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:

"Digital music technology is about creating and capturing sounds, then using technology to manipulate, edit, and produce a final product to achieve specific artistic or functional goals."

I include "digital" in the description to specify the technology that we are addressing. People have correctly argued that musical instruments represent music technology, so I think it is important to specify "digital" music technology.

Now with that being said, let me break down my definition just a bit. The definition begins with "creating and capturing sounds." For me it was very important that the first thing in the definition is "creating." My primary goal is to teach the students how to create and be creative with music and sound. The second part, "capturing," includes the recording of created sounds, but also brings in the use of loops, samples and DAWs. The middle section of the definition describes how the digital technology is used in the creative process to reach the ultimate goal of producing a product based on "specific artistic or functional goals." Examples of functional goals would be: using technology to share music with others, stripping out the vocal track of a song to create a karaoke track, or transferring MIDI data into traditional notation via notation software or app, etc.

What resources and equipment do I have to teach that content?

This can vary widely from one school to another. If you have a ton of resources such as recording equipment, mics, mixing boards, industry standard DAWs (ProTools, Logic Pro, Ableton, etc.), good for you, but most situations will likely not have the funding to purchase these tools. If you are in a situation where you have access to these sorts of tools, I have a word of warning to offer. As wonderful as having all of these resources may be, I think that there is a very real danger of getting so caught up in the technology that you can lose sight of the music. These industry standard tools have incredible capabilities, but there is so much to learn that the course can become more about how to use the tools instead of how to create music. In other words, the music becomes a vehicle for learning how to use the capabilities of the equipment and DAW instead of using the DAW as a vehicle to create music. 

What resources and equipment are truly essential to teach the content?

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

Total: $2,680

Now let's get started!!



  1. You are "right on!" Actually, you could say a pencil or a piano is a form of "technology!" It's how you use these "tools" that brings success in the application of “scaffolding of learning” and brain theory to class lesson planning. The tree is beautiful, but can you see the forest? PKF

  2. Amazing Post. It gives much pleasure in reading your article. Very informative. Keep Posting.




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