Classic Computer Magazine Archive ANTIC VOL. 1, NO. 4 / OCTOBER 1982

Inside Atari
Atari Institute Teaches Music

By Herb Moore

"We'll begin this morning's session with a fishing report. The lake has all kinds of fish in it. I did pretty well using artificial lures, but there were a couple of fellows using worms and they were doing even better."

In this relaxed fashion, Dr. Fred T. Hoffstetter, Director of the University of Delaware's Office of ComputerBased Instruction, addressed the students at the "Computer Applications to Music" seminar sponsored by the Atari Institute for Educational Action Research. He was telling them about another of the many activities available to them during their two-week stay this summer at Clear Water Estate in the Catskill Mountains of New York.

Fred finds himself in the unusual position, for a teacher, of trying to intice his students away from their class work for volley ball games, canoe rides, etc. But then, these were hardly typical students. Most of the participants in this workshop are teachers themselves. To be precise, they are mostly music educators at the high school and college level. Many of them were taking this class for credit through the University of Delaware, and most of them wanted to take as much advantage as possible of the equipment available to them in the lab.

The lab provided an ATARI system for each student, consisting of an 800 computer, a disk drive, and a CRT. There were also several printers available so students could print listings of their programs. Or, if they wanted to use the University of Delaware's PLATO computer system, there was a terminal with which to do so. With this system, students are able to experiment with an ear training program called GUIDO which was developed by Dr. Hoffstetter. Also available in the lab, was a Synclaviar digital synthesizer with which students could create and store their own instrument sounds, and play them back using an organ style keyboard.

So there is ample inspiration for class projects. And these projects are what seem to be keeping the students from volley ball and fishing. A look at, and listen to, some of these projects makes it difficult to believe that, less than two weeks previous, most of these students had never used a computer, let alone programmed one to create sound and graphics.

One student program has the computer randomly generate a chord of up to four notes. The user then tries to identify the chord by entering it's name. If the answer is correct, another chord is generated. If the answer is incorrect, the player gets another try. If missed three times in a row the chord is played again and its name is displayed on the screen.

Another student program gives a screen display of two sine waves slightly out of phase with each other, and generates two slightly different tones to demonstrate the beat frequencies that occur in the sound. The user then tries to match the tones by moving a joystick. Yet another program gives a screen display of guitar chords with their correct fingerings.

One of the few nonprofessionals in the class happened to be a high school student from Old Greenwich, Connecticut. He designed a program that allows you to generate a note sequence which is continually played while you vary pitch, speed, and loudness with a joystick.

There are two or three programs being worked on by members of the class which are intended to help students become familiar with the positioning of notes on the staff. There were also projects showing where the notes are on the piano keyboard, and a colorful display of Solfegio, the "Do, Re, Mi" method of teaching notes. Another unusual project showed different positions for dance choreography on the screen.

Although most of these projects are not the kind of refined products you would expect to buy in a computer store, they clearly demonstrate just how quickly a motivated person can learn to program the ATARI computer. The chief language used in the course was BASIC, but other languages, such as Atari PILOT and a version of LOGO were also demonstrated.

One interlude, which saved a few braincells by temporarily diverting students, was a day spent with TimGallwey, the author of The Inner Game of Tennis. Since the students were mostly music teachers, the group worked on applying the "inner game" techniques to the teaching of music. Many insights into one's own music were discovered.

This was the first event sponsored by the Atari Institute for Educational Action Research that focused completely on music. Judging from the reactions of the participants, the seminar was a success.

According to Ted M. Kahn, Executive Director of the Atari Institute, its goals are to support through grants of equipment and minor funding projects engaged in action research. Action research is defined as having an orientation towards:

  • social action as integral part of the research project
  • improvement in learning and teaching techniques
  • significant impact on social equity
  • the promotion of lifelong learning
Dr. Kahn feels that the outcome of projects supported by the Institute should help advance the state-of-the-art of educational technology.

The "Computer Applications to Music" course clearly revealed a number of unique ways in which the ATARI computer can be integrated into the music teaching process. Many of the participants in the class will undoubtedly continue to refine their projects, and all of them will surely play a more active part in the development of computer-based music teaching.

Herb Moore is a musician, teacher, and co-author of "ATARI Sound and Graphics" (with Judy Lower and Bob Albrecht), published by John Wiley & Sons.