Published Reviews

In addition to these published reviews of MacGAMUT software, you may want to read comments from MacGAMUT Users and Instructors

Click here for a brief summary from Sheila Clagg Cathey of her 2014 dissertation entitled Profiles, Perceptions, and Practices Related to Customizable Computer-Aided Instruction (MacGAMUT) among Postsecondary Aural-Training Instructors. A longer, more detailed article is intended for journal submission. The entire dissertation will be available through the Boston University Library, and ProQuest Dissertations and Theses.

Excerpt from David Williams & Peter Webster, Experiencing Music Technology, 3rd ed. (Thomson-Schirmer, 2006), pp. 415-16.

Flexible-Practice Software Examples Aural Skills/Music Theory

We highlight two flexible-practice programs for aural skills and music theory that offer not only a number of prepared exercises but also powerful options for creating custom content. MacGAMUT offers drills for intervals, scales, chords, melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic dictation. Several levels are offered within each drill set. Scales are provided in both ascending and descending form, in both major and minor keys. Modes are also an option. Chord drills use both triads and seventh chords with different inversions. For dictation exercises, many levels are offered, ranging from very simple to quite complex. More than a thousand melodies and chord progressions are included across all levels.

In addition to all these choices, teachers using MacGAMUT can set mastery parameters for each level before the student can progress to the next level. If the teacher doesn't care for the melodies or harmonic progressions provided, the instructor's disk contains routines to create completely new examples.

Users can also choose to practice any level for any drill set without the pressure of showing mastery. Users can create their own drill examples for intervals, scales, and chords. There are options to practice notating and playing exercises similar to the ones in the program. MacGAMUT offers MIDI input and output, as well as digitized sounds.

Newer versions of MacGAMUT offer beaming options for the rhythmic and melodic dictation exercises and built-in stresses on the strong beats of each measure for a more natural feel to the music. Ties are used for more sophisticated rhythmic work.

Practica Musica offers drills on more than 80 separate task sets. Most of these have at least four levels of difficulty and each set has an information screen that helps the user with the tasks. Program content is tied to a theory textbook that is sold separately. Generally, the student responds to drills using a detailed on-screen piano keyboard graphic that offers options for displaying pitch symbols with enharmonic equivalents. MIDI input and output are recommended for this program, especially for the sight-reading exercises that help develop performance competency. Practica Musica also offers internal sound samples with options for piano, harpsichord, and organ timbres. A unique feature is the ability to choose internal tuning systems, such as just intonation and mean-tone tuning, as well as the standard equal-temperament system.

As with other CAI programs, Practica Musica offers feedback for pitch an rhythm drills. Incorrect notes are flagged with hints about rhythmic accuracy. The latest version of the program supports acoustic voice or instrument entry, with an added microphone for specific tasks like pitch reading and interval playing.

For dictation, Practica Musica supplies melodies in various styles and also allows for computer-generated tunes, and there is a useful editor for creating customized melodies. Additional options include a metronome sound and the ability to work on smaller sections of a long melodic series. Task sets that come with the program are all customizable.

Courtenay Harter, Review of MacGAMUT 2003, College Board AP Central website (2005).

For additional aural training, MacGAMUT 2003 allows students to practice on their own. Using this program, students may work at their own pace on basic identifications through melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic dictations. This review is based upon a try-out of the demo version now available online. Instructors can customize this program to fit their own teaching styles with the advanced options. Student scores can be recorded for evaluation purposes.

There are two modes available to the user: regular and practice. In regular mode, students must master one level before advancing; students cannot jump from level to level without completing the previous tasks. These levels begin with fewer options, then gradually add more. The practice mode allows work on all concepts, regardless of student mastery in a particular area.

The program uses all clefs: treble, bass, and C. When the program is playing an example, students cannot enter notation. Instead, they must remember what they heard. For AP practice, students may wish to use their own staff paper and then enter the response on MacGAMUT for evaluation. Once an answer is submitted, students are able to view their entries and the correct responses. They can also hear the differences between the two.

The intervals section presents practice in three categories: melodic, harmonic, and compound. Students must make proper identification of the aural stimulus and notate the interval performed. The mastery of scales identification is presented in the same manner; for notation, accidentals are used rather than key signatures. You may wish to limit less-experienced students to the major and minor scales. More advanced students will find all the modes available, including pentatonic, octatonic, and whole-tone scales. The chords identification section is limited to triads and sevenths, first in root position and then with all inversions. These examples are played harmonically and then arpeggiated.

All dictation exercises are progressive. The melodic dictation is very particular, with every element of notation graded, namely beaming, ties, and bar lines (including the double bar at the end of the excerpt). For melodic and rhythmic dictations, each attack is notated with a number over the staff. These numbers do not correspond to the duration of a pitch (e.g., in common time, a half note would be a single attack and the next pitch would be in the next available space). The program does prompt for empty spaces and allows the response to be "squeezed" together to eliminate them.

In the mastery level of harmonic dictation, students get to listen to the examples three times only. All keys are used for these progressions. Suggest to your students that they play the tonic chord before listening to the example. The progressions are played in four parts, and it is very difficult to hear the outer voices. Students are required to listen for outer voices and provide a Roman-numeral analysis, with quality shown in upper and lower cases with inversion designations. As there is only one measure notated, students must re-notate accidentals for diatonic pitches if they are canceled earlier in the progression.

MacGAMUT is a worthwhile program for students who need or wish to work on their own. However, both you and they must learn to work with all of its idiosyncrasies. Be sure to look at the "Read Me" document for easier notation. The help menu can also provide quick answers while working.

Deron McGee, "Aural Skills, Pedagogy, and Computer-Assisted Instruction: Past Present, and Future," Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy, 14 (2000 [published 2002]), pp.115-34.

If you want to know how MacGAMUT 2000 compared to other available ear-training software, click here for the complete text of Professor McGee's article. We think everyone should read this thoughtful review, even though it's about MacGAMUT 2000. If Professor McGee liked MacGAMUT 2000 THIS MUCH, think how much he must have liked MacGAMUT 2003 with its added Rhythmic Dictation component and other enhancements and how much more he'd like MacGAMUT 6 with its new Written and Keyboard drills!

Excerpt from Jeffrey L. Gillespie, "Melodic Dictation Scoring Methods: An Exploratory Study," Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy, 15 (2001), pp. 51-52:

Along with the rich resources in melodic dictation for developing a variety of musical skills, instructors are faced with the complex task of determining how best to evaluate dictation work. Karpinsky (2000) [Editor's note: please see excerpt from Karpinski's book below] offers three main principles for guiding evaluation of dictation: "First, there should be some absolute standard against which the work is judged--reported, for example, in the form of a percentage or letter grade. Second, feedback should be given with regard to precisely what was correct and what was incorrect in each dictation. Third, when appropriate, suggestions should be made about what to do to correct systemic problems, whenever possible" (p. 103). Karpinski (2000) emphasizes the crucial need "to offer meaningful, usable feedback for listeners' future development" (p. 110). This author wholeheartedly agrees with the pedagogically-sound principles outlined by Karpinsky. As instructors, we face the constant challenge of finding ways to incorporate these principles into the practical classroom.

To date, there are very few published methodologies for evaluating melodic dictation. Among them are the guidelines for the standardized Graduate Record Examination (GRE) in Music and the Advanced Placement (AP) Examination in Music Theory. Both exams include only tonal melodies for dictation and evaluate both pitch and rhythm of solutions. The somewhat more elaborate system of the GRE does not accept enharmonic equivalents as being correct, but it does give "points back" for segments that are correctly notated but metrically shifted to an improper position. The AP exam does not give points back for such shifted segments. Neither the GRE nor the AP exams provide any feedback other than point scores. Blombach's MacGAMUT 2000 computer software program improves upon these evaluation methods not only by accounting for temporal shifts within a response, but by providing markings on the music indicating the locations of errors, as well as messages describing the types of errors that are made. As an added pedagogical "bonus," the program checks for segments in which contour is maintained, despite the presence of pitch errors. Such contour-matching segments are marked for the respondent to see, even though point credit is not given in such cases. The scoring methodologies for all three of these sources are useful to study. However, the GRE and AP exams serve as evaluative tools, while MacGAMUT serves a pedagogical function. It is refreshing to see MacGAMUT reporting more to the students than simply a basic percentage score on a dictation exercise. Of Karpinski's principles discussed earlier, all are represented in MacGAMUT except for suggestions on how to correct mistakes.

Eileen Knox, Review of MacGAMUT 2000, from American Music Teacher, June/July 2001, p. 109:

MacGAMUT 2000 provides unlimited mastery-based drill and practice for aural skill building of intervals, scales, chords, and melodic/harmonic dictation. Each drill is presented in a series of levels of gradually increasing difficulty beginning with an advanced to intermediate level. The learner can work in regular or practice mode while the computer keeps detailed records of the progress.

The power punch for this traditional ear-training program comes from its flexibility and portability. With the Instructor Disk, teachers can easily customize the drills to match their students' needs. The software's innovative approach encourages the student to practice the skills at home. Each MacGAMUT User Disk allows students to move back and forth from the teacher's computer or platform and their home computer, so they can pick up exactly where they left off. The transition is seamless, even between Macintosh and PC computers.

It is refreshing to find a program for the more advanced student. MacGAMUT's dual platform portability and customization of lesson flexibility make it an innovative and valuable asset for computer-assisted instruction of music education. Reviewed by Eileen Knox, Portland, Oregon.

Excerpt from Gary Karpinski, Aural Skills Acquisition (Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 105-6:

[Prof. Karpinski is reviewing several paradigms for scoring melodic dictation]

In contrast, the evaluation routines in Ann Blombach's MacGAMUT (Columbus, OH: MacGAMUT Music Software international) do indeed account for such temporal shifts. MacGAMUT initially checks in a note-for-note fashion similar to Kraft's but checks rhythms first, then pitches. However, MacGAMUT then checks for the following information: double bar, only at end; proper use of anacrusis and incomplete final measure (if applicable); total number of beats in each barred segment; missing bar lines; incorrectly placed bar lines; and correct total number of notes. In addition, MacGAMUT then checks (if necessary) for contour similarities and especially for segments of three or more pitches in a row that have been temporally displaced fewer than four notes in either direction. From all this information, MacGAMUT provides not only a raw score in the form of a percentage but also markings on and above the music as well as messages about the kinds of errors that may have been made.

Blombach's rubric for handling contour similarities is particularly interesting. If the program detects that incorrect pitches follow the correct contour for at least three pitches in a row, then it prints a message that indicates exactly where this contour matching took place. However, Blombach writes, 'a correct contour with the wrong pitches does not improve the student's score. If the student has the right contour but the wrong pitches, then the student must have, at the very least, lost the tonal location of a series of pitches' (Blombach, 1990). of course, no grading rubric--machine or human--can discern from notation alone whether such a loss of tonal location took place at the memory stage or the understanding stage. Nonetheless, MacGAMUT is effective in diagnosing at the very least the kind of error that took place and not giving credit for mere contour tracing.

MacGAMUT is a truly remarkable program and uniquely sensitive to matters pedagogical, cognitive, and musical in a sea of rather unintelligent computer-assisted instruction. It does, however, have two features that limit its usefulness. First, the program always provides a notated key signature and either a starting note, the sound of the tonic, or both for each dictation. This supplies users with either the scale-degree function of the first note or the sound of the tonic, things listeners should be perceiving on their own. Second, MacGAMUT's interface provides music symbols for users, so that they are not required to create the shapes of note heads, stems, and flags; proper stem direction; correct placement of rests (particularly half and whole rests); and construction of key signatures. Users who are fluent with music notation pose no concern here, but users who need to develop their familiarity and skills with the elements and the system of notation (one of the aims of dictation practice) will find little help while clicking and dragging prefabricated music symbols.

Nonetheless, even considering these caveats, MacGAMUT is at present the most sophisticated yet eminently employable commercially available tool for the machine assessment of dictation, due to its pattern-matching routines and pedagogically sound user feedback.

Click here to read comments from MacGAMUT Users and Instructors.