Learning to use melodic similarity and contrast for narrative using a Digital Tabletop Musical Interface

Franceschini, Andrea (2016). Learning to use melodic similarity and contrast for narrative using a Digital Tabletop Musical Interface. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000b1a2


This thesis investigates Digital Tabletop Musical Interfaces (DTMIs) in the context of music education. Digital tabletops have emerged in recent years, surrounded by much enthusiasm, and have found applications in a diversity of fields – from museum installations to engineering applications, from information systems, to music making. In particular, their ability to create a link between the physical and virtual world makes the digital tabletop an excellent way for beginners to approach music making. By allowing users to “touch” music, and experience it through various visual representations, in addition to its aural representation, digital tabletops provide an intuitively approachable way of making music that supports both beginners and experts, and allows them to collaborate and exchange knowledge and ideas. However, we still know little about the challenges and opportunities that DTMIs present, particularly their role in supporting music education.

This thesis explores the challenges and opportunities presented by a bespoke DTMI in supporting people of different levels of musical experience in learning about some fundamental musical notions, and in learning how these can be used to compose music in an intentional way. This thesis covers three exploratory studies. In the first one, the notion of melodic contour, and its role as a visual metaphor for describing music, were explored by participants. A music composition task to describe a painting with music was presented to participants, and the ways in which participants described and composed music, in relation to melodic contour, were analysed. In the second study, the notions of melodic similarity and contrast, and their role in suggesting narrative, were explored by participants. Through a series of discussions and practical exercises, participants developed their understanding of melodic similarity and contrast, and learned how to use these notions to suggest narrative in melody. The third study followed directly from the second one, exploring again melodic similarity and contrast, but this time in a group setting. Groups of participants explored the musical notions using the DTMI as a discussion mediator. In these last two studies, the ways in which participants discussed the notions, and used them to compose music that suggested a narrative, were analysed.

The findings suggest that it is possible to appropriately design a DTMI that can be used by both musically experienced and inexperienced people in order to create music in a way that is graspable for the novice, yet expressive for the expert, so that the two can discuss music with equal ease, and learn more about it.

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