Chord Crusher

When Kate Pukinskis who taught Music 51A/B in 2019-2020 first approached the Learning Lab about building a music theory game at the beginning of Summer 2019, we thought it would be a fun challenge. We couldn't have anticipated either that we would launch a version of the game for students at the start of Fall semester or the kinds of pedagogical questions we'd encounter along the way.

The game, which Kate named Chord Crusher, is a timed multiple-choice quiz in which students are asked to identify randomly chosen sets of chords. While a number of music theory quiz resources already exist online, what sets Chord Crusher apart is the sequential way in which students build up to naming the chord. The series of questions models the process Kate teaches in class and breaks down what eventually becomes automatic for students. Among the advantages of this system is the fact that the sequential nature of the questions allows the app to give students feedback on their progress and opportunities for improvement at a granular level. The app tracks both speed and accuracy across question types, so students can immediately see improvement.

The app replaced studying on paper for ...

In the end, we released three versions of the game over the course of Fall and Spring semesters, including a significant redesign of the look of the interface for Music 51B in the Spring.

A Humanities Algorithm

We often say at the Learning Lab that Music is not just one discipline among others when it comes to our work in the digital humanities. The kinds of digital tools our Graduate Fellows from the Music Department have worked with and the interplay between mathematical, ethnographic, and philosophical analysis in the assignments and activities they design always lead to new innovations. Chord Crusher brought this into particularly sharp relief.

One of the choices we made early on was not to attach the game to a fixed database of questions. Rather Learning Lab Graduate Fellow David Forrest (with shout outs to Zach and James) wrote an algorithm to generate the chord, the quiz questions, in realtime.

[get David to say a lot smarter things than I can here...]

Everything is a Pedaogical Choice

Of course, there are many music theory websites out there. ... the special thing is the tree of questions...

Chord Crusher is a key example of what we can do when technical know-how meets disciplinary expertise. And also how seemingly technical choices are also pedagogical ones. For example, when we chose keyboard inputs for playing the game, the simplest implementation from a purely technical perspective would have been to keep the keys the same for every question. asdf or 1234 could have identified answer choices from left to right.

Logic :heart: UX

While code and web design have long been on the LL's list of mediums, Chord Crusher marked our first release of a tool built specifically for a specific class.

Textbooks of the Future

As we look ahead to code-based tools for both online and in-person courses, Chord Crusher is a model...