||7 to teen
||Beginner to intermediate
Tonic Tutor App (iOS)…….Free
Enhanced Subscription….$7+ CAD per month*
||Christine Donkin and William Ratke
The academic and pedantic characteristics of music theory are often a turn off for piano students. After all, do they not come to lessons expecting to “play”? For those in need of a fun, activity-based approach to supplement their regular music theory routine, Tonic Tutor is an ideal solution. Tonic Tutor is a website created by composer and pedagogue, Christine Donkin to, “[help] students improve their musical skills and [save] teachers valuable lesson time.” The site is specifically designed for use by private studio teachers and offers resources such as lesson scheduling and calendars, virtual or printable awards and certificates, and messaging services.
Every week, Tonic Tutor will generate a set of music theory games to help students with at-home practice. While the site refers to these weekly games as “lessons,” the student is not provided with instructive materials or explanations of musical concepts. Rather as the name suggests, the site is intended to tutor students rather than explicitly teach them. In other words, teachers will still find it necessary to dedicate lesson time in order to introduce new music theory concepts before directing the students to the website to play the games on their own. As a practice and drilling tool however, Tonic Tutor offers unparalleled convenience and will undoubtedly help students build fluency in order to “[save] valuable lesson time.”
Across the board, the games have a strong appeal that includes colorful images and characters, charming sound effects and songs, and a sleek, uncluttered design. The graphics are tailored to be age appropriate, so that games having to do with advanced topics, like Roman numeral analysis or church modes, have a more sophisticated appearance. Games targeted at younger students involve gender-neutral themes such as outer space, aquariums, zoo animals, and pizza. The free version of Tonic Tutor includes ten games while the paid subscription contains over thirty games, including seasonal and holiday themed games.
Tonic Tutor features an impressive array of “lesson preset options.” These presets enable teachers to seamlessly integrate Tonic Tutor with the theory curricula presented in many common piano methods. For example, after selecting the student’s current level (i.e. Piano Adventures 2A), Tonic Tutor will automatically generate lessons with the corresponding difficulty level and content. This feature all but eliminates the need to preplan the student’s weekly assignments and saves the teacher from having to continue coordinating between their method book of choice and Tonic Tutor. However if tweaks are necessary, the user-friendly interface and detailed tutorials make it easy to customize individual games and lessons.
On the whole, Tonic Tutor offers one of the most teacher-friendly interfaces around. However, the site’s method of listing games by title, (for instance, “Dancing Jelly Beans” or “Jungle Journey”) rather than by content (aural rhythmic identification or keyboard intervals) may steepen the learning curve for some teachers. While the games are organized into broad topics such as “keyboard skills” or “aural-melody,” teachers will need to click on the help button in order to find specific information on the game’s objective and mode of presentation. With over thirty games in the paid Tonic Tutor subscription, teachers may discover that it takes a bit of trial and error to find what they are looking for.
Contests and Goals
In order to keep students interested and motivated throughout the week, teachers can use Tonic Tutor to create personalized contests and goals. The lesson options menu lets teachers specify criteria such as the number of times a game is to be played each week, the number of wrong answers allowed in order to get credit for the lesson, or the number of times students may listen to an ear training excerpt before answering. These features can be used to help students set and achieve individual goals like “Score at least 75%” or “Complete the game in 60 seconds.” Global controls, including the ability to group students by level, provide teachers with the opportunity to create intra-studio contests, for example, “Highest Score” or “Most Goals Achieved.” Teachers also have the option to virtual stickers or medals to award contest winners or students who have reached personal goals. These rewards make it possible for teachers to offer continual encouragement and positive reinforcement in between meetings with the student.
Statistics and Report Cards
The site’s statistics page provides detailed feedback about each student’s progress. Teachers can see how much of the lesson has been completed, scores for each game, average scores in a given area (i.e. aural skills, keyboard skills, etc.), the length of time it took the student to complete the game, and the number of questions answered correctly or incorrectly. Most of Tonic Tutor’s games also show specific information about individual questions, allowing teachers to see which answer the student selected out of the possible solutions offered. The statistics graph feature lets teachers view trends in the student’s progress in keyboard, aural, and visual areas over any selected period of time.
The graph can be customized to show subareas such as melodic dictation, chords and scales, and intervals on the staff. Statistical graphs can alert the teacher to long-term trends in the student’s development that may have otherwise been missed. These statistics can also be printed as a report card so that teachers can provide students and their parents with valuable feedback.
||With a user-friendly interface and an impressive list of features, Tonic Tutor has a lot to offer to independent studio teachers. The ability to automatically generate and assign lessons, create individualized goals and contests, and receive detailed feedback about student progress.
||Because cost is scaled incrementally based on the number of students registered, Tonic Tutor offers teachers a good value regardless of their studio’s size. As a courtesy to teachers, Tonic Tutor does not charge its subscribers during the summer months. Subscribers also receive access to Tonic Tutor’s recently launched app for iPad and iPhone. Given its reasonable prices and considerable effort to keep prices fair, Tonic Tutor receives full points for pricing.
||Aesthetically, Tonic Tutor presents a clean, uncluttered design. The graphics are colorful and fun, but not overly distracting to students. Tonic Tutor credits its professional-looking design to William Ratke, a graphic designer and web developer. While the interface is concise and organized, in some instances the utilities menu appears to favor minimalism over ease of use.
||In terms of content, Tonic Tutor provides the same range of theory topics one would expect to find in a standard method book series. Lessons address subjects such as melody and melodic contour, scales and modes, and Roman numeral analysis. Tonic Tutor’s games let students approach theory concepts by utilizing an array of strategies such as error detection, recognition of popular songs, and mental auralization. With over thirty games, Tonic Tutor provides enough variety to the student without overwhelming the teacher with options. The only apparent drawback is occasional use of “Which of the following is NOT…” or “All of the following are true, EXCEPT….” type phrasing found in the Bop It game. This style of question asking can confuse students and is proven to be less effective as a indicator of the student’s knowledge.