My experiences wouldn't have been possible without being part of the University of Lethbridge in this undergrad degree. It was all the people I got to meet through the experience that really made the degree worthwhile.

As Colton Vanhooren (BFA '22) finishes his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree as a multidisciplinary major, he is looking ahead to his next adventure and reflecting on the experiences that inspired him along the way.

Colton won second place in the 2022 Agility Pitch Competition for his business idea pitch for Tonic Musicianship. Tonic Musicianship is a musicianship training software based on gamification and machine learning to engage students with fun curriculum content while learning how to practice music.

Colton says his software helps with the foundational building blocks to understanding music. “Musicianship is understanding the whys of music, why certain chords work together and why certain songs tug at the heartstrings,” he says.

What we're hoping to do with our software is introduce these skills in a fun, gamified way to high school students or students just starting out in private lessons, so that they can be more prepared for their careers either going to university like myself, or into their own individual music careers.

For his win, Colton receives $1,500 in seed funding to further develop his idea. He says his next steps are to build the prototype and test it with music instructors and then bring the feedback to more investor pitches.

He credits his time in fine arts for inspiring him to explore his passion for research and education. Colton started his degree as a music student, learning vital musicianship skills. It was during this time he discovered the lack of innovative software in musicianship training.

“It wasn't user-friendly. As silly as it is, out of spite, I started researching this stuff and I absolutely fell in love with the research component. I began developing a new system that would tailor practice time to students rather than just random flash cards. That's how it started, it was with my journey at ULethbridge, and looking to create a better solution for not only university students, but prepping the next generation of students.”

Colton switched to a multidisciplinary major in his third year and spent time doing a research capstone project with Dr. D. Andrew Stewart, an associate professor in music composition. Colton says he was able to dive into academia and research ways to teach musicianship skills to other students.

He then connected with Bruce Thurston (BASc (BA) ’78) from Tecconnect. Colton says Bruce taught him critical entrepreneurship and founder skills, which eventually led him to join the Agility Pitch Competition.

The benefit of Colton doing a multidisciplinary degree in fine arts is that he was able to tailor his own program of study from multiple areas in the faculty, creating a unique learning experience and sampling a number of disciplines.

What was really nice about that degree is that in my third and fourth year, I was really looking for some other experiential opportunities outside of the music department. Looking into things like new media and the drama department, I was able to actually take a considerable amount of course time and explore those other departments and meet some great people and just build a more diverse knowledge base.

Colton adds that some of his favourite experiences while at ULethbridge happened outside of his coursework.

“I was lucky enough to work with Troy Delaney on his album. I was able to work with Ryan Harper on one of his French Canadian movies, which was a fantastic opportunity. Then, with Tonic Musicianship, I was able to take some course time but also work with Tecconnect outside of school to work on this opportunity.”

As he continues on with his career, Colton says his next goal is to get Tonic Musicianship off the ground and eventually come back for graduate school, where he can use the data gathered from his program to study the evolution of the modern classroom with gamified music practice.

When asked for words of wisdom for students just starting their educational journey, Colton says it’s important to keep an open mind and work hard at the beginning to show others your passion.

In my first and second year, I didn't think that I would be coding or working in musicianship. I actually didn't enjoy those courses at all when I took them, and yet now it envelops quite a significant part of my life. Keep an open mind and show your professors you mean business early on, and the doors will open up.

Congratulations, Colton!


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