Faculty of Education

Faculty of Education
Faculty of Education

Queen's Gazette Story on Rena Upitis and MEDA's New App Notemaker

'Right tool, right time'

By Andrew Carroll, Gazette Editor. Originally published in the Queen's Gazette.

Thanks to a new app, music teachers and their students are able to collaborate effectively between lessons.

NoteMaker App
Notemaker allows users to make real-time comments on video and audio recordings.

Notemaker allows users to make real-time comments on video and audio recordings. It was created through the Music Education in a Digital Age (MEDA) Project, directed by Queen’s University’s Rena Upitis (Education), in partnership with Concordia University and the Royal Conservatory.

Annotation apps are not new, Dr. Upitis explains, but what makes Notemaker different is that it is the only one that allows a dialogue among multiple commenters directly on a recorded work, either video or audio.

“The technical piece that makes this app unique is that it can be used with multiple users, multiple times. So that makes it extraordinarily powerful,” Dr. Upitis says. “It’s dynamic, it’s multi-user, it’s the kind of teaching and learning that we are doing these days.”

Music lessons often take place once or twice a week and the communication often ends when the lesson does. However, with Notemaker, the communication continues.

“So when you are sitting at a piano lesson and your teacher tells you something, your teacher interrupts you partway through a piece and says try this differently. You get it and you pay attention but you can’t re-create that moment when you are practising,” Dr. Upitis says. “Whereas if you’ve done a video and the teacher writes a comment in ‘This is what I meant at the lesson, right here you need to raise your elbow,’ then you can play it again and again and see where your elbow isn’t raised and then say ‘Okay I get it’ and apply it to the practice. In a lesson the moment has passed but with Notemaker the moment can be brought back again and back again.”

The app is part of the larger MEDA Project, which has resulted in four digital tools – iSCORE, DREAM, Notemaker and Cadenza –that comprise The Music Tool Suite. The multi-year project is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the Canada Foundation for Innovation. The other key for Notemaker is the recognition that learning has moved beyond the classroom setting.

“It is very exciting and it meets two very important needs,” says Dr. Upitis. “One is to recognize the contemporary pull of mobile devices for young musicians and the other is to provide scaffolding for teachers to be able to work with students mid-week between lessons. It’s really intuitive and because it meets a pedagogical need I think whatever learning they may have to do to figure out the app, it’s worth it and not terribly difficult, especially if they are using phones already, which many of them are.

“This is the right tool at the right time for this context and we’re loving the response we’re getting.”

Dr. Upitis adds that with its flexibility and multi-user sharing, Notemaker can be applied far beyond music education. If there’s a video and feedback being sought, whether it’s sports training, theatre, dance or creating a preparing a presentation for work, Notemaker is an ideal platform.

While it is an exciting, new tool, at the heart of the app is something that has always been the key to learning.

“The other thing Notemaker does is the most important of all, which is it motivates people. People are motivated to practice when they can see their progress and when they can feel they are getting feedback that is directed and helpful and they can link that feedback to their work,” Dr. Upitis says. “Ultimately it is motivation that matters in every kind of learning. If kids are intrinsically motivated to do whatever the task is at hand that’s what’s going to propel them forward. It’s not the app. It’s the learning. And when they fall in love with the learning and fall in love with the activity or discipline that’s what you want taking over. For us an app like this provides that motivational bridge, that pedagogical bridge, the collaborative bridge, but ultimately, in our case, it’s about learning to play and love music. Not about learning to love and play an app.”