LISSSN - The aspect of music education

Dr.Robert Wolff, em. Univ. Prof. University "Mozarteum", Salzburg

Lisssn was born with the idea in mind to convey basics of music to children and youngsters and in the process taking advantage of the fact that games of the type save the princess are very popular with that group. So what would be more logical than to design a game, in which very simple tasks, comparable to the requirements to enter a public music school in Austria or Germany, have to be fulfilled and repeated until they have been fully understood. From many talks, discussions and seminars, as well with colleagues at the "Mozarteum" in Salzburg and with assistance and in cooperation with the Upper Austrian "Musikschulwerk", a concept comprising four educational themes was developed.

4 pädagogische Aspekte von Lisssn

Green: Ear training (pitches, rhythms etc.), red: Theory, blue: Organology and orange: Composers.
Besides that, there are games that touch two fields, symbolized by the small circles between green/red, green/blue and orange/blue.

The tasks were gathered in several brainstorming meetings with music educators from Upper Austria and then attributed to the different sections. Some games need repetition until the goal is reached while the respective progress is indicated to the player. It can also happen that, when an incorrect answer is given, the number of necessary repetitions will increase step by step up to a given maximum, as practice is the key for learning for some of the exercises. During the later graphics work on the game, my Co-Author Knut Müller augmented the game with several ideas of his.


Ear training at its lowest level starts in the Ravens Alley, where the player learns that it might be important for the game's progress to distinguish directions, sounds come from. If you cover one ear it is impossible to detect the direction a sound comes from und it becomes impossible to pass through the alley. That explains the recommendation to use earphones if necessary, and also the possibility to check the loudspeaker arrangement by means of the icon in the dock. Since acoustics is a dominant feature of Lisssn, ambient sounds or music from a given source are adjusted to the respective standpoint of the player. Sounds originating from the front will, after a turn to the right, be predominantly heard with the left ear and sounds from the back are softer than those from in front. You will first notice that when turning into the cricket pathway coming from the Ravens Alley.

Like its model, the Renaissance Castle of Weinberg in Upper Austria, our castle is surrounded by a gallery, which, in its right branch, houses a loudspeaker. If activated, it either sounds a tone or a noise. In order to make the difference clear between the two, one has to identify from which door of the labyrinth inside the castle a sound originates and which one delivers a noise, or is completely quiet. This is the only way to reach the game's next level. The number of doors as well as the direction of the sounds are at random, so that the player has to definitely understand the difference between noise and tone, even if he was unable to verbalize that difference, as it might be the case with children.

Off the Nodal Area, there is a small room in which in which the player is requested to realize which one of two given simple tones is higher in pitch, or if they were equal. Besides that the instrument has to be recognized as one out of three possible ones. In the Coffin Chamber then, one has to also hear the difference between high and low choirs.

In the Room with Fireplace we already have to deal with three different notes, which now are attributed the letters c,d and e. The next level, the Taproom requires 6 notes to be played at 3 different possible pitches, whereby now the notes are positioned under, on or above a black line. Further on, one's hearing is tested at an iron door which opens, if one is able to attribute a sequence of three notes played at a different pitch to the correct graphical representation. The next learning step happens in the Potroom, in which we have a sheet music paper with 5 lines and a violin clef, where the notes, written either as notes or by their names, have to be played on pots with different tunings. So far, we played on wine glasses or on pots. In the following we find a set of piano keys c, c#, d, d# and e, out of which the white ones can be depressed.

At the Underground Lake we find the reverse situation. A fog horn plays a sequence of 4 to 6 notes in the range of c to e. This sequence has to be set on a blackboard with an empty music staff, a simple audio dictation. Up to here, rhythm did not come into play. It first appears at the Crystal Gate. The five padlocks can be removed by correctly repeating a rhythm by pressing the mouse button in the appropriate intervals. The Stalactite Caverns introduce the concept of the half and quarter note and at the Stalactite Barricade, a given rhythm has to be correctly set with the help of quarter and half note boards.

Another Situation, in which half and quarter notes have to be recognized is in the skeleton room, where the basic rhythm of Purcell's Funeral March gives the clue.

Ultimately, we play e given sequence of 5 and then 6 notes in the range c-e at the correct pitch and correct rhythm on the keyboard of a positiv. The sequences are first given as audio, then, after having accomplished that part, as sheet music, completely without acoustic help.


One branching of the Star Place leads to the Park Station, where we see a string of quarter notes with stem down. At the stone bridge leading up to the castle's draw bridge is the quarter note with stem up and the quarter rest can be found at the stony staircase in the cemetery. All three symbols can also be seen above the drawbridge, an indication that finding them is necessary in order to pass into the castle. The game with the red and the blue ball (cemetery and bridge to the castle) brings the violin clef - the bass clef being found in the boat at the underground lake. At first, all of these objects are just icons to the player. Their meanings are introduced later on.

To the left of Haendel's tomb, the sequence of letters m-i-n-o-r as a key to a riddle without explaining their musical meaning.

In the passage from the underground tunnel to the chapel, there are more musical signs such as accidentals, rests, fermata and so on, which are used as symbols, but should only create a first optical impression. Many of these pictures presented without a theoretical foundation are meant to reappear in the next game, which should build on the knowledge acquired in this one and give deeper insights into the world of music.


The first encounter with a musical instrument, the cello, takes place in the cemetery. It is also instantly presented acoustically with music by Johann Sebastian Bach. At the composers tomb we can find a drum stick, still not apprehending what the use of the object is. It has to be paired with the kettledrum in the museum. In the Nodal Area one can find the cello case in which the cello has to be brought from the cemetery to the instrument shop in order to be exchanged for some memory cards. Right next to the Nodal Area is a room that requires to distinguish sounds coming from either a piano, a trumpet, or a recorder. It is possible to get to that room by using a slide. In the process of sliding down, a trumpet mouthpiece can be snatched. It will be used later on to complete the trumpet in the museum together with the trumpet bow

After the basic principles of rhythm are clear, we find the positiv, which has to be assembled and whose function must be studied in order to make it work. The violin bow and a part of the trumpet can also be found in this area. The two parts of the magic flute - a golden recorder - are positioned for one past the positiv, the other at the end of the south-passage.

Three baroque instruments, bassoon, oboe and flute have to be transported between instruments rooms in their respective cases. Also at the museum, one has to associate the right instruments with given audio tracks.

The different instruments are actually heard all over at many occasions, be it while associating sounds, or be it like in the museum, where paintings of ensembles on the wall came to life audibly.


We already meet the four composers addressed in that game at the opening in the octagon. Bach and Haendel have their German accent, Vivaldi's speaking has an Italian coloring and Purcell is British in tone and nature. Their tombs are located in the cemetery and we hear a small sample from one of their best known compositions at their graves. On this occasion we can find some of their data as well as hints regarding their origin. Purcell's year of death is revealed late in the game and has to be calculated from given indications. A more thorough description can be found in the Purcellroom of the walkthrough. The year of Bach's death can be discovered in the underground tunnel.

Connections to Vivaldi's nickname "the red priest" and to his activities are collected in the chapel. In his room, it is necessary to know, besides others, that he did not only compose, but was also an excellent violin player, which should be clear after having contemplated his picture. Generally, we get to know in the composer's rooms several properties and information about these four men. So there is for example a puzzle of the locations in Europe most relevant to Haendel, Purcell is in need of a drawing of London, in Bach's room you have to write down the musette from the Notenbüchlein der Anna Magdalena Bach and Vivaldi has to be dressed with a reddish wig and an alb.


The music educational content is extended and enriched with ideas of pure informational and/or entertainment character.

That starts with the well and the rope ladder, which teaches the player, right at the onset, about meaning and function of the inventory. In the graveyard, we meet the funny little troll for the first time, who presents us with the first memory cards that are spread all over the game and are used towards the end of the game. Once we have entered the castle, it is important to gain access to the labyrinth inside. For that purpose, a design has to be found, whose pattern has to be entered into a box next to a locked gate. In the underground tunnel there is also an ice cavern, where your glasses will freeze over, if you stay inside for too long. That cave also reveals the setting for opening the box with the pick ax inside in the entrance area, which in turn is needed to find Purcell's year of death (he froze to death!).

One of the most complex tasks that doesn't necessarily have to be solved with the ear, is the rat riddle. By solving it, we reach the museum, the last station before the dungeon with "La Musica". A prerequisite for being able to approach the dungeon consists in having collected all of the memory cards. With those you have to solve a memory game, in which the corresponding cards do not display the same picture, but pairs that are musically related to each other, such as bow-violin, violin key-bass key, a composers name and his picture, 2 quarter notes and one half note etc.

Spread throughout the game are not only memory cards, quarter and half notes, but also slips of paper with geometric signs which are needed to gather all of the organ pipes for the positiv.

The chapel houses an elevator with interesting controls that leads to four different floors. Other technical objects are two trains, which can only be operated once all impeding obstacles have been removed.

The composers rooms possess several interesting mechanisms and Puzzles, which have to be solved to finally get access to the room with the organ playing skeleton. And there is, of course, the little troll, popping up here and there, sometimes to help you, another time he will just poke his tongue at you.


-- © Robert Wolff, 2018 --