6.1: Why use music technology in the classroom.
As music educators, we have a responsibility to present to students different ways of viewing the world of music. The potential of music technology is to allow exploration of new areas of music both in a mechanical and creative sense. With the increasing penetration of technology into all fields, music software developers have become today's instrument makers and are no less part of the creative process. This process of building the tools of music technology is proceeding at a growing pace, so it is an opportunity for teachers to catch onto this wave and harness some of its creative power to ignite the spark of enthusiasm in their charges. The opportunities of music technology can be viewed from two perspectives: education and performance. In education, if "the medium is the message" then music technology affords an opportunity for presentation of musical concepts in powerful new ways. As an example, a music note played on a midi keyboard can be heard, shown visually on the computer screen in its correct notational view and also as a piano roll icon displaying relative length and pitch. The new generation of music education software which incorporates sound, images and animations can elegantly explain concepts like note value, where a quarter note can transform itself into two eighth notes on the computer screen using computer animation. It can also reinforce the concepts of rhythm and beat by linking the aural and visual cognitive process e.g. a visual bouncing ball which is synchronized to the beat of familiar music.
We are continually seeing the magic of multimedia create the sense of awe and excitement within students as they grasp new musical ideas for the first time. Again and again we see this in operation forging conceptual links in their minds. The newest creativity software incorporates not only MIDI but other media formats such as wave, MP3, streaming audio and video and allows students and teachers easy access to the tools of the multimedia revolution. During our workshops with Primary and Secondary students we split our educational software into the three categories for convenience: Tutorial, Editorial and Knowledge. In the Tutorial area we have programs which attempt to teach to students using a series of grades lessons. Some popular examples of software in this category would include Music Ace, Midisaurus, Auralia, Alfred's Essentials of Music Theory, Piano and Guitar CD ROM tutors. In the Editorial category we have all the sequencing programs such as Band in a Box, Cakewalk, Cubase, Magix, Music Master, Logic and notation software e.g. Finale and Sibelius. In the Knowledge category software such as Music Conservatory and Pianist series.
In performance, opportunities to explore new instruments and combinations of sounds and textures are easily realised by the new recording programs which offer not only huge palettes of instrument sounds, but also the ability to mix, edit and enhance the sounds of live instruments. Software now exists which will act as an intelligent accompanist for a solo performance, waiting on cues given and changing tempo to match the flow of the performance. Other software packages allow students to experiment with sound loops to create musical collages with only a few mouse clicks; these are to act as a springboard for compositional ideas. Home-grown Australian music software deserves our support , and some programs such as Auralia, Musition, and Music Master are also being received well internationally. Each of these owes its popularity to its relevance and usefulness in the Australian education arena, so all are well worth exploring if you get the opportunity. Because of our close relationship with software authors as well students and teachers, we are able to channel feedback from users which has led to enhancements of these musical tools. More and more programs are becoming available with affordable unlimited site licences, and also student versions, making it easier for schools to integrate technology into their music curriculum.
Binary Designs work closely with schools and universities to promote the use of music technology in the classroom. To help teachers wishing to get started with computers, Binary Designs have developed an introductory computer course specifically for music teachers. This hands-on course has been presented in conjunction with Education Queensland for Primary, Secondary and Instrumental music teachers in the Brisbane region. As part of the Young Composers Competition there is an upcoming series of Composition Workshops, culminating in a hands-on workshop, to be held in the Griffith University Mt Gravatt campus new computer music lab on Saturday 22nd July. This workshop presented by James Humberstone and Binary Designs will assist attendees convert their hand written scores into professional sheet music. They will be using Sibelius music notation software. This package is being used by many of Australia's major music publishers to produce their commercial sheet music.
Karen Henderson is a director of Binary Design, a company specialising in the use of technology in music education .