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Emerging Technologies for the Music Classroom

by James Frankel

 

            Over this past summer, I had the opportunity to attend and present a session at the Second Annual National Symposium for Music Instruction Technology at the Center for Music Research at Florida State University.  While certainly not the largest symposium I have ever attended (16 sessions over two days) it was by far one of the most valuable. There was a great variety of technology and research showcased by presenters from around the country, and what made this symposium so valuable was that each of the presenters focused on the application of the technolgy in the music classroom. The following is a quick look at some of the most exciting technology that is quickly emerging in music classrooms across the country today.

 

An Interactive Website for the Music Classroom

 

            If you haven’t  already, you must sign up with notationstation.com to get your free interactive music lesson webpage.  The PC platform has been up since May, and the Mac version was just opened in July.  This amazing website allows teachers to post music theory assignments of all types using the free MusicTime software that you can download when you register as a member.  Students can then log on at school or at home and complete the assignment that you give them.  The site even keeps track of student progress.  Uploading your content to the site is quite easy.  You simply construct your assignment using the MusicTime software, and then, through a comprehensive guide which the site provides, upload it to your site.  Teachers can have a different page for each of their classes, so you can customize the exercises for each class.  If you are looking for a relevant and easy application of the internet in your classroom, I strongly recommend starting with this one.

 

Building Your Own Interactive Website for the Music Classroom

 

            For those of you who are a little more techno-literate and interested in creating your own interactive assessment using the power of the internet, check out CourseBuilder, an add-on to Macromedia’s powerful web authoring software Dreamweaver.  Programming assessment activities using only ordinary HTML language, and even the more easy to use programming software titles like Adobe PageMill or Microsoft’s FrontPage takes quite a bit of time for even the most experienced web programmers.  With the release of CourseBuilder, Macromedia has made creating assessment activities quite easy.  The software allows the user to choose from a number of different types of question formats.  Multiple-choice and true/false questions are very easy to create, and the software gives many options for feedback.  Along with the traditional types of questions, the software also allows students to enter written responses to questions, and a wonderful feature called drag-and-drop, which allows the students to click on an item, be it a picture or text item, and drag it to the proper location.  There is also a timer function which forces the students to respond in a short period of time. Another powerful feature of the software is record-keeping which allows the teacher to keep track of student progress. 

            The software itself, which requires that you also have  Dreamweaver, is a bit pricey (approx. $400).  If you would like to preview the software before you buy it, try logging on to www.macromedia.com/software/coursebuilder/trial/ which will allow you to download a 30-day trial version of the software for free.

 

Online Music Lessons

 

            I must admit that at first I was a bit skeptical of the online music lesson concept, but after seeing it first hand, I’m a believer.  There are a number of websites that are currently up an running that allow teachers (piano teachers only at this point in time) to give “live” online piano lessons to students anywhere in the world.  Perhaps the most established of these sites is onlineconservatory.com.  This site has approximately 20 piano teachers who give piano lessons over the internet using a MIDI keyboard, a web cam, and video-conferencing software.  The online lesson that I observed at the symposium ran smoothly, and I was quite suprised with the “real-time” feel of the lesson.  The teacher, in Florida, was teaching a sixteen-year-old in Oklahoma.  The student had been working on a prepared etude, and played it live over the internet.  On the teacher’s monitor there was a live video feed of the student at the keyboard and more importantly, a graphic representation of a piano keyboard.  When the student played a middle C in Oklahoma, the middle C on the keyboard graphic in Florida lit up simultaneously and the MIDI keyboard hooked up to the computer also played a middle C.  When the student pressed the sustain pedal, the sustain pedal on the screen lit up, and the MIDI keyboard also responded.  The student played through the etude, and the entire piece could be seen and heard, everything including student posture and  hand position.  Quite impressive.

            The site is still free at this point, and payment is arranged via credit card.  The student and the teacher set up their own payment fee and schedule.  The student pays with a credit card, and the teacher’s credit card is credited.  Imagine, a zero balance!

 

Using Your Computer as an Accompanist

 

            While certainly not a replacement for your accompanist, especially in a performance situation, SmartMusic from Coda Software is an extremely valuable tool for students when practicing.  With over 1,200 compositions available for vocalists and instrumentalists to choose from, SmartMusic is an intelligent accompanist that actually follows the soloist. 

            Have you ever prepared a solo piece for months and then when you finally get together with your accompanist the week before a performance, the piece sounded completely different?  Or perhaps your interpretation would have been different if you had heard what the piano played during your rests.  Although it would be wonderful to have an accompanist play with you from the very first day you sit down to learn the solo, it’s a luxury most cannot afford.

            What SmartMusic does is quite simple.  It allows you to choose the piece you would like to perform, and then, with a microphone that comes with the software, you sing or play along with the MIDI generated accompaniment.  What makes this software “intelligent” is it’s ability to recognize when you are slowing down, or speeding up.  It is able to do this because the microphone acts as a pitch-to-MIDI converter, which then signals to the computer when a change in tempo occurs.  The software also allows the user to focus on a difficult passage.  By using the loop feature, combined with the adjustable tempo, a student can spend as much time as they need on a given passage, without any complaints from the accompanist.

            This software has been around for some time now, but in the past, one needed to purchase the Vivace system, which is a piece of hardware that acts as the pitch-to-MIDI converter.  This system was quite expensive.  Now all one needs to buy is SmartMusic ($79 - $119) and of course each composition is sold separately (@ $10).  When compared with the expense of hundreds of hours of accompanist fees, it more than pays for itself.

 

Technolgy in the Orff Schulwerk Approach

            Former Tempo contributor Marilyn Davidson presented a wonderful session on how to incorporate technology in to the Orff Schulwerk approach.  In the Share the Music series from McGraw-Hill, which Ms. Davidson is the coordinating author of, there is a new Music with MIDI  series.  This wonderful supplemental series of lessons for Grades 1 through 6 combines the Orff Schulwerk philosophy of music education with the power of technology. 

            Although there are now MIDI Orff instruments, which are almost as expensive as traditional Orff instruments, the Music with MIDI stays away from them and focuses more on student created Orff orchestrations.  For example, using the song Frere Jacques, the students would sing along with the MIDI generated full accompaniment supplied on the MIDI sequencer.  They would follow that by singing the pentatonic scale in F, and realize that B flat is not in the pentatonic scale.  Students would then select the melody track and the “new melody” track on the sequencer by clicking on the SOLO option.  Students would listen carefully to how the “new melody” relates to the original.  Students would then turn off the “new melody” and create their own melody.  Students choose which instrument they would like to play their melody.  After composing their melody, they would play it along with the full orchestration and discuss how it fits in the overall piece.

            Along with the MIDI sequencing aspect of the lessons, a teacher can also use some other commercially available tutorial software titles like MusicAce 2, MIDIsaurus, and MusicTime Lessons.  A great deal of thought has gone into the creation of this technology based curriculum, and I strongly urge you to get a sample copy, and look through it for yourself.

            Next summer, look for the Third Annual National Symposium for Music Instruction Technology at Auburn University in Alabama.  If you are at all inetersted in how technology can help you teach music, it’s worth the trip.

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