Review of Rhythm Tutor

 

 

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hythm Tutor provides valuable drill for instilling in students a better concept of rhythm, although a lack of polish and breadth is evident in this version 1 package. Rhythm Tutor does not give instruction on counting, but, rather, provides drills/exercises in a huge variety of rhythmic variations within a C (common time or 4/4 time signature). The average teacher or parent will find installation more difficult than it should be and the meager installation instructions confusing at best. Once installed and configured, Rhythm Tutor operates perfectly, though it suffers from confusing evaluation screens, a lack of any drills in time signatures other than 4/4, and a largely black-on-white interface that could stand the use of color to help reinforce learning, provide more easily understood evaluations, and maintain the interest of students.

 

keyinfo.gif (1045 bytes)Ed. Note: Shortly after the appearance of this review, Version 1.1 of Rhythm Tutor was released. It includes an automated installation program and improved instructions for installation that will allow most users to get the program installed successfully without special knowledge of computers.

 

Rhythm Tutor provides no installation program of the sort that is now standard with virtually all Windows applications. Instead, there is only a single sentence description in the program manual which says to "drag the Rhythm Tutor folder" from the distribution diskette to our hard disk. Since there was no folder of any sort on the distribution diskette (i.e. all the files were in the diskette root directory), we manually installed Rhythm Tutor (with the help of our Ph.D. scientist computer expert) by: 1) creating a directory for the program on the hard disk, using the Windows File Manager (Explorer in Windows 95 and NT); 2) copying the program files to that directory from the distribution diskette; 3) manually creating a Windows 3.11 program group; 4) manually adding the program executable to that program group; 5) finding and assigning manually a suitable program icon since no icon is provided either in the program executable or as a separate file. Once installed, we started the program and followed another somewhat incomplete and, possibly, confusing (though not erroneous this time) set of instructions for configuring our MIDI setup to use the program. We feel that Rhythm Tutor badly needs either an installation program, a batch file that can at least set up the directory and copy the files, or, at a bare minimum, a step-by-step set of accurate instructions for installation and configuration. Many teachers and parents would have been stumped at step one and never have gotten the program installed or configured.

Rhythm Tutor does not explain the "how to's" of counting; it focuses entirely on drill. It is up to the teacher and/or student to have already learned the basics of understanding and recognizing rhythmic note and rest values. Rhythm Tutor reminded us a lot of rhythmic dictation exercises done in music school. It could very easily help prepare and/or augment a college or university student's rhythmic recognition.

Rhythm Tutor gives 4 introductory beats at the chosen speed as the exercise begins; the user then taps on the space bar of their computer to match the rhythms that are projected on the screen. To help in following the rhythm, a cursor moves along in time with the rhythmic pattern on the screen and the computer also produces the correct counting as the exercise is performed. The student can get an immediate evaluation of their accuracy if they choose. The evaluation is shown in a dual histogram displaying the distribution of attack and release timings by the student relative to the correct timings. This type of display is easily recognized by scientists and engineers, but is somewhat foreign to most musicians. Most of our younger students and some of our adult students had difficulty understanding the evaluation chart. However, middle school students and older experienced little to no problem with it. One interesting and positive feature of this program is that if the student wants to repeat an exercise, the repeat will cover the same ideas but the content will be different; this way, the user cannot memorize the patterns, but has to constantly sight read the materials. Rhythm Tutor features a way of controlling the metronome speed from the speed of 30-120 by moving a slider. It is also possible to have the program keep time according to how long you wish to spend on each exercise in periods from 10 seconds to 20 minutes.

The exercises themselves range from quarter notes and rests found in exercise #1 to a review covering all aspects of the program including eighth note triplets, quarter note triplets, syncopated rhythms, dotted rhythmic patterns and corresponding rests. The rhythmic contents of the program are divided into 5 major categories and have anywhere from 7-14 exercises, plus a review, for each category. Category 1 includes Basic Note Values: with exercises for quarters and rests, halves and rests, tied halves and quarters, dotted halves, eighths, quarters and eighths , sixteenths, combinations of sixteenths , eighths and quarters. Category 2 consists of Basic Triplets, including eighth note triplets, eighth note triplets and quarters, eighth note triplets and combinations of quarters, eighths and sixteenth notes, quarter note triplets, quarter note triplets combined with various other note groups including quarters, eighth note triplets, eighth notes, sixteenth notes. The third Category consists of Syncopated Quarters, including patterns with eighth notes tied to quarters, dotted quarters, syncopated quarters and eighths, dotted quarters, syncopated quarters, eighths and rests, dotted quarters, syncopated quarters, eighths. The fourth Category consists of sixteenths and eighths, with sight reading materials on the notes separately and then combinations of them with previously drilled materials. The final Category is triplets varying from eighth note triplets to quarter note triplets, which are then combined with all of the previously drilled materials.

Our younger students often became bored with Rhythm Tutor rather quickly. We think the program could benefit from greater use of color in the exercises and evaluations to help the student understand their rhythmic progress better and to liven it up a bit for the younger students. It was most successful with the high school, college and adult students, especially those thinking of attending or already enrolled in music school. They enjoyed the challenges of the program and appreciated the focus of the program on strengthening skills in sight reading notation. However, they were concerned about the limitation to only 4/4 time signature when there were so many other time signature variants to be understood.

Rhythm Tutor will be useful to teachers who need a rhythmic sight reading drill program for their older students. Students who have not previously learned the nuances of rhythmic note and rest recognition and the basics of counting will have to look elsewhere for instruction. In studio testing the program on a variety of students ranging in ages from 5- 65, we found that those ages 12 and up had the best success with Rhythm Tutor. Incorporation of other time signatures in future versions of this program, as well as improved installation and configuration tools, constitute major and needed enhancements.

Amy Y. O'Grady

Rhythm Tutor, Version 1.0, list price $27.95. Copperman Software Products, 768 Los Robles Ave., Palo Alto, CA 94306. Phone: (650) 493-2798. E-mail: CopperSoft@aol.com. System Requirements: PC Compatibles: At least 4 Mb of RAM, Windows 3.1 or newer, and a sound card that conforms to Multimedia Personal Computer (MPC) specifications. Macintosh: Mac Plus or newer, System 6.0 or later, 2 Mb of memory. Midi interface and sound system are optional, but are recommended for Mac SE models or older, and for Power PC and Performa models.
 
 
 
 
 
Page created: 6/13/98
Last updated: 09/03/15
 
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