Music Technology & Its Impact on Music Education
Daniel Renna & Samantha Williams
The art challenges the technology, and the technology inspires the art.— Famed director and animator, John Lasseter
Technology as a platform for learning and innovation has become so intertwined within modern society that to neglect its significance would prove inhibitory to the “21st century lifestyle” with which so many have become accustomed. However, as technology continually evolves from a desire into an inescapable necessity, the benefits of its advancement must not be ignored but rather embraced.
Within the realm of music, technology has sparked cutting-edge ideas and influenced entire genres, many of which now serve as the foundation for today’s popular music. Numbers of successful artists, producers, composers and engineers have created award-winning pieces with nothing but their laptops and iPhones.
The environment that has been perpetuated by this ever-advancing technological movement allows individuals to gain new knowledge and understanding through devices that they already possess and utilize in their daily lives. This article will discuss ways in which technology positively affects music education, while also identifying some key technological advancements that help to enhance the learning process.
From Thomas Edison’s wax cylinder recordings in 1898 to the rise of MIDI interfaces in 1983 to the free audio production and sampling applications available for smartphones today, music technology continues to alter the way humans communicate and interact with sound. Professor William I. Bauer, area head of music education at the University of Florida, talks about how advances in technology are capable of completely transforming the learning experience as well as the approaches taken to music education.
By catering to the “DIY” tendencies of our technocentric culture, educators are able to successfully employ the learning theory of "constructivism," which suggests that “Individuals create their own new understandings, based upon the interaction of what they already know and believe, and the phenomena or ideas with which they come into contact."
In a day and age where even some of the most popular artists are leaving behind professional recording studios to produce albums of equal quality on their home computers, one must consider how advancements in technology are putting more power into the hands of the average individual.
The recognition of the importance of technology as it pertains to music education is not necessarily new. In the late 1960’s, for example, Professor Virginia Hagemann developed an electronic music laboratory at the JR Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School in Philadelphia.
Hagemann noted that the benefits afforded by technology helped reinforce the educational approach of “mathetics,” which stressed the independent and creative aspects of self-exploration and hands-on learning.
An article from “The British Journal of Music Education” in 1993 said that technology may help to remove many of the barriers associated with the development of traditional musical skills.
It went on to include that technology, “Has the potential to enable pupils at any level of interest or ability to participate in creative and imaginative activities, and to work with a much wider range of sounds and resources for recording and sound processing than was hitherto possible."
Since then, the new methods of information acquisition afforded to modern society by technology are not only becoming increasingly convenient and cost-effective, but they perfectly reinforce the principles of critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity, which are described by the National Education Association as the “Four C’s of 21st Century Learning.”
It would benefit the modern-day educator to consider an intimate approach to music through the augmentation of mobile technologies, games, digital audio software and online learning into their curriculum. Music teachers may access mobile apps like Symphony Pro and forScore, allowing them to compose complete orchestrations for their students on the fly with lead sheets, practice tools and playback options.
Popular applications such as Yousician assist users in learning guitar, piano, ukulele and bass by providing a visual representation of songs, exercises, chord diagrams and tablature that provide real-time responsiveness and varying degrees of difficulty. The method of providing learning opportunities within pre-existing technological mediums is incredibly effective.
Professors Anthony and Jan Herrington, education experts from Murdoch University in Australia, concluded that “The benefits of mobile learning can be gained, through collaborative, contextual, constructionist and constructivist learning environments."
Video games like Rocksmith help to further “gamify” the learning experience by utilizing real electric instruments and guiding the user through songs of their choice with a color-coded visual blueprint. Even games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, which were not originally intended as teaching tools, provide musical exposure to the ever-growing gaming community. What was soon discovered, however, is that these games actually possess the fringe benefit of teaching the user how to play the drums in an incredibly accurate way. This is due to the drum controller’s similarity to a real kit.
Professional drummer and teacher, Andy Ziker, noticed that one of his students had drastically improved her hand/stick technique and assimilation of material purely from playing Rock Band for a few weeks.
Every single song on So Far Gone was mixed and mastered in Room 713 or 718 of the Beverly Wilshire hotel on a pair of AKG 240 headphones and an iHome clock radio. — Grammy-winning Engineer, Noah Shebib
With the rise of affordable digital audio workstations like Logic, Ableton Live and FL Studio, users are able to produce music with the click of a mouse regardless of whether or not they have any prior musical experience. Coupled with USB trigger pads and keyboard controllers, individuals can comprehend basic musical concepts such as tempo and pitch, while learning how to construct drum beats and basic keyboard chords in a hands-on fashion. A modern-day laptop now possesses many of the same production capabilities as the multi-million-dollar studios of the past.
Software instruments and VST plugins like EastWest Orchestra and Steven Slate’s Virtual Mix Rack have been so well-engineered that industry-leading producers, composers and engineers like Hans Zimmer and Dave Pensado have chosen to forgo expensive studio equipment in favor of these much more affordable substitutes. The results are almost indistinguishable to the listener and drastically cut costs while increasing convenience, portability and productivity.
Grammy-winning producer and engineer, Noah Shebib, mixed an entire Drake album with bare-bones equipment in a hotel room.
“Every single song on So Far Gone was mixed and mastered in Room 713 or 718 of the Beverly Wilshire hotel on a pair of AKG 240 headphones and an iHome clock radio,” said Shebib.
These methods of music production have spawned an entire subculture of “bedroom producers” who are responsible for the popularization and evolution of electronic music. This electronic “maker movement” has redefined what it means to be called a musician. In this day and age, individuals are given complete creative control of the music-making process without relying on formal training or outsourcing particular responsibilities, and we have technology to thank for it.
A discussion of the effects of technology on music education would be incomplete without the mention of the many online-learning methods available to the modern-day student. Online forums like Gearslutz, The Gear Page, and Future Producers connect like-minded musicians from around the world and provide an environment filled with information and direct communication between artists and industry-professionals.
World-renowned musicians like John Mayer and Pete Thorn even offer free live-streaming guitar and bass tutorials through webcam applications like Skype and Periscope. For a small fee, online courses in music education, music marketing, and audio production are given by institutions like Dubspot and link students with award-winning professionals from all over the country.
YouTube in particular, as one of the most popular and widely used online applications, lets musicians and educators break down physical barriers and reach a greater audience without attending expensive music schools or learning programs.
Journalist, Chris Cayari, wrote an article for "The International Journal of Education & the Arts," entitled "The YouTube Effect: How YouTube Has Provided New Ways to Consume, Create and Share Music."
"Because of its interactive qualities," said Cayari, "YouTube is an art medium; a technology which allows listeners to become singers, watchers to become actors, and consumers to become producers creating new original works and supplementing existing ones."
Today’s music industry can be compared to a contemporary “wild west.” It is replete with accomplished singers, guitarists, trumpeters, pianists, bassists and more who honed and shared their craft at their own pace, by their own rules, in their own homes...for free.
There is a great potential afforded to creators and educators through current technological advancements capable of completely transforming the way music is learned, taught, shared and created. As we move forward into the future, it becomes abundantly clear that technology will forever have its finger on the pulse of the creative world.
A Timeline of Advancements in Music Education & Some Key Technology That Has Aided in Its Evolution