MUSIC technology or music TECHNOLOGY? Striking the balance.
I was having a conversation with a colleague recently about starting a new music technology program at their middle school. The conversation began with him looking for suggestions on what equipment he would need to offer a music tech class. He had previously taught at a high school that offered music technology classes with great equipment and software. I'm talking mixing boards, high quality mics, computer workstations using Logic Pro X, MIDI synthesizers with weighted keys, the works. He was really struggling with how he would be able to offer a music technology class at a middle school that had no equipment and a limited budget. I told him that I would be glad to help. I just needed a few days to find some time to do a little research and I would get back to him.
While I was doing this research and putting together equipment lists and costs I had a minor epiphany. When it comes to teaching a music technology class many of us (myself included) have a tendency to get too wrapped up in the technology piece and lose sight of the music content. I believe that it is critically important to start with answering the question: What is it that I want the students to learn? Once you can answer that question, then you can move to the second question: What resources and equipment do I have to teach that content? And finally, What resources and equipment are truly essential to teach the content?
What is it that I want the students to learn?
I have been reading quite a few posts on different social media sites from people trying to come up with a definition of what exactly a music technology class or curriculum is, or isn't. I have given a lot of thought to this question and this is the definition that I came up with:
In all honesty, you don't need much. If you have access to a computer lab, you can get a music technology program started. When I first started teaching music technology that is all that I had. When I first came to my current school as the band director I only had enough 8th graders to justify one section of the band class. Consequently I was assigned a general music class of 8th graders. I wasn't particularly excited about this primarily because I didn't have any experience teaching general music and thought that I would have a hard time engaging the students. So I went to my principal and suggested that I teach it as a music technology class instead. All he heard was technology encouraged me to proceed without offering any resources other than a computer lab. I really didn't know what I was doing at the time and was making it up as a went along. Nevertheless, the students loved technology. I had our computer guru in the school push out audacity to all of the computers in the lab. I went online and searched for any free resources I could find and we began creating music on these computers. It wasn't pretty, so to speak, but it was a start.
In the seven years since that first class, the amount of free resources available has exploded. There are free DAW's available here. While not ideal, QWERTY keyboards can be used to manipulate MIDI instruments on many DAWs. If the computers in the labs have built-in microphones, then you have recording capabilities. Again this may not be ideal, but the purpose of the class isn't to create professional level recordings, but to get them creating music with digital technology. Think of your intro or beginning music tech class like a beginning band or orchestra classroom. Have you ever been in a beginning orchestra classroom the first time they use their bows? That is a sound that will stick with you for awhile! A beginning music tech class is really no different, but for some reason we seem to expect that they are going to create these great sounding recordings in the first 3 months of ever trying to create music or using any digital tools. The key is to empower the students to create and then encourage them through the process. No matter what they create, tell them it is AWESOME! Then use what they created to teach them how to improve and expand on their creation.
I am not encouraging anyone to not try to get some equipment to create a music tech lab, but I don't want a lack of resources from discouraging you from getting a program started. Once I share what my students were able to do with almost no equipment that first year, it became easier to convince my principal to invest in the program the following year. I will be writing a more detailed article in the MuTechTeacherPro blog on my website in the near future that will outline the equipment and cost to create a basic, intermediate and deluxe music tech lab, but in the meantime I have included the Basic starter lab below.
Music Technology Basic Low Budget Lab:
- PC lab (assuming one is already available at your school): $0
- Soundtrap subscription for 225 students: $1100
- USB Mic(low quality): 33 @ $10 = $330
- Mini 32 key MIDI Keyboard: 33 @ $50 = $1650
Now let's get started!!