[Fairlight II Page R by Clusternote, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]
As we've evolved as a society and our art has followed, the foundations of music education have remained both consistent and traditional. The structure of music allows for us to bridge time and place by communicating within a uniquely universal language of notation, rhythms and key signatures. The ways we teach music have become so deeply established over time that educators may struggle with the idea of overhauling our tried and true techniques for new and unfamiliar methods. With this in mind, what are some reasons we would want to disrupt the process we know by integrating technology into the music classroom? If the methods we've grown up learning have proven to be effective, does the way we teach and study music really need updating? Is it possible to expand, supplement and develop our resources while continuing to speak the same universal language of music?
Compared to other disciplines, music education has been slow to adopt technology. And as it turns out, students would like to see more technology integrated in their lessons. As the expectations of today's student increases, higher productivity levels are expected and many students are of the mind that increased access to technology would make this easier. Greater experience with technology could improve graduates' hirability once their studies are completed, and even create new teaching opportunities for professors. In Music Technology and the Conservatory Curriculum, Jason Gaines conducts a study to assess the demand for, benefits of and hesitation to the implementation of new tools in music education within the communities of a number of notable music conservatories. Whereas students mostly seem of the mind that increased access to technology would be beneficial, some educators feel hesitant based on their lack of experience, training or understanding of new software or the general digital realm. Institutional budgets can contribute to this hesitation if access to technology is not prioritized and teachers don't have the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the tools at their disposal. Some teachers even stated fear that technology could replace music programs altogether.
[IPEM Studio Synthesizer by Clusternote, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]
While familiarizing oneself with an entirely new set of tools can surely prove to be overwhelming for anyone, there are a number of useful materials to help educators get started on their journey to the digital realm. In her article Maximum Technology in the Music Classroom: Minimum Requirements, Kathy Studer lays out the basics by describing simple ways to begin the integration of technology into the curriculum. She lists numerous benefits of using some accessible and easy to use tools, showing that when implemented with consideration and purpose technology can in fact simplify the teaching process instead of complicating. Some of her ideas include connecting a computer to a projector or TV with the purpose of showing a powerpoint presentation or video, using instrumental CDs or mp3s to provide accompaniment in choral practice settings, or using the internet to access online metronomes, tuners or any tools that might be immediately unavailable. She also recommends the software Finale, which she has her students to use to arrange pop songs of their choosing - a process that is not only engaging, but ultimately helps students improve their notation, rhythm and aural skills.
[Cubase 10 Midi Editor, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]
Whereas Studer's article from 2005 finds itself looking a bit dated today by featuring examples of technology that have already found their way into many classrooms, Music technology in high school music education: How music technology can increase musicianship skills in high school students, a thesis published by William M. Hungate in 2016, lists some updated examples of how technology can be used to advance music education. Beyond listing hundreds and hundreds of easily accessible programs for learning music, he discusses the use of MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface), which is a tool, or "protocol", that allows electronic instruments, computers and software to communicate with each other. MIDI has essentially created a language that allows data to become sound, which in turn allows sound to be manipulated or changed in an infinite number of ways. For example, when a line of music is recorded as MIDI in a recording program, one can make unlimited changes to the speed, pitch or timbre of this data to allow for real-time compositional feedback, improvisational accompaniment or electronic collaboration. Like a metronome, MIDI can provide a steady tempo and help students establish fundamental rhythm skills. MIDI's pitch data is absolute, meaning it can be a resource to help students develop their ear for playing or singing in tune. Hungate even mentions ways MIDI can be used to help students requiring special accommodations in the classroom, such as contactless MIDI controllers that can allow students with physical disabilities to participate.
[Livid Omni Modules by Livid Instruments, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]
While music curricula has remained reliable over time, many musicians encourage embracing the newly available resources we have today. Chad Criswell states in his article Music Technology: The Computer in Your Student's Pocket, "Almost every smartphone has the ability, via various downloadable applications, to become a sophisticated metronome, chromatic tuner, audio recorder, reference resource, or even a music theory or ear training tutor." By supplementing and enhancing the methods that we use to share knowledge with devices that have become omnipresent in our lives, we can ultimately create a more interactive, engaging and responsive learning environment, without sacrificing pedagogical traditions of the music classroom. To conclude, here's some food for thought, as re-quoted from Hungate's thesis: “If you know the capabilities of music software, then you can design ways for your students to benefit from it."
Many additional materials and resources on this topic are available through the Columbia University and Teachers College databases. Below is some further recommended reading to explore:
Ebook by Scott Watson
Ebook by Gena R. Greher
Ebook by Barbara Freedman
Ebook by Geoffrey Kidde
Article by Felipe Otondo
Article by Adena Portowitz, Kylie A. Peppler and Mike Downton
[Fairlight Green Screen by Starpause Kid, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]