Why teach music technology?

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By Lindsay Thomas
on 23 November, 2017

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Why teach music technology?

Authored by Lindsay Thomas

The teaching of music technology is exciting and continues to evolve rapidly. It does not replace traditional concepts of music teaching, but offers twenty-first century tools to enhance and expand the learning experience.

While music technology was mentioned in the National Plan for Music Education, provision across the country varies enormously. Some practitioners have been incorporating music technology into their provision for many years, but it is still not the “norm” for most schools.

Loop 2017The Loop 2017; Ableton’s summit for music makers, included artists, producers, educators and creative technologists, and was an inspiring opportunity to meet and network with such talented and passionate individuals from around the world.

Much to learn

There was much to learn about international education systems, and the shared challenges schools face, particularly engaging high school students in music education. This is certainly an area where digital music technology plays a key role and can have a significant impact.

My initial experience of using music technology was in 2002 when delivering an inclusive music project, “Switch on Sound”, in partnership with colleagues from Drake Music and the host school.

The initial two year pilot involved eight diverse Manchester SEND schools and two local mainstream schools. This was also my first encounter with Ableton Live and accessible music technology, such as Soundbeam and MIDIcreator.

Developing the fundamentals

Last year, One Education Music was commissioned by MyHub - Manchester Musician, Caro CMusic - to develop a primary school electronic music project. The main aim of these projects were to develop the fundamentals of electronic music production, music making and audio engineering.

The project was designed and delivered by professional musician and electronic music specialist, Caro C, who is now working with One Education and MyHub on the Ableton Push Initiative.

Caro C, said: “We are working with the Ableton Push controller to play, record, produce and perform new music. We feel one of the key strengths of the Push controller is to allow for more playability for the musician and less time spent using a mouse/trackpad or looking at a computer screen.

She added: “From selecting an instrument or sound, to recording and playing back loops and arrangements, the Push becomes an instrument and mixing console adaptable for each musician. Each group will work collaboratively to produce and perform new music which can then be performed live.

“We want to take a holistic approach to electronic music production and performance, integrating electronic, acoustic elements and vocals to empower the development of musical skills that include working with others and across genres/disciplines to make a piece of music that is greater than the sum of its parts.” 

Push controller

These projects are taking place in high schools, academies, SEND schools and also at the Central Music Centre at Xaverian College, where there is a new ensemble, “Integrate”, led by Steve Hawkins – teacher/musician and producer. Integrate uses Ableton Software and the Ableton Push interface that helps musicians make beats on the fly.

The purpose of this ensemble is to give musicians the chance to work on their own original music and to enhance it in live performance with the use of this new technology. The search is now on for male and female vocals, poets, MCs and also other instrument players such as brass, woodwind or string.

The ensemble has been running since September with a few young musicians from Manchester, who are loving the chance to work in this way:

“Ableton is great as it allows you to develop your composition ideas quickly.” - Miles Pillinger, drummer, Xaverian 6th form college.

“I really like working on Ableton because the range of ideas you can experiment with is amazing.” - Josh Rolland, guitarist, The Manchester College.

Meet individual needs

Music technology is by nature inclusive, and projects are differentiated to meet individual needs and learning styles. Caro C and Steve Hawkins both lead CPD in schools and for other music educators who wish to develop a wider quality offer.

There are excellent examples of schools using music technology throughout the UK, and this particularly suits a range of contemporary styles that many young people actually listen to. However, these styles are rarely included in schemes of work and exam specifications. Perhaps if this were the case, more young people would opt to study music at a higher level.

The Loop Conference sparked several conversations with US educators who were successfully engaging young people in high schools in taking a music technology option. This helped students to gain an arts credit – perhaps needed in order to graduate. These practitioners have also gained financial and positive support of senior leaders in schools.

Learning and adapting

At One Education Music, our team are constantly learning and adapting our teaching to meet the needs of our learners. We need the support of senior leaders in schools to help us facilitate learning.

My favourite seminar closing slide - by Michael Hayden – Transforming music education - has to be: Help kids make great music, be the change.”

Music technology eventMax Wheeler from the UK also spoke at Loop about the impact of music technology on his life.

He recently attended a MyHub commissioned One Education High School Music Network representing Charanga and demonstrating the accessibility of online music software – often an affordable route into higher / industry level workstations such as Ableton Live and Logic.

I relish the opportunity to facilitate change and hope that I can make a difference in my own locality – by recognising and sharing good practice, networking and proactively taking advantage of the opportunity to innovate others.

Music tech graphic

Anyone who wants to be involved in the ‘Integrate’ ensemble can call in to the Central Music Centre for a trial session, with the option to enrol afterwards. If you would like to know more on this topic, or about any of the support One Education Music can provide, please contact Lindsay Thomas by calling 0844 967 1111 or fill in our contact form.

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