Music Hear

An all-in-one music ear training practice tool.





Overview
An Android application and ear training learning tool for students preparing for Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) ear training components of their practical examinations.


Team
This was a solo side project where I focused on the experience and interface design of the overall app.


Contributions
I took ownership of research, content writing and strategy and the design of the app.


Timeline
3 weeks in August 2020


Tools
Figma

Project Background

RCM examinations are no stranger to the majority of young, practicing musicians. Like any other exam, RCM practical examinations take time and effort to prepare for where they must prepare repertoire and complete ear training tests.


Problem
To practice for the ear training component of RCM practical examinations, students purchase and use a number of resources that include personal trainers, books, CDs, apps and websites to name a few. That’s a lot of resources to keep track of and the costs of all of them not only add up but are also not always readily available.


Preparing for ear training examinations requires too many resources and unnecessary time is taken to set up or use each one.




Goal
To make every ear training practice session efficient and as similar to the actual examination as possible.

Central KPI
Retention Rate - regular usage of the app for a minimum of 3 months prior to a user’s RCM examination.

Additional Metrics
Duration of weekly app sessions.

Secondary Research

Competitive Analysis
With the idea of Music Hear being readily available for use at any point in time, I looked into a mix of solutions that are also readily available (i.e. app, website) and not (i.e. trainer) to discover opportunities that may give my app a competitive edge.






Opportunities
1. Tracking of Session Durations
With the exception of personal trainers, all other researched solutions lack session limiters to suggest that the users stops their training for the day. Limiters are important in ear training as practice frequency is more important than practice duration. The recommended practice duration is between 20 to 30 minutes per session.

2. Providing a test experience that is close to the real examination
Practice sessions in the majority of the above products provide answers after each question or require the practitioner to grade themself. Hearing what was right or wrong from a third party after a group of questions is ideal and will ensure the student's focus does not waver.


Primary Research

Key Findings
I surveyed 31 high school and post secondary students who have prepared or are preparing for RCM examinations. Afterwards, I conducted 5 user interviews to further understand their concerns.






Pain Points
Using the key findings from the survey and interviews, I determined 3 central pain points to focus on.

1. Readily available resources can only be used once
Books and CDs are two examples of what students consider to have a one-time use as the resources themselves cannot reshuffle or create new questions after all have been completed. Even an app has limited customization where questions are reshuffled but the topics tested remain the same and cannot be changed (unable to assign more questions in a training session to weaker topics).

2. Teachers are costly and not always readily available
Teachers are known to provide the most personalized experience but they are not always able to train with students whenever, leaving the student to settle with an alternative practice resource.

3. Lack of Feedback
If a student were using a resource other than a teacher, they would know what they got right or wrong but then there's no one there to observe the mistakes they're making to help tbem improve.


These Pain Points and the earlier identified Opportunities will be my guides when planning out the app's features.


Wireframes

Here's a sample of the wire iterations behind the Learn pages


Design A

Features : Layouts of horizontal cards present text on the left, which is the most informative and should be seen first. Various layouts to indicate progress within a topic are also shown.

Limitations : Little hierarchy is seen between the individual interval cards and parent interval card. The horizontal cards take up too much space, which is not ideal for pages with numerous cards (i.e. intervals has at least 8)



Design B

Features : Vertical cards place an emphasis on the image and rely on the image to define and describe what each topic is. Text-based cards are smaller than image based ones, allowing for more of these navigation components to be seen at once

Limitations : The minimalistic layout provides many options, which is overwhelming and confusing for a user who does not know exactly what they need to study in order to prepare for their exam.



Style Guide


Design Options

A peek at the different iterations behind the Cadences page behind Learn


Option #1

Strengths: More minimalistic, where it only features cards that have an emphasis on the image accompanied by a couple words.

Room for Improvement: Not everyone can visualize or knows what a cadence looks like on a musical staff and hence, relying on the images to communicate what the topic is may not be the best option. (This is an ear training aid, not a music theory aid).

Introductory information on cadences plus exam requirements are nested just like ‘perfect cadence’ is, which is less ideal as this information helps users make the decision of whether they should click into ‘perfect cadence.’


Option #2

Strengths: Features an introduction to cadences in the header, smaller cards that take up less real estate and table with grade requirements below the cards.

The text within the cards are emphasized with the help of a graphic depicting numeral notation of the subtopic, which is more recognizable and less information to process than the a theory notation example.

Room for Improvement: Users who do not know the topic requirements off the top of their heads need to scroll down to the grade requirements table and then back up to select a card.

For cadences where there are only four subtopics, this is not as much of an issue but it will become more evidence in a topic like Intervals where there are 10 subtopics.


Option #3

Strengths: This layout is more personalized as the subtopic cards are arranged into two sections where requirements are arranged to be the first elements the user sees.

Room for Improvement: Users who do not know the topic requirements off the top of their heads need to scroll down to the grade requirements table and then back up to select a card.

For cadences where there are only four subtopics, this is not as much of an issue but it will become more evidence in a topic like Intervals where there are 10 subtopics.


Final Designs


Learn Tested Material

Learn provides an introduction and tips for answering questions for each topic. Upon selecting a topic, you can drill into a subtopic where tips and tricks are presented in both words and theory notation with audio playback options.






Train and Apply Your Learnings

Train is where you can customize practice sessions for individual topics. Upon selecting a grade before starting a training session, subtopics tested in that grade will be automatically selected and you have the option to deselect them as well. You can also choose the number of questions where all topics with the exception of melody clapbacks are multiple choice with two to four options.






Take a Daily Test to mimic an RCM exam

These non-customizable tests are available once every 24 hours where you are tested on a series of topics depending on the grade you select. For example if you select grade 8, you will be tested on all five topics where the number of questions you are tested on reflect the average number of questions asked during actual RCM examinations.







Next Steps

While a version of the application has been completed, it is only the first and a few more features and decisions must be flushed out and justified before design hands things off to the developers. Firstly, the melody clapbacks method of testing would have a different method of evaluation for Train and is one of the next features to be flushed out. Once the designs are finalized, additional usability testing can be done to validate the design decisions and understand if it meets the users' needs. Once feedback is obtained, further iterations can be done and once the design satifies the requirements, development may begin.


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