‘Cut Outs’ is a project dedicated to providing high-quality music theory exercises for all. The title refers to the nature of the exercise: an original piece of music has parts ‘cut out’ for the student to complete in a suitable style. This teaching method has been in use for centuries as a way of enabling students to learn about composition and musical style through practical engagement.

‘Cut Outs’ will provide free access to thousands of such score exercises. Crucially, the user (student or teacher) will be able to tailor the exercises to their requirements. For instance, one commonly used exercise of this kind takes a Bach ‘chorale’ (hymn), leaves the hymn tune in place, and cuts out the other, accompanying parts at the ends of musical phrases. ‘Cuts Outs’ will enable users to download any of the Bach chorales adapted according to their requirements: with any number of accompanying parts missing, and with any span removed, from a single chord to completely empty accompanying parts. It will also offer a sequential ‘course’ whereby users can download exercises of progressively increasing difficulty and compare their work with the original chorale. The image below gives a sense of all this.

This is part of a ‘solution’ file: Bach’s original chorale, with the notes that have been removed from the exercise highlighted in read (four beats up to each cadence, in the alto and tenor parts).

CutOuts Chorale Example

We will offer this format for the full range of musical styles most commonly used for this task. For instance, Romantic song is another key repertoire here; the song repertoire is available for the use proposed by this project thanks to another ‘Four Score and More’ project, ‘Scores of Scores’, which is crowd-sourcing computer encodings of those scores in collaboration with external companies (OpenScore/IMSLP) and a university partner (Leigh VanHandel et al., Michigan State University).

‘Cut Outs’ is urgently needed partly because school and university teachers still routinely create these resources from scratch. Students, in turn, only have access to the relatively meagre collections amassed by their teacher (if indeed they have a teacher). At least as important as saving time, this project will also provide the foundation for a great democratisation of access through more sophisticated forms of teaching and learning. Apart from simply providing the exercises, and ordering them into ‘courses’ (as mentioned above), the system will also provide a range of ‘hints’: prose suggestions for the student to consider along with the option to auto-complete (parts of) the exercise by following this advice literally. The student’s task is then to consider where that rule of thumb has not worked and to improve the result manually.