Earlier this year I had the pleasure of addressing the teaching faculty of St Paul’s Girls’ school. Technology in music education is a very new territory and is in a constant state of discussion, growth and improvement. Its role and impact has been enormous over my years as a teacher and especially so over my time at St Paul’s and it was very interesting to explore the pedagogical aspect of this area.
Setting the Scene – Tech in our culture today
“We live in a smartphone society” Ofcom – August 2015
- 2015: smartphones overtake laptops as internet users’ number one device
- 2016: 93% adults (16+) and 90% 11-16 year olds have a mobile
- 2012: 33% had smartphones rising to 71% in 2016
Perhaps unsurprising but these statistics are important and tech has fundamentally changed our society. The Internet and everything that goes with it is now in our pocket – content, knowledge, resources and community all wrapped up in neat little applications…
But this is about more than just statistics. Tech companies are now amongst the most powerful in the world. The influence is more than just a household brand and the iterative, sequential and continuous improvement culture embedded into their business models is now part of our society. The addition of debugging, logical reasoning and writing algorithms into the computing Key Stage 1 syllabus is just one of the examples of how much things have changed.
Where does the music teacher fit?
A traditional model of music teaching might consider two main realms – pedagogical knowledge and content knowledge. Teaching would fit where the two intersect. The addition of technological knowledge provides more intersections.Tech and content
Online content giants like Spotify and iTunes give users access to 30+ million tracks. Video sites such as YouTube have a staggering amount of ‘how to’ videos that proclaim to teach you anything and the Apple and Android stores have thousands of apps to choose from to help with and access music. This is all very impressive but absolutely no use if you don’t know how to use the tech or organise and approach the content.
Pedagogy and tech
Some examples of where these two areas overlap might by Apple and Android teaching apps e.g. augmented metronomes and tuners, the ABRSM SpeedShifter app (also possible to do directly on YouTube videos) amongst a host of other apps from ABRSM, the other exam boards and many more. (Check out our article: Top 5 Practice Apps). It also now easy to use accessible and cheap recording software to build backing tracks and other practice aids. But all of this is no use without someone to guide a student through the enormous volume of music and applications available.
Pedagogy, tech and content
Consider this example:
The ability to play along with any recording at any tempo, at any pitch, anywhere.
The ability to do this is extraordinary to those of us who grew up without iPhones or their equivalent. The overlap of pedagogical, technological and content knowledge can simultaneously help to improve aural skills, rhythmic accuracy, phrasing, tuning, muscle memory, general memory, aesthetic appreciation and much more… both in lessons and very importantly between lessons. The smartphone can be become the ideal practise buddy.
“Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is most important.”
A well-chosen suite of digital tools can make a fundamental difference in the growth of the independent learner and help foster excellent metacognitive skills, confidence and self-belief.
Hannah 17 YRS OLD – From Hearing songs on the radio to being on the radio
One of my students first came to me having fished a guitar out of a skip. She wanted to learn to sing and strum some of her favourite songs. Following a relatively short period of time building up her basic technique it became apparent that she was also interested in writing and performing songs too.
The technology available meant that using a host of tools (YouTube, Spotify, iTunes for listening, transcribing and performing, Logic and GarageBand for making backing tracks, experimenting with arrangements, recording and mic technique) we were able to take her ideas up to release standard quite quickly – alongside a lot of hard work and practice!
Hannah would never believe that she was any good and it was only when she shared tracks on SoundCloud and started to receive some feedback she began to believe that her songs had merit. In fact, following a family chat, we ended up releasing an EP which not only gathered airplay on BBC radio but was also used on MTV to back one of their programs. All Hannah’s tracks were uploaded to global distribution platforms and registered with the relative royalty collecting societies from a home computer. She is now a released artist and owner of intellectual property and more importantly really proud of what she has achieved.
Hannah has no desire to be a pop star but the journey from broken guitar to making recordings of her own songs was a wonderful boost to her confidence, made sense of her learning and whilst she had to work hard to achieve her successes, it is unlikely any of this would have been possible, and certainly not on a zero budget, without technology.
Where to start?
Embracing new technology especially when tried and tested methods work is not easy. However, there is no need to completely rewrite the rules. Technology is only part of the teaching model and it can be introduced in a variety of ways.
This could be as simple as replacing an analogue metronome with a digital one. I am very much in favour – the pendulum ones look nice but rarely tick in time!
Modern metronomes can do more than just tick. With a digital one, beats can be subdivided and timbre can be altered to make hearing the tempo easier.
An example of modification might be the use of the ABRSM SpeedShifter app. The app is, in essence, a modified metronome. Not only can different tempos be practised but also one can play along with any piece at any tempo. This is a fantastic way to build muscle memory whilst being conscious of tuning, phrasing and tempo.
As mentioned previously in this post, it is now very straightforward to record at home. Not only is a recording a great tool for analysis and metacognitive reflection but also the process of recording and hearing the results can break down the perceived barriers of attainability between professional recording artists and students. This is extremely powerful powerful and can be very motivating.
Technology is part of the pedagogic picture – it can be a helpful addition to teaching but is not a replacement. However, the considered introduction of tech into teaching can be an invigorating and fun process for both student and teacher. It is also an opportunity to examine and improve how we teach. Our students are digital natives and are already using and understand tech. Using apps in their learning will almost certainly be an easy link for them to make.