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4.2: Music Technology - The Broader Issues


Bradley Merrick


The Present

As the music curriculum is realigned to meet the current direction of music education, combined with the ongoing needs mandated by a technology based society, educators have a responsibility to ensure that our students are immersed in an environment that allows them to interact with and experience new technologies. It is important that contexts of learning are relevant to the individual musical development of our students. Music Technology is an exciting medium which provides the flexibility to cater for the differentiated needs of the students, providing them with worthwhile and motivational learning experiences.

At present, there are many areas that need further consideration in the area of Music Technology. Two areas that influence the use of Music Technology by classroom practitioners are teaching practice and self confidence. Despite the attention given to Music Technology in the various syllabi and curriculum documents, these two factors are critical if music technology is to be successfully integrated into the classroom.

Music Technology for the purpose of this paper, refers to the use of commercially available digital sequencers (hardware or software based), microcomputers, MIDI systems or keyboard laboratories.


The influx of technology has created the need to re-assess classroom pedagogy. Theberge (1997:4) suggests that "what is at stake here is not simply a change in technology - the substitution of one set of materials for another - but rather the form of practice. It is this ongoing development where 'practice' is taken to mean the form of knowledge in action".

Like teaching practice, confidence levels, what Smylie calls efficacy levels, will directly influence the utilisation of technology in the classroom. Bandura in Smylie (1988:7) states that "Teaching efficacy is teachers' certainty about practice. Teachers' beliefs in their own technical competence, their certainty that their practice is appropriate and potentially effective is a prerequisite to their sense that they can be instrumental in their students' learning".

In order to develop a more thorough knowledge of teacher practice, educators need to engage in further training and investigation of music technology as an extension of the teaching and learning environment. It needs to be valued as a resource, just like any musical text, tape recorder or printed score. As this knowledge base broadens and the level of understanding develops, it is anticipated that the level of teacher efficacy will also increase.

Possible Solutions

In order to meet the immediate demands of the classroom, it is suggested that teachers try to develop a much more lateral approach to the application of technology. Rather than just employing a sequencer such as Cubase, Logic or Music Master to create a backing track or Encore, Finale or Sibelius to edit and create a notate a completed score, we need to look at the broader opportunities that these types of MIDI based technology can offer. The following activities are offered as possible ways of developing the integration of Music Technology in the classroom. Teachers are encouraged to think through their own teaching programs and learning contexts, trying to devise activities suitable for their own students.

Aurally, sequencers can be used to develop a knowledge of orchestration by having students purchase or download MIDI files and then import them into the sequencer. Students can then explore different arrangements of instrumentation, tone colours via the General MIDI preset sounds and then alter combinations of instruments by muting and duplicating, copying and pasting parts.

Software such as Band in a Box also provides the opportunity to develop the aural awareness of students. By using the varied style options and encouraging students to play along with auto accompaniment tracks, they are forced to develop an awareness of musical style and interpretation through active listening.

For Composition , students can explore their abilities in improvisation and creativity in any number of styles, using a variety of harmonic progressions. Again, Band in a Box provides the opportunity for students to practise and record their musical ideas, evaluate their worth and then save or alter their musical creations. Options provided within the program such as tempo changing, instrumental timbre and rhythmic interpretation from a 'straight' to 'swing' feel, allow students to develop an awareness of composition in different musical styles.

For Musicology , students can experiment with chord progressions and then develop a knowledge of style by altering the selection options within the Band in a Box software. By removing certain instruments within the accompaniment, we can instruct students to create a part that is musically appropriate for the style, developing an in depth knowledge of the musical processes involved in the development of a specific genre.

Another way of developing this understanding of musical style would be to have students use Keyboard laboratories and the many sound sources available in the 128 General MIDI presets. If students are grouped into small ensembles via the Keyboard Laboratory console, each student can occupy the role of a particular instrument. For example, the study of the jazz era would see students playing different keyboards whereby each student is allocated the role of an instrument such as the trumpet, clarinet, bass, banjo and drums. In this context, students learn about the function of instruments through active engagement with technology.

For Performance , students can import MIDI files into sequencers or MIDI players like the Roland MT 200 or MT 120 and then remove or mute the main melody and perform the melody in real time. This allows students to create a real performance environment and practise their instrumental or vocal line. If needed, sections of the piece can be quickly found and repeated. If required, the whole file can also be transposed to meet the range of the performer. Tempo, balance and overall orchestration can also be adjusted.

The use of MIDI files provides enormous potential in music education and can be applied to many of the examples outlined so far. Either via the internet or commercial suppliers, teachers can now access music from all styles and then apply MIDI files to any of the component areas of the music curriculum. Whether using the Tocatta in D by J.S. Bach or Yesterday by The Beatles, MIDI files have the ability to transcend your classroom learning environment. You cannot extract parts from a track on a CD, but you can certainly isolate instrumental parts when using a MIDI file.


The great thing about all the tasks outlined is that they can be modified to suit the resourcing restrictions that exist in different school. Whether you have one or a number of computers in the classroom or a synthesizer/sequencer laboratory, the teacher can develop their own ways of using technology as part of the learning process.

Students can interact with Music Technology using acoustic instruments like xylophones and guitars or use technology based instruments such as keyboards. With each option they are still exploring the processes associated with the process of music making and developing new knowledge bases and skills.

Hopefully, through the development of better technology based teaching practice, educators will also develop a higher level of technology based self efficacy within the profession. This , in turn, should see a higher level of opportunity provided to students in music education by technologies.


Smylie, M.A. (1988) The Enhancement Function of Staff Development: Organisational and Psychological Antecedents to Individual Teacher Change. American Educational Research Journal, Vol.25, No.1, 1-30.

Theberge, P. (1997) Any Sound You Can Imagine. Making Music/ Consuming Technology. Wesleyen University Press, Hanover. USA.

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