sing.  However, I was encouraged by the chorus leader’s protests of “Sure you can.  Everyone can sing.”, and I gathered up my courage and joined.  A few bars into our first song at our first practice, the leader who had encouraged me to join interrupted the singing.  “Stop! Stop! Boys,” she said,  “you are an octave off.”  We started over.  She stopped us again.  “Boys, I’m sorry. . . Kimberly, you are an octave off.  Can you just move your mouth instead of singing.”  I was humiliated.

Thanks to Wii music, I now know for a fact that I am not tone-deaf; I can pick out matching pitches (though admittedly, I still have extreme difficulties trying to create a matching pitch).  I’ve also learned that I can keep a steady 4/4 rhythm (if all you want me to do is play quarter notes).  When there is no teacher around to insult my best efforts, I can enjoy playing music.  I realize that playing Wii is a long way from playing a real musical instrument (remember, I did play the piano once), but if I can learn to keep time and train my ear, maybe I’m not musically hopeless after all.  Maybe I will graduate to a real instrument again, someday.

I’m a big fan of the Wii.  Not only can I play (sort of) music, but I can exercise with it.  Through the Wii, I have infinitely patient instructors who never criticize, and always encourage.  With Wii Fit, I get instantaneous feedback, and a score for most exercises.  I can figure out what I did wrong and track my progress.  With Wii Music, I get different kinds of instantaneous feedback. I can hear the sound of my playing and I have the option of tracking the accuracy of my rhythm with the music flow setting.  Only a few activities in Wii Music provide scores, but I am given the chance to review and evaluate my own performances.

I see the Wii console as a fantastic platform with tremendous potential for learning.  In educational technology settings, I’ve often heard people start arguments for educational technology with a sort of disclaimer like, “Of course no educational technology can ever replace a live, human teacher.” or “A real human teacher is always ideal.”  The people who make these arguments have never experienced one of my music lessons, or saw me in a spinning class at the gym.

I value and respect teachers.  I am one.  Teachers provide experiences that technology cannot.  However, it is time that we recognize that some types of technology provide learning experiences that live people cannot.  I learned to crochet from my mother, but I learned knitting from a DVD-Rom.  Honestly, for me, the infinite patience of the DVD-Rom provided a less stressful learning environment; I didn’t care if I disappointed the DVD-Rom and I could watch the demonstration videos over and over again, stopping them frame-by-frame when necessary without worrying about getting on any one’s nerves.

We are now developing technologies, such as the Wii, that can couple infinite patience with instantaneous feedback.  As hard as it is for us teachers to set aside our pride, there are now and will continue to be  instances where some students learn more and more comfortably from computerized routines than from a live teacher.  We should be trying to identify which tasks are most appropriate for the different kinds of learning situations and which learners are most likely to thrive in the different learning environments available.

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About Kimberly McCollum

I'm a former middle and high school science teacher and current stay at home mom.
This entry was posted in about me, Teaching and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to (Wii) Music to my ears

  1. I know many teachers who pop letters above notes as an aid to teaching. The philosophy behind it is that eventually you’ll learn to read by the process of osmosis, while not getting discouraged by the dificulty of being forced to read notes unaided.

    With my students, many evertually associate the letter with the note. However, in your case, your first teacher probably should have supplemented her note ‘spoon-feeding’ with some written theory .

  2. anndelise says:

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one who’s happy to have something more relaxing for playing around with music and sounds.

    I’m hoping that after Wii Music has been out for a while, some people who know music theory, etc and have the game will set up some lessons for people like me to make it easier to learn varying rhythms, dynamics, putting parts together, developing band cohesiveness, etc on the Wii Music.

  3. @Dan the Music Master – Memorizing pieces was easy for me, so I rarely looked at the music and notes together long enough for “osmosis” to do it’s work. I can read music, in that I can recognize notes and could write the notes in on a new piece on my own. However, I lack the speed and fluency required to play a piece by sight reading. My teacher killed my interest in music as a youth and I haven’t yet made a determined effort to try again.

    @anndelise – My sister is a music major and sometimes I wish I had a grasp on some of the music theory that she likes to talk about, but generally music education requires you to master the skill of playing an instrument before delving far into theory. The lessons that you are proposing would be a way to make music theory more accessible to the rest of us.

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