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Engaging with Innovations in Music Tech

17th June 2024

Kate Rounding, Executive Director of TiME, shares some insight into their upcoming session at the Digital Innovation in Music Education Virtual Conference, titled ‘Engaging with Innovations in Music Tech’. The session will discuss updates on the latest music technologies and how they can be used to support students of all abilities to develop their creative, compositional and ensemble skills. With practical tips and takeaways, this session offers ideas for group music-making activities and the chance to take part and try some new music tech firsthand.

The evolution of music technology as part of live performance has a long history, with instruments such as the Hammond organ in the 1930s and the use of the Theremin by The Beach Boys in Good Vibrations. Bands in the 60s experimented with new sounds, such as the Moog, and music technology is now an established part of music performance and production. Bands, DJs, rappers, and producers often use music technology, backing tracks, computers, and controllers in their performances. Artists including Ed Sheeran, Tom Yorke and KT Tunstall have all used a loop station as a central part of their live performances. The range of technology available and software packages like Ableton Live, Cubase and Logic are expanding the options for musicians in the studio and on the stage.

Using music technology (hardware and software) not only offers routes to creativity but can remove some of the barriers of learning a traditional instrument for some young people.

It also supports diverse interests and enables young people to explore a range of genres. They will also learn relevant skills for a career in the music industry, both technical and musical – from listening skills to compositional skills.

The range of available technologies is growing all the time, and with the advent of inclusive exam suites such as Trinity College London’s ‘Awards and Certificates in Music Development,’ there is plenty of scope to teach these instruments on a one-to-one basis and for students to progress and gain nationally recognised qualifications. Digital instruments such as the Arcana Strum, CMPSR, Re.corder and others open up lots of options for children and young people of all abilities. For young people interested in music production, there are the RSL (Rockschool) music production grades (up to grade 8).

Music Technology is becoming more commonplace in ensemble settings, with organisations including Open Orchestras and the Able Orchestra integrating digital instruments, adaptive technologies and a range of software into their performances. Drake Music Scotland has introduced the nation’s first Digital Orchestra, specifically designed for gifted young musicians with disabilities.

This innovative orchestra offers exceptional and demanding music education, composition, and performance opportunities. Utilising various music technologies, musicians can play through hand movements, jaw clicks, and even brainwaves.

Many special schools have long embraced technology to engage their students in music. At Victoria School in Poole, a SEND school with 130 pupils, many of whom have Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities, they have formed a music tech band where students use all the latest innovations to create music together. One of the recent highlights of their sessions is the ODD Ball, which requires very little motor control to create sound intentionally. Not only can you select from hundreds of individual sounds, but you can also record onto it via the Bluetooth app, and students really enjoy hearing their own sounds playing as the ball rolls or bounces across the floor!

It is great to hear about new projects in mainstream settings; I recently had the pleasure of speaking with a music teacher who, alongside using music tech as part of the GCSE curriculum, supports his students to use music technology in their live group performances. Ableton Live is central to this and is a powerful digital audio workstation (DAW) that can tie together acoustic and electronic instruments. Players can trigger sounds through controllers such as Ableton Push or a MIDI keyboard. The group play a range of synths, loopers and traditional instruments together, along with effects such as delays and reverbs. Qualifications such as the RSL (Rockschool) group performance exams are perfect for this type of music group, where each performer is assessed on their contribution to the group performance; they could be a singer, synth player or playing the ODD Ball!

It is exciting to look ahead to more integration of music technology in education settings, which will support students’ individual interests and open up new possibilities for composition, improvisation, and performance.

If you’re interested in learning more about recent innovations in music technology and how you can engage with them, book your ticket for the DIME Virtual Conference now! The virtual conference is taking place over Zoom on Tuesday 25th June from 9.30am – 4.30pm, and will give music teachers, practitioners and leaders an opportunity to explore how they can lead the way in digital innovation in music education.