This month, Tokyo-based company Theta Music launched a new website with a range of online ear training games, sure to be of interest to Easy Ear Training readers. I got a sneak preview of the site and caught up with Steve Myers, one of the founders of Theta music, to ask him a bit about what they’re working on.
First, let’s take a quick look at Theta Music Trainer. The site provides ten (Flash-based) ear training games in four categories:
- Melody – Games based on sequential notes
(tunes, intervals, etc.)
- Harmony – Games based on simultaneous notes
(chords, chord sequences, etc.)
- Rhythm – Games based on timing
(note lengths, rhythm notation, etc.)
- Sound – Games based on sound
(instruments, mixing, timbre, etc.)
The games are quite easy to get to grips with and cover a good range of difficulties, from beginner level through to very challenging aural exercises! You can try the first few levels of each game for free right now to get a feel for how the games work, and what they teach.
After you’ve played a few games, you can look at your Training and Progress reports which clearly show how you’re getting on with the different training areas (and each game individually).
The later levels of each game are available to subscribers, for a very reasonable monthly fee. You also have the option to sign up for a training course, which then structures which levels you play when, and helps you track your progress better.
Here’s a short video showing a few of the games in action:
Interview with Theta Music founder, Steve Myers
Steve Myers is one of the two founders of Theta Music, and was kind enough to answer a few questions about this great new ear training resource.
Theta Music got its start here in Tokyo back in 2000. Previously, in university and graduate school, I had developed a system for composing melodies online, with backing tracks generated automatically. We called this system the Theta Composer, and licensed it to several companies in Japan. One of our first customers was Yamaha, and they used it on their Japanese ringtone service, encouraging customers to compose, remix and then download their own custom ringtones.
We officially incorporated as Theta Music Technologies in 2003, starting the company on a shoestring with no outside funding or loans. Although we’ve continued to work with Yamaha and other music companies through the years, Theta Music Trainer is one of our own initiatives. The core development team consisted of myself and two other programmers, a graphic designer and a sound creator. Throughout the development process, we’ve received feedback and suggestions from an informal advisory board of 14 professional musicians and music educators based in Japan, Europe and the US.
I have vivid memories of playing guitar as a teenager in the eighties and just being completely baffled by the idea of improvising a solo or doing anything on the guitar “by ear”. I would watch other players who could improvise well or who could hear a sequence of chords and quickly play them back, and was just mystified. I remained pretty frustrated until a few years later when I saw an ad for an ear training course, and started working through that.
In those days the particular course I used was sold as a set of about 50 cassette tapes and took a lot of work to get through, but for the first time I began to really hear the different intervals and chords, and started to understand how they were related. For me, it was a huge breakthrough – things started falling into place and music became MUCH more interesting and fun after that. So ever since then, I’ve had a deep interest in ear training and music theory, and a desire to make both subjects more fun and accessible for other musicians.
A few years ago, I also began to take an interest in online games that had some kind of educational or “brain training” component. These games seemed like a great way to introduce ear training and music theory exercises. They could be played in short bursts of ten to twenty minutes per day – perfect for training ear and musicianship skills. They could also be combined into a guided course, giving students direction and allowing them to track their progress. Most of all, they injected an element of fun and excitement into an essential part of music practice that is often neglected because of its perceived difficulty.
So the inspiration for Theta Music Trainer came from my own tough experience with ear training, combined with the realization that the practice could be made much more interesting and fun by making it game-based. We’ve set out to create a method of training in which musicians move quickly from one game to the next, spending additional time as needed on the games that give them trouble.
We built the site with all musicians in mind, regardless of genre, instrument, or skill level. In particular, musicians who have been playing for a while but feel hampered by their inability to really understand the music they hear are likely to find huge value in the site. And of course, players who are daunted by the idea of improvising or playing by ear – as I was – should also find much here that is helpful.
In its current form, the site is probably most useful for musicians who have already started some kind of ear training or music theory practice, and are looking for something to make that training more interesting and easier to keep up on a regular basis. However, we also feel that there is something of value here for just about anyone who wants to improve their musical ear and mind, or who just wants to gain a deeper understanding of music and how it works.
We hope to provide musicians with a fun and effective learning tool that will increase their interest in music as well as the joy they get from creating and playing it. There is so much excitement and freedom that comes from being able to improvise music and play by ear, yet many people travel an extraordinarily long and difficult path to reach that point. Many more just give up, convinced that the requisite skills are simply beyond them. Our goal is to find the musicians who really desire the fun, freedom and expressiveness that come from a well-developed ear, and give them something useful that well help them on the path to achieving that development.
I hope they will first accomplish the completion of all two hundred levels spread across our ten games, and have fun doing it!
Even more importantly, though, I hope that by playing the games over time, they will achieve a deeper understanding and appreciation of music. I hope they will be able to quickly use their new “ear skills” when they play, compose or arrange music. I hope they will acquire a stronger sense for the patterns found in music – how certain chord sequences or melodic phrases can be quickly identified if they know what to listen for. These are the skills that can propel musicians into whole new realms of powerful creativity and expression.
We’ve already built up a very long list of new games, new courses, and new features to develop for the Theta Music Trainer site, and the list just gets longer each day!
It’s only been ten days since we opened the site, but we’ve already received a lot of great suggestions from new members about things they would like to see in the future. One of the first enhancements we are working on is a feature that will analyze your game play, determine which areas could use more work and then send you an email with links to exercises that will help strengthen those areas.
Of course, support for mobile and tablet devices is also in the works. Coming next year, expect to see some new games and courses that are tailored for particular instruments or genres. And this is only the beginning – we will keep improving and expanding the site for many years to come!
We love the sound of that! Theta Music seem to really get what ear training is all about, and the huge benefits it can bring to your musical life. Here at Easy Ear Training we’re excited to see how their site and games develop.
You can play the Theta Music Trainer games on their website and they’re all available to try for free. So if you’re looking for some help with your music ear training – what are you waiting for?
Many thanks to Steve for taking the time to answer my questions – we wish Theta Music every success in their quest to improve musicians’ ears!