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Since I launched www.mutechteachernet.com and this blog, I have had the opportunity to meet, chat and learn from many teachers and industry professionals about the growing field of music technology in our classrooms.Two of the most pervasive questions that I get with the seemingly most elusive answers are: what exactly is music technology, and what exactly am I supposed to be teaching? I am going to attempt to address both of these questions in this blog entry. If I can answer the first question, finding an answer to the second question becomes much easier.
I believe that the key to answering the first question is with the music technology standards that were
developed by the National Association of Music Teachers (NAfME) in 2014. The purpose of this article is not to“deconstruct” these standards, but to give my view on what the purpose of these standards are and how they should be used in implementing a music technology curriculum.
A common question that I have heard when presenting professional development sessions on these standards
is, “why are there no technology standards in the music technology standards?” The NAfME standards do, in
fact, reference technology in the standards, but in a very broad and general way. I think the question that they
actually want the answer to is, “why don’t the technology standards tell me which technology to teach?”
Technology is the instrument
If you read the NAfME standards that are used by band and orchestra directors, you should notice that the
standards were written for “Instrumental” music. I think most people would be able to answer the question
“What exactly is a band class? Or “What exactly is an orchestra class?” These are classes where students are
taught how to create music on wind, percussion or string instruments. Nevertheless, there is no mention in the
instrumental music classes of how to teach trumpet, clarinet, violin or timpani technique. In order to teach
someone how to create or perform music on these instruments, you must teach the students how the
instrument works, how to care for and maintain the instrument, the performance options and variables the
instrument (mouthpiece choices, reed strengths, string material, synthetic vs horse hair bows), in addition to
building the body of musical knowledge for the student. The instrumental music standards don’t ignore the
instruments, but reference instruments only with the generic “with instruments” instead of having a separate
standard for every possible instrument found in these classes. This seems to make perfect sense to most
music teachers because teaching the instrument specific content is implicit to the class and the standards.
So, how does this relate to music technology classes? Simply put, the technology is the instrument that the
students will use as they learn content to meet the standards. Developing a broad view of technology as a
musical instrument is a concept that many music education majors seems to struggle with. And who can blame
us!? We were not offered a music technology methods class like the brass, woodwinds, percussion, strings,
voice, piano and guitar pedagogy classes that were required for our major. This will continue to be an issue
facing music education majors and the growth of music technology programs until our music colleges and
universities recognize that creating music with technology as an instrument is a legitimate component of a
music education program, but I digress.
So, technology is the instrument used to meet the standards. The fact that you must teach students how to use
the technology (digital instrument) is implicit in much the same way that teaching a student how to assemble a
clarinet in a beginning band classroom is implied though not explicitly stated in the standards.The standards
are broad and flexible by design. The types of technology can vary widely from school to school. There are a
wide variety of digital tools that a school could use to teach the music technology standards: iPads, Chrome
Books, PCs, Apple desktops, analog vs digital recording, editing, effects and production, etc. Budget, facility,
administrative support, geographical or socio-economic resources will also have a huge impact on what digital
and technical resources will be available to the teacher and students.
MUSIC technology or music TECHNOLOGY?
This is the title of a previous blog post, but I believe it is applicable to the current post. Another way to pose
this question is: Do we use music to teach a student how to play a trombone, or do we use a trombone to
teach them how to create and perform music? I think that most instrumental music teachers would inherently
respond with the latter. If you did require further evidence, the NAfME standards would support this view. We
use trombones, and other instruments, to teach students about music performance and creation. The point of
playing any musical instrument isn’t to be able to play the instrument, but to use the instrument to create
music. The music technology standards also support this view in defining what exactly a music technology
course or curriculum should be. Ultimately the point of a music technology class is to teach students how to
create and perform music. The technology is the instrument/tool for creating or performing music. So what do
we teach? We teach whatever technological skills and information is needed for the student to use the
instrument that they have at their disposal to create and perform music. If they are using a DAW, then teach
them how to use whichever DAW you will be using. If they are using tablets, then teach them how to use the
tablets. If they are going to be recording live sound, then you teach them about how to use and set-up the
microphones that they will be using. I encourage those who are new to teaching music technology to not get
too wrapped up in the technology whether they are a music tech wizard or a novice. As someone once said,
“keep the main thing the main thing.” In this case, I believe that music is the main thing.
In closing, I was recently talking with a colleague who has had a successful career both in the live performance
and recording industry as well as in music technology education settings at both the public school and college
settings. He was once asked in an interview what his ultimate goal was for his students. His response was
“when you take the technology away, they can still make music.”
Best wishes for an incredible school year to all!!