Instruments or computers? CDs or Youtube? Manuscript paper or DAW? Music technology is something that has crept up on many music teachers, who are now expected to teach with it despite having had no training or real knowledge on how to use it effectively. So it is no wonder that some music teachers may well still be resisting the use of too much technology in their lessons and sticking with 'traditional' teaching methods.
Technology is a huge topic in any subject, but in music there are many levels of technology to consider. It could include anything from using Spotify or iTunes playlists through to electronic instruments and recording equipment to an ever increasing range of software options.
And we cannot deny that a lot of students love technology. It can be a great way to engage students in a subject that they may feel they know little about. It can also really help students to create higher level pieces of work.
But let's not forget that there must always be a place for 'traditional' instruments in the classroom. We cannot raise a generation that only play electronic instruments and use software loops to compose. This is signing the death warrant for so many instruments and for creativity.
So surely the answer is, as ever, a balanced curriculum. Here are some quick ideas on how you could incorporate technology with tradition in your classroom.
You probably have lots of performance opportunities written into your curriculum already don't you? And hopefully these use a range of instruments. Maybe some acoustic, some electric. So have a go at.....
1. Recording performances: students can learn how to use software such as Audacity, Cubase or Garageband as well as learning about microphones and setting up a PA. Teach students how to set up the recording area and polish their recording by adjusting balance and panning. This could range from a very simple exercise with one mic to a full on recording studio if you have the equipment. They are then performing on 'traditional' instruments, but using technology to capture it.
2. Creating backing tracks: Students can use pre-made loops or create their own chord sequences to compose their own backing tracks. They can then perform the melody live using 'traditional' instruments but using the tracks they have created.
3. Performance through music technology: this is an option on some BTEC and GCSE boards so is well worth teaching as early as possible. Rather than performing 'live', students input the parts into a DAW and create the performance. This is really inclusive for any students who find playing instruments difficult / embarrassing / disengaging and can be a great way 'in' to inspire and enthuse.
1. Creating a mash up: technology can enable some students to create pieces that may well be technically more demanding than they can manage on traditional instruments. Students could learn the melodies or chord sequences to different songs using traditional instruments but then create a mash up using a DAW.
2. Creating a new version in a different style: a 'Live Lounge' style project always goes down well in theory. But in practise students can find it too challenging to change the style of a song they know well. Allowing them access to pre made loops in different styles (eg a reggae drummer) can inspire a really effective project.
3. Creating an original composition: For most students, creating a layered composition with different instruments and parts is going to be very difficult on a piano. They cannot hear what their piece sounds like or play all the parts together. Nor can they experience the effect of the different instrumental sounds. Whilst some students will really benefit from using instruments to create their initial melodies or chord sequences, having access to software that can play their entire piece back will really light a fire in their imaginations.
1. Quiz and Assessment Features: there are a number of sites now where you can create quizzes and assessments. And even better, they are self marking. So why not use this software for independent listening? This can be a great option for extension work, cover work and even homework. It is much more focussed than just asking students to listen to x, y or z as it appears much more like a test and students love to get a good grade! But don't forget that more traditional class listening is also vital, sparking discussion and learning that sitting alone at a computer cannot do.
2. Homework with online submission: technology can also be useful with homework setting. Google drive, Edmodo and Outlook Teams all enable electronic submission of homework and will even tell you who has not submitted work and who was late. You can mark it online and keep the evidence all in one place. Students can submit a range of work this way, from Powerpoints to recordings.
But again, don't limit students to having to submit electronic work. Many will still want to create work on paper and this can produce some beautiful display work for your classroom.
1. Music theory: it is easy for this to become a dry lesson if not carefully planned. Traditional methods definitely have their place here; I have had many students demonstrating the Circle of 5ths by various means such as making pizza or 'being a key signature'. But mix in some apps and you have a great balance. MusicTheoryGuy on Youtube has short, snappy videos on a huge range of theory topics, whilst Music Theory has a range of games and activities to reinforce learning.
2. Instrumental Recognition: if you are not lucky enough to have a full range of orchestral, folk, world, jazz and pop instruments in your department, then music technology can really help. Borrow what instruments you can from neighbouring schools, music hubs or parents. Get live workshops in to give students a real flavour of instruments available. But when this becomes impossible, technology can really help out.
3. Games: Websites such as MusicTechTeacher have a range of fun games to help reinforce learning. Teenage boys, in particular, can really be inspired by having an online game to learn through. Practical games in your classroom are also a great way to learn, with movement based games a great way to reinforce theoretical subjects (eg making shapes to demonstrate dynamics or moving to tempo).
It would be great to be able to set practical tasks as cover work for when we are not there. But we all know that this is not always going to work. Firstly, you may fear for your equipment, and secondly, is it really fair on the poor cover teacher to ask them to teach class euphonium? More traditional cover activities such as essay writing, worksheets or posters can work really well depending on your class. But if you have access to a computer room or trolley then students also have the ability to research, compose or use games to learn. And this can be a lot easier and more effective for everyone.
So technology and traditional methods both have their place in modern music teaching. Use some of these ways or think of others to combine them into your broad and balanced curriculum.