Using ChatGPT to make a JavaScript bookmarklet

I get newsletters from the Chronicle of Higher Education. They frequently have links to interesting articles on the Chronicle’s web site, but they are also a little bit annoying. The articles are paywalled, but I don’t have a personal account. Instead, I read using my institution’s account. Because of that, I often have trouble logging in at the home page and then finding the article again. For fun, I wanted to see if this was a problem ChatGPT could help me fix. (Spoiler alert, it can. Solution below.)

If you happen to be a Wichita State person reading this (hello student or colleague!), here’s the bookmarklet: [read via WSU]

You can just drag it to your browser’s bookmarks bar and it should work. If not, you can copy the code from this Gist and paste it into your browser’s bookmarks menu like in the video above.

EDIT: I changed the name of the bookmarklet in the link above because this works with lots of other services as well, including fan-favorite JSTOR.

Please do this one thing to start the new year

The downtime between semesters is a great time to do “digital hygiene”-type tasks. One of the big ones that everyone should be doing—especially those of us who make things with computers for a living—is to back up everything we do. I have had more than one student in this calendar year who lost work due to a computer problem. There are a lot of different backup strategies, but I think for those of us who work regularly on a portable computer, online backup is a must. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. Cloud sync services like Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive are great, and they are backup-adjacent, but cloud sync is not backup. They serve a different function, and you can and should have both.
  2. Local backups are also great. If you have a Mac, the built-in Time Machine on your computer is excellent and easy. But local backup drives have some important drawbacks. Notably, you have to make sure they’re plugged in and working all the time (not trivial for a laptop!). They are subject to the same kinds of failures as the internal drives of your computer. And lastly, they are subject to theft and disasters (eg. fires, spilled coffee) that online backups avoid. They can be fast to restore from, which is great in an emergency, but again, you should have both.
  3. File history is a feature of any good online backup service, and it can save your butt in all kinds of user-error situations. Raise your hand if you’ve ever overwritten a file and lost the original because you thought you were editing a copy (🙋‍♂️). A 30-day history is a good start, but a few months or a year is even better.

About a month after I finished my D.M.A., my computer died. It was the desktop computer that had gotten me through my masters and doctorate at Michigan State. The only reason I have any of my compositions, performance recordings, or even class work, from before 2012 is that I had an online backup service.

I’ve used a few different services over the years, but the one I like the most now is Backblaze. It is the easiest $70 I spend every year (their annual rate). It includes unlimited data storage, and you can add a year+ of file history for something like $2/month. Here is a nice referral link you can use if you want to get an extra month or two free (and I will too). No pressure though! Feel free to not use this, or use another backup service. The imporant thing is that you have some online backup running!

Please—I am begging you—start 2023 right with a good backup plan for your files.

MuseScore 4 is Huge

Yours truly, at Scoring Notes earlier this month:

I have often said in the past that the best and most important feature of MuseScore was it’s price: free. I meant that unironically. The price of the Big Three commercial applications is a major deterrent to many users. Being free actually is huge. Until now, I could not really say that it beat any of the Big Three in any other feature.

But now, I can honestly say that MuseScore has the best built-in audio playback. I have paid a lot of money for virtual instruments that do not sound as good as the free Muse Sounds. And it’s worth noting that these sounds are built on top of a completely rebuilt playback engine, so I suspect we’ll see more virtual instruments added to the Muse Sounds collection regularly.

Scoring Notes is a little too dignified for my spiciest and snarkiest takes, but that’s why you’re here, dear reader. You like it spicy. I like that about you.

Snobs like me now have to make much more nuanced (and therefore snobbier) justifications for why MuseScore isn’t for professionals. I still strongly believe that Dorico is the way of the future, but the updates to both the engraving and the audio frameworks in MuseScore 4 make my argument a bit harder than it was just a couple months ago.

I still think the controls offered by Dorico’s Notation and Engraving Options are far more capable than those offered by the MuseScore’s Style menu. The bulk-editing and -styling affordances through Dorico’s libraries and master pages, as well the organization of layouts and flows are unique power tools in music notation software. Having said that, this is the first version of MuseScore that I think does important things better than any commercial application, and it directly addresses nearly all of MuseScore’s biggest problems from past versions.

Nobody asked for my power rankings, but I think the notation and engraving automations and defaults in MuseScore 4 are comparable to what you might find in Finale. Sibelius is still a little bit ahead. Dorico is still (literally) years ahead of the everyone for automatic layout and engraving. Unless you are regularly collaborating with Finale users, I don’t think there’s any reason to start using Finale anymore.

CS 101 with Jerry Seinfeld

ChatGPT prompt: Write a script for an episode of Seinfeld that explains object-oriented programming.

Here’s a script for an episode of Seinfeld that explains object-oriented programming:


Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer are sitting at a table, having coffee.

JERRY: So, I’m taking this computer programming class, and it’s all about this thing called object-oriented programming.

GEORGE: Oh, I’ve heard of that. It’s like, instead of writing a bunch of code, you just create these little objects that have their own properties and behaviors, right?

ELAINE: Yeah, I think so. It’s supposed to make programming a lot easier and more organized.

KRAMER: Hey, I know! Let’s use object-oriented programming to make a computer game about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse!

JERRY: (sarcastically) That’s a great idea, Kramer. I’m sure it will be a huge hit.

GEORGE: (rolling his eyes) Anyway, back to object-oriented programming. So, each of the Horsemen would be an object, right?

ELAINE: Yeah, and they would have their own properties, like their names, their weapons, and their horse colors.

KRAMER: And they would have behaviors, like riding around and causing chaos and destruction.

JERRY: (impressed) Wow, you guys actually know what you’re talking about. I never knew object-oriented programming could be so exciting.

ELAINE: (smirking) Who needs a computer game when we have our own little adventure right here?

The gang laughs as the scene fades to black.

Better Feedback on Compositions Using Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process

This is the text of a presentation I gave at the inaugural Teaching Composition Symposium at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County on 21 October 2022. [conference slides, text PDF, video]

I’m sure you’ve had the experience of getting feedback on a composition that was well-meaning, but ultimately unhelpful. Even someone telling you how great your music was or how much they loved it is often frustrating because it’s hard to know what they heard that made them love it. Feedback that your music was mind-blowing and that your music was stomach-turning are equally unhelpful, because without more information, it’s impossible to learn something from this feedback.

In this presentation, I’ll talk about some of the common limitations of informal, unstructured feedback like this; and I’ll describe how I have used Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process (CRP) to better support and motivate composers in my studio, and how you might implement it in yours.

In my previous experiences with critique sessions in studio classes, I found that the feedback offered usually said a lot more about the person offering it than it did about the music they were nominally responding to. Rather than suggesting how the composer might have written a work differently, this feedback often seems to answer the question “How would this piece have gone if I had written it, rather than you.” While I do think there should be space for composers to respectfully challenge one another’s creative intent, it is worth starting by identifying what that intent was to begin with. A better feedback system should assume that each composer in the room has a different set of musical goals and experiences.

An important secondary benefit of group feedback in a composition studio—at least to me—is developing a sense of creative community. I want the composers in my studio to want to support each other and collaborate with one another. My studio includes first semester undergraduate students, graduate student composers, and everything in between. In unstructured critique sessions, the less experienced students often felt intimidated by the older students, assuming that they had nothing meaningful to say about their work. And graduate students would often unintentionally patronize or belittle the newer composers. Another goal for my feedback sessions is to create space for meaningful responses from anyone in the group, even those who are very new to music and music composition studies.

I think critique sessions are an important way of building a creative community within my studio, giving them more perspectives than only my own or another faculty composer’s. But I found that the feedback composers received in these sessions often backfired: it often made them feel less confident and motivated to improve their work.

Now that I’ve described some of the limitations of unstructured feedback, I want to give an overview of CRP, slightly adapted for composers, and my experiences implementing it within my studio classes at Wichita State University and elsewhere.

Critical Response Process

CRP was developed by Choreographer Liz Lerman to help improve her work, especially during the workshopping process, though it is not specific to dance. My description will follow the process as Lerman describes it in two books—both co-authored with John Borstel—2003’s Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process and 2022’s Critique is Creative. The second of these came out just after I submitted the proposal to give this talk and includes not only a new description of the process itself, but also some chapters from outside contributors about their experiences using CRP, several outside of dance. If you’re interested in implementing this process after today’s presentation, I highly recommend either of these books.


There are three main roles in CRP: the artist, responders, and the facilitator. I will use “artist”—Lerman’s word—and “composer” interchangeably here. The responders, in my most common use of the process, are the other students, but it could easily include faculty, other musicians, or even non-musicians. The facilitator leads the discussion and enforces the structure that I’ll discuss in a moment. I would personally recommend the facilitator going over everything I’m about to describe privately with the composer before the session, and then give an introduction to the whole group of responders if they are new to CRP at the beginning of the session. I have also found that with new groups of responders, the facilitator may also need to momentarily play the role of responder in the interest of modeling the kinds of engagement that fits each step of the process. As a possible fourth role, you may wish to have a dedicated notetaker, though for smaller groups like the ones I usually lead (around ten or fewer), that may not be practical or necessary.

One interesting consideration is when in the composition process to engage in feedback from a larger group. I personally like to use CRP with works that are still in progress, rather than those that are completed, since it can be hard to take a piece apart and put it back together once it is already complete, and for all sorts of external reasons—like the need to prepare a senior recital or meet an application deadline—students may not have the time to significantly revise an already-complete composition. At the same time, the work needs to be substantial enough that there is something to which responders can respond. So, it needs to be more substantial than a sketch, but not necessarily a complete draft.

When presenting a work in class, I usually have students share a PDF of the score and audio realization in our studio Discord (though sometimes a video or a live performance may be relevant). I know there are lots of issues around relying too heavily on computer realizations, but I think the benefits outweigh the risks in this particular instance, and I discuss relevant caveats with students beforehand. I ask the composer to not say very much about their piece before we listen to avoid “priming” the responders, but I do ask them to briefly describe what proportion of the total piece they are about to present. For example, they might say “this is the first half of the second of three movements of a work for woodwind quintet”. After that introduction, we listen to the piece and follow the score, and then we begin Lerman’s process.

Four Steps

Critical Response has four distinct steps.

Step 1: Statements of Meaning

Critical Response begins by simply asking about what things the audience perceived—not necessarily what they liked or didn’t like, or even what “worked” and didn’t “work”. I ask responders to think about answering the question “What did you hear?” For example, they might say something like “I heard two distinct sections”, or “I heard bluesey harmony”, or “I heard a Thelonius Monk quote”. Lerman suggests the facilitator frame even more specific questions like “What was meaningful?” or “What was interesting?”. These can be useful in steering towards feedback that is somewhat positive. And, it can be tempting for responders to start with the phrase “I liked that…” or “I loved when…”, and I—as nicely as possible—ask them to hold their opinions until a later step. It’s unavoidable for opinions to creep into earlier steps of the process, but I try to catch the more directly stated ones. I sometimes change the name of this step to “Observations” or even “Neutral Observations” to avoid sliding too strongly into opinion.

The reason for avoiding direct opinions here is that the goal of this step is to show the composer how their work is perceived by a group of curious, generous listeners. If the composer imagines there were three sections to what they played, but a responder hears five sections, it’s an opportunity for the composer to think about form: why they made the choices they did, how important those choices are to their conception of the piece, and what they could do to clarify those choices.

Once the responders seem to have run out of insightful Statements of Meaning, it’s time to give the composer the floor in the next step.

Step 2: Composer as Questioner

In Step 2, the composer asks about specific elements of the work. This is the composer’s opportunity to show what is important to them about the piece, or ask about how an element was perceived that the responders might not have thought to mention in Step 1.

Formulating these questions can be a bit tricky, especially for younger composers who are still discovering what is important to them in their music. I like to give a few guidelines to students. First, don’t solicit opinions—again, there will be time for that later. Try to stop them if they start a question with “what did you think of…” or “did you like it when…”. Second, I try to get them to ask questions that are relatively specific. Lerman warns against getting too specific, but I haven’t found that to be a big concern with my students. For example, a student might ask “What instrument did you hear as the primary voice in the introduction?” or “What relationship, if any, did you hear between the first section and the second section?”. I even had one student ask “Can you sing back the main idea?” which was pretty interesting!

For facilitators, this is the step that might require the most coaching in advance of the session. As I said, younger composers may struggle to formulate these questions, so I will usually discuss them in a one-on-one meeting or lesson with the composer before they present to avoid putting them on the spot. Even for more experienced composers who have participated in CRP before, I usually send them a note the day before to remind them to bring some questions.

Much like Step 1, Step 2 focuses largely on the way a composition was perceived. The main difference is that in Step 1, the responders approach the music without guidance, much like most audience members. In Step 2, the composer guides some reflection through their questions, which shows some of what they find to be important about the piece. The next step begins to address why the composer made the decisions they made.

Step 3: Neutral Questions from Responders

In this step, the responders ask questions about the creative decisions the composer has made. These can be very specific, like “Why did you choose to write mezzoforte in the alto clarinet part on beat 2 of measure 81?”; or they can be very general, like “Why did you choose to write for alto clarinet?”.

It’s easy for questions from responders to have embedded opinions, so this is another time for the facilitator to be active. Most of the time, a question that has an embedded opinion can be reworded into a more neutral form that asks the composer for the same explanation but doesn’t invite them to feel defensive. (CRP tries to avoid exactly sort of defensiveness that comes from other forms of feedback.) So instead of asking why the middle section is so long, a responder might ask how the composer is thinking about structural proportions, or what sorts of formal planning they did (and why). There might a very good reason for a section to be much longer than others, or there might not! If there is a good reason, the composer might want to consider ways to make the proportions seem more intentional. If there isn’t a good reason, it’s more powerful for them to discover that on their own and look for ways to revise the length.

If your students are like mine, the first few times through CRP, they may start to get frustrated that they can’t jump directly to offering opinions. However, I think the two questioning steps are some of the most meaningful parts of a session, especially for composers who are earlier in their studies, because it helps them discover what is important to them about the music that they are making. Only after that has been established do responders get to offer direct opinions.

Step 4: Permissioned Opinions

Finally, in the very last step of the process, responders are invited to share their opinions, but even then, there is a highly structured way to do so. This step is the only one with a specific script: “I have an opinion about %blank%. Would you like to hear it?” If the composer says yes (which is usually the case), the responder shares their opinion. The topic of the opinion could be anything from dynamic balance to counterpoint to idiomatic writing to formal structures.

Lerman herself admits this can be a bit awkward, but it has a lot of utility, especially in keeping the composer from becoming defensive. Even if they always say “yes”, knowing that they could say no, puts them in control of the dialogue. Additionally—and this is the part that I think is sneakily brilliant—it gives the composer a few seconds after hearing the subject of the opinion to try to put themselves in the mindset they were in when they initially made those decisions. It makes them better prepared to receive the opinion—positive or negative—in the constructive spirit it was intended. I think of it like a baseball catcher getting down in their crouch before the pitcher winds up and pitches. They’re going to be far better at catching the ball.

By placing the opinions at the very end of the process, it ensures that the responders have a better sense of the composer’s goals, and that their opinions can be expressed more empathetically and have more useful implications for the composer.

Benefits, Caveats, and Conclusion

My students really respond well to our Critical Response sessions. They are almost always highly motivated to work on their compositions at the end of a session (or at least they tell me they are), which was usually not the case in other critiques I have done. It also lets them show their peers what is interesting and valuable to them, which makes for a supportive, creative community.

One downside I do find with CRP is that it takes a long time. In a 50-minute session, if the pieces are relatively short and students are already familiar with CRP, we can squeeze in two. With a 75-minute class, I find that three or four is reasonable. The first day I introduce CRP each year, I only plan to do only one. If speed and efficiency are crucial, it’s possible to put a timer on each step. In a real pinch, I find that I can often skip Permissioned Opinions and still give students a lot to work with. Despite the time investment, I find that CRP is deeply valuable to my students, even when they aren’t the ones presenting work.

I think the greatest value of Critical Response is in the structure and the dialogue. The structure separates the composer’s intent from the intent of the responders. Critique changes from being about how someone else would have done it differently to being about how well the composer has defined and achieved their own goals. Through dialog, CRP asks composers to take ownership over creative decisions they may not have realized they were making. By interrogating their assumptions, it gives them tools they can use on their own as they work on future compositions. Compared to before I implemented CRP, the composers who study with me are writing music that is more different from one another, more clearly defined, and in which they feel greater agency and pride.


Lerman, Liz and John Borstel. Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process: a method for getting useful feedback on anything you make, from dance to dessert. New York City, NY: Dance Exchange, Inc., 2003.

______. Critique Is Creative: The Critical Response Process in Theory and Action, edited by John Borstel. Middletown, CT: Welsleyan University Press, 2022.

For students: Notation software and when (not) to use it

What follows is a section of my Introduction to Composition syllabus that I’m adding this year. I get questions about software a lot from my students. (Poor things don’t know what they’re getting into by asking me such questions.)

tl;dr: I recommend you invest in Dorico Pro if you can afford it, with MuseScore as a temporary solution if you aren’t ready to spend the cash.

When starting a new composition, it is important that you begin working using pencil and paper, even though your final work will usually be completed in software. This is to avoid the many assumptions that software will make for you. In the early sketching phases of a composition, it is important to not be bound to these assumptions. I expect all students to be prepared to show handwritten sketches of their work.

When it comes to completed projects, composers present their works in computer-notated/engraved form. It is no longer common (and in most circumstances, no longer acceptable) to supply performers with hand-written manuscripts. Students in this class may choose to use any of the following applications to prepare their assignments:

  • Dorico Pro
  • Sibelius Ultimate
  • Finale
  • MuseScore

MuseScore is free, but the quality of the finished product is not as high as the other three commercial applications. I will accept work completed in MuseScore for this class. However, students who are planning to major in composition or work professionally with notation should plan to purchase one of the professional applications and begin learning it. I know these are expensive, but these are the tools of our field, and it’s worth learning them sooner, rather than later, and while you have access to the very steep student discounts. Beginning with 400-level composition lessons, you will be required to work with one of the commercial applications, so it might be worth starting to learn it now.

When it comes time to select from those three, which you choose is ultimately up to you, but I generally recommend Dorico Pro, as I think it has the brightest future of the group (reasons for that determination are beyond the scope of this syllabus, but I’m happy to discuss it sometime). While there are still many pros who use it, I do not recommend new users invest in Finale. When purchasing your software, keep the following things in mind:

  • Get your student discount! This will save you hundreds of dollars.
  • Get the professional “tier” of whatever product you select. Both Dorico and Sibelius come in cheaper, feature-limited “lite” versions. For the kinds of things you will need to do in this class, you will end up being frustrated by those limits, and there is often not an easy way to upgrade to the pro tier without paying all over again. If you’re not ready to invest in the pro tier, stick with MuseScore while you save up. It will be worth it in the long-run.
  • Be patient with learning it. These are professional tools, which means they’re complicated. They need to serve as wide a variety of musicians and musical traditions as they can. Think about it a bit like investing the time, care, and money into learning a musical instrument. It’s hard at first, but with dedicated practice you can make it work for you and create something amazing with it.

You got Finale in my Dorico

With Finale 27 this week, MakeMusic has created new versions of all their music fonts that work with Dorico and MuseScore (sadly, not Sibelius), thanks to the beautify of the Standard Music Font Layout (SMuFL) standard created by Daniel Spreadbury. They’ve also released those fonts under an open license. One cool feature of SMuFL is that a font can recommend (by way of an extra metadata file) other engraving defaults, such as staff line thickness, that work well with the symbols in the font. Finale included this metadata with their fonts, but they didn’t actually implement the engraving defaults in Finale. Here’s the cool thing about technology standards, though: with no extra work at all from Steinberg, these fonts and engraving defaults work great in Dorico.

Just to play around with this, here’s a side-by-side comparison of Bravura and Finale Maestro.

Bravura (left) and Finale Maestro (right)

You should read more about Finale 27 over at Scoring Notes, and listen to our recent podcast episodes all about it. I’m optimistic that Finale will implement the rest of the font defaults in a future update, because Bravura looks really silly with the dainty staff lines that work so nicely with Maestro.

Steinberg: “The future will be dongle free.”

Click through to the whole thread.

Steinberg, the company that produces Dorico, Cubase, Nuendo, and other professional audio applications, announced today that they would be moving away from the hardware license key, which requires users to plug in what looks like a USB thumb drive to their computers any time they want to run a Steinberg. This key, called eLicenser, was the single greatest annoyance for me as an early adopter of Dorico. Remembering to carry an extra thing around, finding adapters for modern notebooks that have removed USB-A ports in favor of USB-C, danger of bumping a port while working, and just the general inelegance of the whole thing. Product Marketing Manager Daniel Spreadbury has been saying for years that they’ve been trying to work on this, and it seems things are finally happening.

I have no idea what the result will be, but I’m convinced it will be better than the current situation, if only because it will have been created by people who have seen what computing looks like in the 2020s: mobile devices and super-thin notebook computers with limited USB ports. When the eLicenser was originally developed, the idea that you could run something as complex as Cubase on a laptop was absurd, and so the hardware licensing system didn’t seem like a burden, but obviously that is no longer the case. Even among media pros, laptops are increasingly common, and the eLicenser feels increasingly anachronistic.

The trick will be to balance the needs of users—simplicity, flexibility, and reliability—with Steinberg’s need to protect its massive investment in the development of these applications. I’ve seen some speculation on social media that this is a signal that Steinberg is moving to a subscription model, but I don’t see any evidence of that, and it’s something Spreadbury has stated in the past is something he opposes for Dorico.

My hope for this future licensing platform is that it will be easy to transfer a license over the Internet, but that an active network connection would not be required to use the software. I think it’s reasonable for a person buying license to professional software like this ($600 USD before any discounts) would expect to be able to use it on at least two to three computers (say a desktop and a laptop) without too much hassle. Long-time Sibelius users will likely recall the tedium of transferring Sibelius licenses by copying long numbers back and forth between computers.

The replacement for Steinberg’s eLicenser technology isn’t here yet, so if you’ve got an eLicenser, you can’t ditch it yet; and of course, other applications like Vienna Symphonic libraries still use this same system, not to mention Avid’s iLok. But, I’m happy to see this commitment to our brighter, dongle-free future.

Teaching Tech: My home teaching setup

At the beginning of the semester, I was constantly fiddling with my tech setup at home to make it better and easier to get in and focus on the teaching. Now that it’s settled, I’m pretty happy with it. This video is a really quick overview of the software and hardware I’m using at home to teach my theory and composition courses remotely over Zoom. It is not a how-to, but a brief tour and demo of all the parts.

If folks are interested, I might do a little more detailed write-up or video on individual components now that everything is pretty much settled. Thanks to my friend and former theory prof. Leigh VanHandel for asking me to make this video and for sharing it with the Music Theory Pedagogy Interest Group at SMT 20201 this past weekend.



  1. That’s the Society of Music Theory, which is exactly as cool as it sounds.

Teaching Tech: Timed fundamentals quizzes with

For better or worse, some of what I teach in Theory I simply needs to be memorized. Sure, I can talk about how we derive a diatonic collection through the circle of fifths, but then you’d have to know what a perfect fifth is, and that can be tricky to explain without getting into intervals, and those can be tricky to explain without getting into major and minor scales, and there we are, right back at the diatonic collection. So we pick an arbitrary place to start and brute-force memorize a few things.

When I’m teaching on campus, we do timed quizzes quite a bit in the first semester. These are things like recognizing notes on the staff, writing key signatures, and writing scales. That’s something that I have been struggling with how best to replicate in our remote Zoomclass reality. So far, I’ve come up with two solutions.

Note ID quizzes in the LMS

While I can’t ask students to write notes on the staff in Blackboard, I can have them type things. A few weeks ago, I did some timed tests in which I simply set up a big collection of image-based fill-in-the-blank questions on Blackboard. I made images of whole notes on a staff and asked students to identify the notes by typing the letter in the box. Thanks to Dorico’s Flows and Graphic Export features, this was considerably less tedious than it might have been.

Twelve out of a total of 46 quiz images.
Twelve out of a total of 46 quiz images.

I could have Blackboard select a random 25 questions and limit the time precisely. Blackboard can select 25 random questions from a pool, it lets me allow each student to have multiple attempts at the test. (I mean, it’s literally practice. What kind of music teacher wouldn’t encourage practicing?) The other great benefit to using Blackboard tests for me was that the tests were graded automatically and added to the Blackboard gradebook. The benefit to students was that they didn’t have to go to any other site or use any other logins.

If you happen to be a Blackboard user, you’re welcome to download my treble, bass, alto, and tenor clef question pools to create your own tests. (The treble and bass test I made is there too.) I know not everyone is using Blackboard, and in addition to having my enduring jealousy, you may also grab the images I created of whole notes on every line and space in four clefs to build tests in whatever mercifully non-Blackboard LMS you find yourself using. (Or, you could just use them for flashcards.)

My fill-in-the-blank quiz above is great if all I need students to do is type a letter, but as soon as we get to even a small amount of complexity, like writing a scale or key signature on a staff, that breaks down quickly. Sure, they could type something like “A B C-sharp, D, E, …”, but then we start to add enough complexity that Blackboard can no longer auto-grade With over 50 students, I do not want to deal with 250 things to grade after a week of daily quizzes. A familiar friend is here to help. is way cooler than you may have thought

I’m not sure exactly when came across my radar, but I’ve been recommending it to students for years as a place to go to drill fundamentals, flashcard-style. However, I only recently discovered that you can actually create custom, timed quizzes for students to complete. Best of all, they don’t need a login. You can create a quiz with all the parameters you need, post a link, and then students can share their report back in a similar unique link.

Use the Exercise Customizer to customize your exercise.
Use the Exercise Customizer to customize your exercise.

To create your quiz, scroll down to the very bottom of the Exercises page and click Exercise Customizer. From there, you can create your own custom version of any of the exercises you’ve seen on the site. For my first, I created a quiz that would cover major and minor scales, up to four sharps and flats, treble and bass clef, and that would give students ten minutes to complete ten scales. (This may seem fast, but it’s actually very generous.)

The URL for each custom exercise encodes all the parameters you've chose above. For geeky fun, watch it change in realtime as you make selections in the customizer.
The URL for each custom exercise encodes all the parameters you’ve chose above. For geeky fun, watch it change in realtime as you make selections in the customizer.

Once you’ve selected the customizations you want, you can copy the link at the bottom of the customizer. That link will always be set to those customizations—you can’t change them without changing the link—so make sure you’ve got everything the way you want it. From there, students can click the link and immediately start the exercise you’ve created.

At the end, students get the opportunity to create and “sign” a report by typing their name. That will generate a unique code and link that you can use to check their score. That’s it! I made a quick screencast for my students, but I doubt they’ll need it.

To get this integrated into my gradebook, I’ve set these up as one-question short-answer quizzes on Blackboard. Each quiz has a link to the exercise and a space for the student to enter their report link. I’ll still need to open each link and copy the grades manually, but compared to grading 500 scales every day for a week, I’ll call it an improvement.

Another nice benefit of this system is that it allows students to take the quiz as many times as they need. As long as they continue using my link, they’ll continue to get the same parameters I’ve set up. As before, I don’t mind at all that they can practice as much as they want before doing the one they submit for their homework.

In some ways this is less good than my daily written quizzes on campus. Notably, students aren’t getting practice with the mechanics of writing notes and accidentals on a staff, which is far from trivial for students who are new to all this. On the other hand, I can give a more thorough quiz that students can practice more before taking, and that I can give more regularly without blowing up my grading schedule. This system also dramatically shortens the feedback loop, as students know as soon as they submit a question whether it was correct or incorrect. So there’s more practice, that is lower-stakes, which means less pressure, and all with immediate feedback.

Best of all, this is totally free. I’m aware of premium platforms like Musition that allow for even more robust testing with greater flexibility, but gets me where I need to be for this particular task, and it’s completely free. This is yet another tool I’ve incorporated to remote teaching that I intend to continue using after we return to campus.