Technology

There are a wide range of opportunities for using technology in education to support and enhance music learning. Technology can be used to represent, control, manipulate or communicate musical information. The use of technology in music includes:

  • audio playback and recording
  • electronic keyboards, synthesisers, MIDI controllers, and other accessible instruments
  • drum machines and other pad based instruments
  • sound processors
  • computers, tablets, mobile devices and associated software or apps

Developments in digital technology continue to create a wide range of opportunities for using technology in education to support and enhance music learning. These opportunities can be as effective in vocal and instrumental teaching and learning as they are in music education in the classroom. There is also great capacity for overlap, and where class teachers and instrumental teachers working in schools can communicate with each other about their use of technology, shared approaches can achieve continuity for the learner.

A variety of equipment is now available to process, sequence, record, play back and notate music, including electronic recorders, recording apps, mobile devices, electronic keyboards, tablets and laptop computers. It should be remembered that many learners have access to this type of equipment in their homes and are often familiar with the technology involved. In addition to the wide range of desktop and mobile apps, the current possibilities for practitioners and organisations to leverage web-based software subscriptions allows the teacher to scaffold the learning in a number of ways. Firstly, the teacher can support their lesson delivery with a platform that the learner can then access at home to continue using. Additionally the learner can often access individual bespoke practice and revision content that the teacher has prescribed specifically for that learner. Much of this software scaffolds practice by listening to the learner practising and giving visual and audible feedback on the accuracy of the playing.

The use of graphic scoring, sequencing and notation programmes can be highly effective in helping learners interrogate and internalise the music they are playing. The use of display software to manipulate new rhythms, notes and techniques supports a mastery approach to ensure learners are better equipped to recognise and succeed when they encounter those elements in other contexts.

Many opportunities exist to deepen learners’ understanding of musical structures, genre, patterns, and conventions through the use of both sequencing and digital audio workstation (DAW) software. Access to these tools in school and alongside their instrumental learning can be a powerful way to allow learners to identify and take ownership of the structure of their pieces, tempo and pitch, as well as experiment with revisions and arrangements they create.

To broaden learners’ musical experiences, therefore, and to assist with their overall development, learners should have appropriate technology modelled to them and be encouraged to use it in a variety of ways. For example:

  • listening to and evaluating recordings of pieces they are learning
  • listening to and watching recordings of their own performances and practices, to evaluate and also to gain insight into their own posture, breathing, diction, fingering and other techniques
  • exploring music – using the internet and a range of apps to search for information
  • providing backing tracks for improvising
  • providing accompaniments digitally both as premade tracks and as learner-created accompaniments
  • creating and recording – sequencing and notating music using appropriate software programs on a range of devices and platforms
  • storing and revising their work using appropriate media
  • mixing and arranging their work to create new revisions beyond their current practical skill or that would otherwise require multiple musicians
  • sharing and evaluating their work with others through the internet

Technology also allows live teaching to occur remotely via the use of video conferencing platforms. Additionally, as schools have increasingly robust learning platforms in constant use by learners and teachers, there exists great potential for instrumental teachers working in schools to leverage this medium to both communicate with their learners about their learning and to record progress information for parents. Any issue of these technologies should be covered within the scope of the organisation’s acceptable use and safeguarding policies. Platform use can also provide opportunities for recorded and broadcast performances between school and home.

Tips for Music Teaching Online

  • Consider how best to position your camera so that learners can see you but also see your instrument clearly when you are demonstrating. It may be helpful to have a second camera; for example, if teaching piano, one camera can focus on the teacher and the other on the piano keyboard.
  • Screen sharing is extremely useful for displaying resources such as printed materials and videos. Be aware that learners may access lessons on screens of different sizes, and if they are using a small screen such as a mobile phone you will need to zoom in on your resources as much as possible.
  • Be aware of sound delay (latency). This makes it impossible for people to play in time together over video conferencing software.
    • When using backing tracks with individuals, it is best if they can play the backing track from their side of the online lesson; otherwise, they may be playing in time to the track that you play, but it will sound out of time to you.
    • Learners in groups will need to be muted if they are playing at the same time. This can work well if the teacher plays, or if the teacher plays a pre-recorded backing track, to support individuals to keep in time. However, the teacher will not be able to hear what learners are playing. Therefore it is a good idea to plan opportunities for individuals to unmute on occasion to share their playing.
  • ‘Virtual fatigue’ can occur when using video conferencing software for long periods. Short breaks between lessons should be scheduled where possible. Looking at yourself on screen can add to fatigue, so hiding self view can help.

Used thoughtfully, technology can be a powerful scaffolding, motivating, and enabling tool for learners of all ages and ability levels, when both singing and playing an instrument. Whilst we should be aware that technology can not and should not be used as a replacement for a teacher, teachers should consider the benefits at all stages of the learning process. By embracing the use of technology, teachers can help learners develop lifelong habits and routines for practice, evaluation and self-reflection, widen the range of musical experiences and genres for the learner, and open new avenues for creativity, expression and musicianship beyond their current instrumental skill level.