Exercise generators

… and arguably also …

Overview and motivation

‘Cut Outs’ is a project providing free, tailored, 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’ provides free access to thousands of such score exercises along with some additional components. Firstly, it enables the student or teacher to tailor the exercises to their requirements, allowing for a progression from less to more difficult tasks. Secondly, the system offers a range of optional ‘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.

‘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 they have a teacher). At least as important as saving time, this project seeks to provide the foundation for more sophisticated forms of teaching and learning.

Once you have downloaded the musicXML file, you should be able to open it in any notation software. From there you can try things out, listen to the music (if you wish and if your teacher allows it!), or simply print a PDF to print off and work on at the desk or piano. If you don’t have a notation package, then download MuseScore which is free, open source, great and getting better all the time.

Chorale Exercises

Bach ‘chorales’ (hymns) are probable the most commonly used source material for exercise of this kind today. In this case, we the hymn tune in place, and cut out the other, accompanying parts at the ends of musical phrases (denoted, by Bach, with fermata). ‘Cuts Outs’ enables users to adapted these exercises according to their requirements, choosing to cut:

  • any number of accompanying parts (Alto, Tenor, Bass, or any combination thereof);
  • over any temporal span removed, from a single chord to completely empty accompanying parts.

‘Solution’ files also allow users to compare their work with the original chorale. The image below is from one such solution file, and gives a sense of all this. This shows an extract from a Bach chorale, with the notes that have been removed from the exercise highlighted in red (four beats up to each cadence, in the alto and tenor parts only).

CutOuts Chorale Example

Lieder Exercises

Cut Outs initially offers two strands based on two of the repertoire most commonly-used for this task, the other being Romantic song. Again the task it to write suitable accompaniment to a vocal line, this time for piano in the Romantic style.

The user can select:

  • An original song from our list of c.300
  • Whether to cut the piano part out entirely or to leave it in for passages where the voice is resting, and if the latter, then they also choose what counts as a rest: choose a length (in ‘quarter notes’ / ‘crotchets’) that acts as the benchmark. So, when the combined length of rests in one bar (measure) of the vocal part add up to this value of more, the piano part will be preserved.
  • Whether to preserve the bass line (the piano part’s left hand) and just work on completing the upper, right hand part.

Further, the Lieder Exercises surpass the Chorales in their provision for some basic ‘hints’: prose suggestions for the student to consider along with the option to auto-complete (parts of) the exercise by following this advice literally. Specifically we offer to:

  • transfer the vocal melody into the vacated piano right hand, or to
  • provide chord hints based on leaps in the melodic line shorter than the harmonic rhythm (in ‘quarter notes’ / ‘crotchets’), which the user would also then select. The student’s task is then to consider where that rule of thumb has not worked and to improve the result manually.

The song repertoire is available for this usage thanks to another ‘Four Score and More’ project, ‘Scores of Scores’, which has crowd-sourced computer encodings of hundreds of scores in collaboration with external companies (OpenScore/IMSLP) and a university partner (Leigh VanHandel et al., Michigan State University).