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A noteworthy singing app

A new educational game takes the daunting aspects out of music. Douglas Blane reports

A new educational game takes the daunting aspects out of music. Douglas Blane reports

Music teaching often gets it wrong, says Charlie Williams, a classically trained musician and postgraduate student of the University of Cambridge's Centre for Music and Science. "In many lessons, you learn the names for things first and then how to do it - which seems backwards and can put people off. When I teach music, I try to emphasise doing it first."

With this in mind, Mr Williams has released a new educational game for the iPhone and iPad, which sneaks in the theory almost unnoticed, he says. "I don't want to scare people by saying, `Now try to sing a harmonic minor scale' - which can sound pretty daunting."

SingSmash works by comparing an increasingly adventurous series of notes sung with those the singer was aiming for. By hitting the right note at the right time, a chunk of wall appears, in time to bounce a ball back and knock out blocks to progress to higher levels. "If you beat a level then you find out, `Guess what? You've just sung a harmonic minor scale'," he says.

"People can start to gain confidence, recognise notes and even discover talents with voice and pitch they may never have realised they possessed."

The game starts at a basic level and is very child-friendly, he says, but uses increasingly complex musical motifs as a player advances. "You can play SingSmash using an instrument too, and my most enthusiastic beta- testers could only beat the top level with guitar. To my knowledge, no one has beat it just by singing yet - so that's a challenge right there."

Potential future projects include multi-player versions of the game, he says. "A lot of people who are self-taught are averse to music theory. It can seem elitist. People who play in a band can use Sing-Smash as a fun way to build skills and explore new musical patterns."

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