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Sebastian software ends the repetition of ear training for music teachers

This instructional video from YouTube shows users how to use music-training software called Sebastian.

Growing up, Dr. Jonathan Crosmer and his classmates often had to sit down with music teachers for hours listening to notes played on the piano and guess the note.

That repetitive nature was the only way students could learn ear training, but had to have been annoying for the tutors.

And then computers and programs like MacGAMUT came along and alleviated some of the problem.

With degrees from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in computer science and music—and a head start from Lincoln’s 2012 Startup Weekend—Crosmer went to work on his own version.

Last week, Crosmer unveiled his solution to ear training, called Sebastian. It’s named after Sebastian Bach, a well-trained ear himself. 

The desktop program, available for Mac, PC and Linux, uses an on-screen keyboard and walks users through a series of exercises in which Sebastian plays two notes. The program gives students a visual depiction of where the first note is on the keyboard and then they must guess where the second note is. 

The difficulty continues to increase as it goes from single notes to chords to scales. The program also identifies areas where students are struggling and repeats those exercises while weeding out ones they ace.

“Anyone can jump into it and learn, but it gets tougher and helps build skills as you go,” said Crosmer, who plays piano and viola. “Even in grad school, students had pretty good ears, but could’ve been a lot better if trained better.

“It’s something anyone can get better at.”

Crosmer (right) started Sebastian during a Startup Weekend and later placed second in the Lincoln Startup Week Idea Pitch 2012.

He’s since been developing Sebastian in his spare time while working remotely in Kentucky for Lincoln’s VentureTech.

As a doctorate student in music, he was a teaching assistant and often had to work with students who struggled with ear training. 

“What I found helped the most was to plunk the note on the piano and just repeat,” he said. “A computer can do that better.

“It’s not fun to tutor since it’s so repetitive.”

The program was bootstrapped with less than $3,000, but Crosmer hopes to monetize Sebastian with one-time $35 licensing fees. He plans to take it on the road to a music teacher conference in March.

He said if it’s successful he’ll expand the offering, including ways to track a large group of students and their progress. 

MacGAMUT, Sebastian’s main competitor, doesn’t do the best job of tutoring, Crosmer said.

If you don’t succeed on a series of problems in MacGAMUT, you basically start over and it doesn’t pick out problem areas, he said. Crosmer hopes Sebastian builds on that model, but takes away some of the frustration of repeating the same problems you’ve mastered.

“We feel like it makes it more fun,” he said. “Ear training isn’t scary and hard.

“People think it is because of how its presented. I hope Sebastian changes that.”


Credits: Photo from Facebook. Video from Youtube.

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