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The Benefits of Technology in Music Education

24th May 2024

Dr Mat Dalgleish

Tuesday 25th June marks the inaugural Digital Innovation in Music Education Virtual Conference, bringing together experts from music education and beyond to explore how you can lead the way in digital innovation in music education. We spoke to the keynote speaker, Dr Mat Dalgleish, who told us more about his work, and how technology can benefit music education.


Could you introduce where you work and what you do?

I joined Staffordshire University as Senior Lecturer in Game Audio and Technical Design in January 2023, and I’m part of the largest game development department in the UK. My role involves a mixture of teaching and research, as well as PhD and work placement supervision. In terms of teaching, I primarily lead the department’s new game audio modules. These cover topics such as adaptive music systems, procedural audio, and audio-led game mechanics. I also lead a large-scale collaborative module and teach an introductory game engine course.


How did you get into this line of work?

I grew up on the outskirts of Birmingham and learned to play the trumpet in infant school, and guitar in secondary school. As a one-handed player, the difference in reception from one instrument to the next was (for better or worse) immediately apparent and fascinated me. After school, I considered the BMus course at Birmingham Conservatoire but instead decided on the greater freedom of a sculpture degree at Northumbria University. There I learned basic analogue electronics, studied Cage, and made several electro-mechanical sound sculptures. You can see what one of these electro-mechanical sound sculptures looks like here.

I went on to study with former Stockhausen ensemblist and accessible instruments pioneer Rolf Gehlhaar at Coventry University on a near one-to-one basis. In little over a year, I learned to program, compose generative music, create sensor-based interfaces, and worked on an interactive installation in Dresden. More importantly, however, Rolf’s Head=Space instrument for Clarence Adoo (a trumpet player paralysed after a car accident) showed me how new instruments could change lives.

A CETL-funded PhD bursary allowed me to carry on making new instruments, but, roughly halfway through, I became a visiting researcher at The Open University Music Computing Lab. You can see some of the projects I worked on here:

From there, I became an Undergraduate and then Postgraduate course leader for music technology and audio technology at the University of Wolverhampton.


Your keynote is titled ‘Beyond Novelty: A More Social and Reflective Take on Musical Interfaces and Music Technology’. Could you tell us a bit more about what you’ll be talking about?

I’m obviously not suggesting that all innovation is unnecessary, but for me (and an increasing number of others), music technology’s unquestioning drive for novelty is at odds with wider thought and the broad direction of travel. By this, I mean increased awareness of and interest in environmental, sustainable, and social issues. I’m particularly interested in how, if we endlessly create new technologies as a default position, we’re far more likely to miss untapped affordances of existing designs; and that these are far from exhausted. There’s historical precedent for this kind of belated (re)discovery too, from the hacked CD Players of Nicholas Collins to Reed Ghazala’s circuit-bent toys, and Daphne Oram’s Oramics system.


Why is technology important in music education?

I always bear in mind that music and technology have been so closely intertwined since ancient times that to separate them seems, to me at least, artificial. Equally, there’s a huge amount we could discuss in terms of what technology can offer contemporary music education, but I’ll limit this discussion to two aspects I feel particularly strongly about.

Firstly, it makes (almost) all of history available to (almost) all, and there’s unprecedented scope for students to discover things that are perhaps uniquely of interest to them.

It seems vital not to try and pre-empt what these discoveries might be. For instance, last week one of my students, who is completely new to electronic music, self-discovered and became fascinated by the Hartmann Neuron (an obscure German synthesizer from 2001) in only their second week of classes, rather than the canonical Moogs, Buchlas, et cetera, and started to model its features. I’ve seen similar again and again over the last fifteen years with all kinds of students: the potential for new and more meaningful histories is huge.

Second, I still believe that new technologies can afford fundamentally new ways to play and learn, and that these, in turn, support new players, composers, and theorists (etc.). Central to this is the idea that, although traditional tools are often seen as ‘perfect’, they typically evolved for scientific or ideological reasons rather than comfort or ease of use, for example. Thus, the physical and cognitive demands inadvertently placed on users can be significant and exclusionary: the potential to instead design for individuals’ needs is why new technologies are so important, for all my cautioning against their ill-considered adoption!


If you’re interested in learning more about Mat’s work and social considerations of music technology, make sure to book your ticket for the Digital Innovation in Music Education now.