An Interview with Troy Peterson: How Would a Deaf or Hearing Impaired Person Learn Music Theory?

Apr 5, 2012 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1) Troy , first of all, tell us about you and what you do.

I used to be a marketing and communications consultant. In 2004, I realized the cost of worldwide publishing had plummeted to zero. I started my first software company and have been creating ever since. In 2008, I had an idea for my first education project which mashed up vetted educational videos with other web resources. It was a little ahead of it’s time but I was hooked. I wanted to use my communication skills for good instead of evil. Actually, I always looked at market as education of sorts but now I’m designing for the marketplace of ideas.

2) Now what exactly do you mean by music theory?

That’s a VERY good question. Technically speaking I mean, “Western Music Theory in the Common Practice Period”. Unfortunately, no one outside of the academic discipline of music has any idea what that means. Basically, it’s music derived from Europe up to and including Rock and Roll. Future versions are scheduled to cover all widely accepted Pentatonic (5 note) systems which are used around the world. I have two designs I’m working on that can be used to simply convey harmonic, rhythmic and melodic theory and translate it to traditional nomenclature, notation and transcription methods.

The current version is an exciting teaching. I’ve been using it to teach 7 year olds practical theory that previously only high school band students would be exposed. That said, it’s a work in progress so I’m taking baby steps introducing features and concepts.

3) What do you mean by a “visually based music theory app”?

It’s terribly hard to describe a picture with less than 1000 words but I’ll try. The app gives users a simple interface in lieu of complex musical terminology. It’s literally a wheel with 12 ‘pie slices’ with 7 concentric circles, it clusters complimentary chords (multiple simultaneous notes) so they can be easily played. The app also has views that display traditional names and will soon contain a free written reference for further research. Functionally, it’s a simple rainbow wheel that helps you to grasp concepts much more easily than the traditional jargon.

Warning Technical Terms: Read at your own risk!

“The app displays the 12 chromatic keys in the circle of fifths the scale degrees are represented by the colors of the visual light spectrum which in the Ionian Mode would associate the color ‘Red’ as the tonic. Each of the pie slices represent a triad harmony with the associated quality for it’s position in the scale degree. These terms while very useful to the trained confuse novices tremendously making the information very inaccessible to the layman. Many musicians avoid learning this because it’s so difficult to understand the terminology and immediately translate it to something practical for their playing.”

My hope is to use the app to function as a Rosetta Stone to translate the concepts into laymen’s terms while keeping ready access to proper or traditional nomenclature, naming conventions and resources for those who are interested in further exploration.

4) Would this be on -line, on C.D . or downloaded to a phone?

Currently, financial and technical constraints keep this limited to the iPad although other formats will be considered as budgets allow and adoption spreads. This is all currently self funded and paid for by instrument upgrades in the app however from the beginning and in the future I will offer underwriting opportunities to any music college that wishes to help broaden the available formats.

5) Who would use or benefit from this?

Evidence supports that music study correlates to higher scores in mathematics and science. Still, music education resources in this country are appalling compared to say, Japan. Making this information easily accessible can allow it to spread more easily and can benefit students, teachers and frankly, I think our society as a whole.

6) Tell us about ONE lesson plan and what it would encompass.

The first two lessons are written. The first one is an overview of basic harmonic theory. It covers the circle of fourths/fifths, the concepts of keys, scale degrees, chord qualities, common chord progressions and an introduction to modes and modulations. It covers these in about ten minutes by making chord harmonies available in one touch and temporarily avoiding traditional music terms.

The second lesson is completely focused on translating what you’ve learned into traditional music nomenclature. For this the app can be used or there are free printed materials on the app’s web site. Further lessons and updates will guide the student into melodic theory, chord construction, composition and standard music notation.

In many ways, this is the exact opposite approach to traditional methods that address these concepts much later in the process. Accessibility is one of the main beauties of assistive technologies.

7) What age and grade is this for?

That’s a trickier question. I’ve been testing this with beginning students from 6-45 with musicians and non musicians alike. This top down approach has led to comprehension and discovery for nearly everyone who takes some time with it. It’s worth pointing out, while that app is incredibly useful for communicating concepts, music is an infinitely complex topic and still requires study, discovery and tutelage. This is just a fun, rapid way to start communicating the big ideas to hopefully engage students where earlier methods were more likely to confuse and often turn them off to the topic of theory altogether.

8) What do you mean by peer to peer curricula? Please enlighten those of us who are non-tech.

The lesson plans in the curricula are designed to be powerful but bite sized so students can learn and demonstrate efficacy by teaching other students. Let’s face it, we’re facing a crisis in education and humanities are often treated as a luxury or an afterthought. If we’re going spread this valuable information (and I think music is an extremely valuable pursuit) we’re going to need to engage students to teach other students. The simplicity of the app allows this to happen.

9) What is the actual name of the App? Where can I get more information? How can someone support this effort? ;)

a) There’s been some tension between whether to focus on the academic aspects of the app or whether it’s just a fun way to learn. The official name of the project is the Grammatika after the academic paper published in 1677 that first described the Circle of Fifths. There would then be the Harmonium Grammatika (Harmonies) and the Melodeon Grammatika (Melodies). While I’m in development and seeking academic underwriting partners it can be found on the Apple App store as the Circle of Fun for iPad.

b) There’s a blog site I’ve been using to publish information, lessons, resources and news as they become available. It’s constantly being updated and since I’m a one man show at this point it’s also a work in progress. you can also follow me on Google+ or Twitter. My handle at both is “troyapeterson”. Potential underwriters or academic partners are welcome to reach me at Gmail using the same handle.

c) If you think this could be important and would like to support it there’s three main ways.

1- Get the app, take a look at the first lesson and share it with friends

2- Offer feedback or rate the app. I’m always open to ideas although resources are limited for implementation

3- Forward this article to a music teacher or professor or consider writing this into an educational grant or project

One could also buy the $3.99 upgrades. To date there’s been no underwriting or outside support this has been a work of passion. It’s been an incredibly journey of discovery, research, debate and struggle but it’s apparent it is beginning to pay off as people recognize how this little rainbow wheel might actually become part of the lexicon of music education.

Thank you very much for the opportunity, I do appreciate it. Links are below.


App Store Link.

App Blog

Demo Video

Lesson Plan #1


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