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The Case for Technology In Music Education

The Case for Technology In Music Education

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Published by Andrew T. Garcia
This paper makes the case for the use of technology in music classrooms in secondary schools.
This paper makes the case for the use of technology in music classrooms in secondary schools.

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Published by: Andrew T. Garcia on Oct 23, 2008
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01/26/2013

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 The Case for Technology in Music Education
ByAndrew T. Garcia 
INTRODUCTION Technology has the ability to enhance the educational outcomes forstudents enrolled in music education classes at the secondary level because itutilizes a hands-on approach and can more readily reflect the individual needsand experiences of students. These approaches have been shown in generaleducation literature to positively affect student learning (Hammond & Collins,1991). In addition, technology is an attractive medium for students and muchof the technology used in a music technology classroom can be purchased andutilized at home at once weakening the divide that previously existed betweenschool and home resources (Rudolph, 1996) and strengthening the relationshipbetween home (community) and school. This paper will provide an argument for the role music technology toenhance and assist in the learning of traditional music education objectives. Arestructuring of the secondary general music ed. curriculum through the use of technology is suggested. The use of technology is suggested as a means of connecting with student learners in meaningful ways (Boody, 1990) and as away of embracing relevant, existing paradigms related to constructivist learningand a postmodern society and (Rudolph, 1996; Kafai & Resnick, 1996; Rideout,1998). TRADITIONAL FORMS OF MUSIC EDUCATIONMost public school music programs consist of three basic areas of curricular focus: “General” Music, Instrumental Music and Choral Music.General Music programs typically begin in kindergarten or first grade andcontinue in some form for all students through the middle school years (about8th grade). In High School, if there is a non-performance (general) musicprogram it usually takes the form of electives in music theory or history.Instrumental Music programs are typically offered in grades 4-12 and provideopportunities for students to study their instruments in small groups and toperform in various bands modeled after the military bands of 65 years ago.Choral music programs are typically discrete parts of middle school and highschool music programs but singing in some form is usually incorporated intothe elementary general music curriculum.General music programs often exist to teach the basics of music theory (steady beat, basic time signatures and rhythms) but not much else. Often themethodology is teacher-centered with the teacher explaining the concept andthe students “doing” or echoing what the teacher asked them to. In goodprograms, small instruments will be available for students to demonstrate theconcepts they learned. Even so, these skills are helpful for the students whoultimately plan to play in band or sing in chorus. Students who do not elect toplay or sing, however, must continue to be subjected to “general music” in someform long after they have decided it’s not for them. Arguments for keepinggeneral music programs in the public school curriculum have focused on suchobtuse arguments as “music makes you smarter” (citing studies that SAT 
 
scores are higher for students who participate in the arts) or “music teachesskills useful in other subjects”. While there may be kernels of truth in thesearguments they certainly miss the boat as far as music education is concerned. The obvious problem is that they focus on outcomes unrelated to music (Gee,2000, p. 957).Band and Chorus programs are often highly visible because they provide entertainment for local communities. For this reason they tend to bepopular and generally enjoy a high level of community support even if theprograms have hardly changed in decades. Most Band programs consist of ateacher, students, instruments and a conducting baton which is used to startstudents playing, conduct time and stop students from playing when a“mistake” is detected (usually by the conductor). The mistake is pointed outand the process repeats itself. This ubiquitous approach has been criticized by Colwell (2000) and others because true music literacy is overlooked in favor of the short-term goals of preparing for concerts. Choral programs are run muchthe same way. In both instances the learning environment is highly teacher-centered with the teacher setting the tone, rehearsal process and outcomeseach day, week and year. The extent of learning by students in thesecircumstances is questionable even if they ultimately attain a high level of musical performance.HISTORY OF TECHNOLOGY IN MUSIC AND MUSIC EDUCATIONMusicians have always been great users of technology (Boody, 1990).Evidence of this is the way in which instruments have evolved over time.Pianos evolved from mechanisms that pluck the strings to short, hammeredarms that strike the strings, brass instruments developed valves which allowedthem to play in different keys, conducting “batons” went from large staffs thatwould be pounded on the floor to sleek, efficient wands. Efficiency of keys andlevers on instruments are always being improved and string makers are alwaysattempting to find the right wood and lacquer that will produce that perfectsound.As early as 1980 education professionals were justifying the use of technology by arguing that it allowed for students to learn by doing and by thinking about what they do (Taylor, 1980). These arguments were grounded inthe theories of Dewey, Piaget and Montessori. The main argument then wasthat a computer can greatly assist student learning of all kinds. Once thesedeclarations were accepted by the educational community applications for allsubjects areas were sought. In general education, computers still provide muchthe same as they did then- an electronic word processor and a place to organizeinformation. The internet has added an encyclopedic, one-stop-shoppingelement to school research projects and programs such as Microsoft’sPowerpoint have increased the possibilities and pizzazz of student work by providing the opportunity to work with multimedia and prepare organized slideshows, however, no strinkingly new technologies have been developed thatchange the way students use technology in general education. In music,applications have been a bit more ambitious.MIDI, SEQUENCERS, CD-ROMS and MP3’s
 
In music, early technologies were focused on attempting to getcomputers and musical devices to communicate. The result (in 1983) was thecreation of MIDI which is an acronym for Musical Instrument Digital Interface.It is a language used to transmit information between electronic instrumentsand computers. MIDI allows a musician to play their MIDI capable instrumentand have the music get “captured” by the computer as a MIDI file. Once MIDIwas up and running, instruments of all kinds were created to become “MIDI-capable”. So, now we have keyboards for pianists, wind controllers for windplayers, electric string instruments and MIDI-xylophones and electronic drumsets for percussionists.Software followed the creation of MIDI so that a performance by amusician (or student) could not only be recorded but could be notated in actualmusic notation as well. It is very much like having a private recording studiowhere the musician gets to record in “real time” (following and keeping a steady beat played by the software).Sequencers have been around since the early part of recordingtechnology in some form or another but became more accessible to musiciansin time. The term familiar to most people is the 4 track recorder (and/or 8and/or16 track). Sequencers are different than MIDI because they recordactual sound. (MIDI converts music to a language recognizable to a computer.)In the case of the 4 track recorder, 4 different instruments or tracks can berecorded. For example, in a typical rock band, the drums and bass can be onone track while the vocals, guitar and keyboards can each be on another track.Following the creation of MIDI, sequencers began appearing as softwareon computers. The problem early on was that computer memory capabilitieswere limited and couldn’t handle the memory strain of pure recorded sound(sound files take up much more space than text-only files). Now, however,sequencers have become common and are used frequently by musicians andnon-musicians alike. What used to be the exclusive technology of recordingengineers is now readily available to the average person in the form of inexpensive or even free software.Both MIDI and sequencing applications have changed the music worldby creating an accessibility that did not exist to the average person. Both havechanged the possibilities for music education and opened the door of access tomusic much wider, especially for the non-performing student.In our present day, we can add CD-Roms, Mp3 and wave files, digitalrecording technology and interactive web-pages to MIDI and sequencers as toolsfor learning about and understanding music. An increasing amount of music isbeing produced by individuals with no formal training in music performancebecause of these technologies. CD-Roms are packaged multimediaencyclopedias containing information about any aspect of music, typically,history and style. Mp3 files are CD quality (wave) files that take up much lessspace on a computer hard drive. Most sequencing programs can convert towave and mp3 files for easy accessibility and sharing. Digital recording

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