Using Games to Teach Music
Team Member: Sam McKinley, Game Programming
Sight-reading and ear training are important skills for band, orchestra and choir. But when it comes to learning and playing music, these skills aren’t typically taught until middle and high school. Playing instruments from a young age, Sam McKinley, a Game Programming major, discovered that when it’s taught earlier, it’s easier for students to understand music. This is where his Student Innovation Project (SIP), Music in Me: Mega Melody, comes into play, teaching sight-reading and ear training to grades 3-5.
Notably, Sam was active in the jazz and honor bands and part of many different music groups throughout school. He learned the clarinet in fifth grade and tenor saxophone in seventh grade.
“I noticed that when these topics are taught, people have that lightbulb moment, and realize they might actually be good at this. I wanted to create those moments; I wanted to help people get to that point. I found the easiest way, other than teaching them in person, was teaching them through games. I was raised with so many educational games, and through those, I learned so much more.”
Raised by an elementary school teacher, Sam’s mom was a huge inspiration. He notes, “The thing that spawned the idea was watching her kids learn the very beginning instruments, like the recorder. And through that, I had the idea that I want to help with this, but I can’t because of my own disabilities.”
A familiar face around his mom’s classroom and the elementary school, Sam’s passion over the last couple of years was teaching kids all things music and instruments. Until his vertigo set in, he was part of the after-school program, teaching music and general studies, and consistently helping in classrooms throughout the day.
“Because my mom was there all day, she would bring me. I was even asked to help with kindergarten and grades one and two. That was actually my passion; I just can’t keep up with those kids anymore,” Sam states.
Bring His Passion to Life
Music in Me: Mega Melody was mainly built in Unity using Visual Studio and C# development. Attributing most of his programming knowledge to University of Advancing Technology (UAT), Sam came to the University with a very basic understanding of game programming. Professors Tony Hinton and Adam Moore helped unlock Sam’s potential.
Without an animator helping with the project, Sam took on learning how to edit sprites to make the game interactive via different character features and movements. Professor Adam Moore was a huge help with this aspect, as he introduced Sam to the possibilities with sprites and cohesively implemented many ideas into the game build. Sam also credits Science Professor Nathan Glover, who introduced him to more creative ways to think, not only with science, but with programming. This helped him come up with creative solutions to make the game more fun for kids.
“For a long time, I was searching for how I can interact and help. With stuff like COVID, which slowed everything down, I realized that games help a lot. They relieve stress. That’s when it really started to click for me.”
As a recent UAT graduate, Sam would like to continue developing educational games at a company in the video game industry. “I hope to make that impact again, even if I can’t do it in person. I’ve always loved making games, that’s something I’d really like to do.”
Sam enjoyed his time and loved his experience at UAT. “I love the interactions here. I love that it’s more casual, like some teachers go by their first name, which I really like because it’s easier. Because of the walker, I am somewhat limited, but they have really helped me out here.”