Solfeggio Made Accessible — A Series of MOOCs Sponsored by the Digital Action Plan
Le Solfège à votre portée is a massive open online course (MOOC) developed by the Cégep Marie-Victorin in close collaboration with the Université de Montréal (UdeM). The course, a series of fun and interesting video capsules complemented by self-correcting exercises, offers an introduction to solfeggio, a music-related discipline that focuses on aural skills, pitch, and sight-reading.
While the course was designed to improve the success rate of students auditioning for the music program of the Cégep, the material is fit for a larger audience: absolute beginners in search of an introduction to music theory, people who have begun studying music and want to consolidate their learning, or high school students taking music courses.
For some years, the teachers at Cégep Marie-Victorin had been noticing that students were increasingly struggling with music theory during their audition for the music program. The result was that a larger number of students would not succeed their admission tests or would need refresher courses. The auditions are in 3 parts:
- a test about music theory
- a test about solfeggio and dictation
- an instrumental audition
While a majority of the students would succeed their instrumental audition, few of them passed the theory exams. Evidently, the fact that many high schools do not offer obligatory music courses has a direct impact on the student’s performance on solfeggio during their admission tests.
Marie Blain, adept of MOOCs and director of studies at Cégep Marie-Victorin, came up with the idea of offering a free online solfeggio course to help future students be better prepared for their auditions. By making the course available online for free, she sought to make sure that anyone could have access to a proper preparation for their audition, no matter their financial situation or musical background. The idea sparked the interest of the Faculty of Music and the Centre de Pédagogie Universitaire (CPU) of the UdeM who all collaborated in the creation of the first MOOC.
A fun and original design
Mathieu Van Vliet, trombone player and music teacher at Cégep Marie-Victorin, was selected to teach the video lessons. His main objectives were to:
- move away from a traditional lecture format
- get out of the classroom
- awaken the senses
- use the sounds of a variety of instruments
- have the capsules feature students
- conceive lessons that were efficient, engaging, and fun, by exploiting the multimedia to his advantage
He chose to film the capsules in front of a green screen rather than in a classroom to allow for more flexibility and to give free reign to his creativity. Instead of a bland blackboard, he could now interact with piano keys, music sheets, or even videos of people playing music, which made for much more engaging visuals and made learning complex theoretical notions easier.
The trailer for the MOOC demonstrates some of the creative uses of the green screen.
There was also a conscious effort made to make the content relatable to the largest number of students. First, instead of having all the demonstrations be done solely on the piano, as it is usually the case for music theory courses, Mathieu insisted on having a wide range of instruments so that guitarists or trombone players, for example, would not feel left out. Additionally, the people playing the instruments in the demonstrations are volunteer students rather than professional musicians or teachers. The lessons instantly become much more relevant to the students as they have the opportunity to see their peers play on an instrument with which they are familiar.
A collaborative effort
Obviously, the creation a MOOC with such elaborate video capsules is a complex process that required the collaboration of a large number of people.
- Mathieu Van Vliet designed the lessons with the help of Sylvie Ouellette, another music teacher at Cégep Marie-Victorin who acted as an expert on music theory and solfeggio.
- Luce Beaudet, teacher at the Faculty of Music of the UdeM validated the concepts.
- Then, Mathieu recorded preliminary versions with the help of David Blain, specialist in teaching methods and techniques at Cégep Marie-Victorin, edited the videos.
- Those videos were sent to the Centre de Pédagogie Universitaire team at the UdeM, who then structure the cutting of the different contents and created a visual signature that conformed to the EduLib platform’s norms.
- Additionally, the team was supported throughout the process by an educational advisor of the CPU, Caroline De Coninck.
- Lastly, Sylvie Ouellette conceived many capsules that allow students to practice and Alex Soucy, a student doing a master’s degree in Music at UdeM, contributed to the design of complementary interactive exercises.
For the moment, it is difficult to evaluate the impact of the course on the students. The impact will without a doubt be noticed at the next auditions. Nevertheless, Le Solfège à votre portée has still received some interesting feedback. Already, over 1,750 people from 10 different countries have registered for the first course. The MOOC was also nominated at the 2019 MEDEA awards in Belgium, an international contest that encourages innovation and good practice in the use of media in education.
Following the success of Le Solfège à votre portée, the Government of Québec decided to fund 2 more courses as part of the Digital Action Plan, the second and third instalments of the series of MOOCs.
- The second course, which focuses on tone, the major scale, the various minor scales, and tonal harmony, launched earlier on October 23, 2019.
- The third course, about rhythmic writing and binary and ternary beats, will be available in December 2019.
To learn more about the series of MOOCs, please visit the registration page for the Le solfège à votre portée course on EduLib.