Online tutor helps Boyle band students

September 02, 2003|GARY MOYERS

Back in the old days, band students listened to their instructor play a piece of music, then learned - during class - how to play it.

The advent of online technology, however, has introduced a form of virtual music tutor who is available any time the musician has access to the Internet.

Tim Blevins, director of music for the Boyle County school system, is taking advantage of the new technology to post the music for his playing tests online, giving his approximately 300 students in grades five through 12 a tutor any time they want.

"The students have responded well to it," said Blevins, whose marching band at Boyle County High School won its second consecutive state championship last year. "Quite a few of them are using it, particularly in the seventh and eighth grades, and I believe it has helped them. Every student in those two grades passed their first playing test the first time, and that's unusual."


Blevins was introduced to the program last winter.

"My daughter, who is in the band, played with the program at home," he said. "She had fun with it, and I noticed immediate progress on her part. I thought right then I had to find a way to make this available to my students."

He found the free version of the program, and with the help of band member and senior Matthew Hagen, the Web site was designed and linked to the Boyle County school district Web site.

"Matthew did the technical work on the site," said Blevins. "He put in a lot of hard work on it, and there's no way it would be up without his work.

Blevins uses a program on the site called FreeNote, which he describes as a streamlined version of Finale. Finale is a full-featured software package that allows users to compose and play back music at various tempos and keys, while FreeNote is simply a free version with only the playback enabled. It will, however, allow users to adjust the tempo and key of the piece being played, and a scrolling cursor moves along the music to show the student the location of the notes being played.

"Students can download FreeNote for no charge, and the music posted on our site consists of etudes I composed for various instruments," he said. "That way we don't have to worry about copyright violations."

The etudes are played on the student's home computer, and by repetition and practice, the music is learned.

"One of the biggest advantages of this method is the musician can slow the tempo to half or whatever is comfortable," said Blevins. "If the musician is learning from the beginning, he or she can slow it way down, playing along with the sheet music that is displayed on the screen, and then speed it up as they learn."

Blevins assigns a new piece each week, and even students who have to miss school are able to keep up.

"It is a great teaching tool," he said. "Basically, this program and music act as a home tutor for my students. It teaches them to sight read music at their own pace, and the more motivated the student, the more the program will help them."

Blevins said he believes his fifth and sixth-grade students will be ready to use the program soon, and he has plans to include pieces for his high school students as well.

"This really benefits our students who perform in concert band," he said. "Hopefully we can put up some pieces for the marching band, and maybe even for the jazz band."

Students are not required to log in to use the site, which means the general public can view and use it.

"It's available and easy to use," said Blevins. "I've issued a little challenge to the students to try and compose pieces that are difficult for me to play, in turn allowing them a try at composition. There are so many things we can do with this; we've barely scratched the surface."

Persons wishing to view the site may access Follow the onscreen instructions to download the free program, and click on the musical pieces to play them back.

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