Many school districts have been able to establish Music Technology Labs in recent years. Whether they are “one computer labs” or fully outfitted classrooms with 20+ midi stations, one lingering issue remains- will needed software, hardware and upgrades be supported in the future to maintain the viability of Music Technology Labs in school settings?
The answer depends in large part on the financial health of the school district. In many districts, money is tight. A combination of forces-NCLB mandates, an older faculty (making higher salaries than younger faculty) and rising insurance costs-are taxing the ability of districts to support the necessary resources for all school programs.
When times are tight, we need to seek low cost or even free alternatives. It is difficult but not impossible to secure hardware (computers, etc..) for free. Banks, other financial institutions and local businesses are the best place to seek equipment but I want to deal here with the core of the music technology program-the software that drives teaching and learning.
I have found that an entire curriculum can be built around just two free software programs and one internet-based website. These are:
- Finale Notepad (free download from MakeMusic.com)
- Audacity (Audio Editor available at audacity.com)
- Ricci Adams Music Theory Site
As a Music Technology teacher, you can start with Ricci Adams site to learn basic music theory (staff, notes, treble and bass clef) and basic rhythms. Next, use Notepad to teach music notation. Students will need to apply the prior skills they learned here. I recommend having students “copy” a printed piece (I use basic folk songs) directly into Notepad (as the scribes did in pre-Gutenberg times). The next application (if available), would be to teach basic keyboard skills by having students play the copied piece on a midi keyboard.
Following this, students could experiment with arranging by making new instrument choices for the same composition. Finally, students could create their own compositions from scratch. Along the way, you could create learning activities for students (ie…create a “quiz” where students have to supply note names by using the lyric tool in Notepad).
Nothing provides a more powerful motivator for students than a real-world purpose and an opportunity to create independently. Audacity provides potential for great fun and creativity for students. It could be used to record multi-track class performances (I do this with 3rd year instrumental students) but it could also be used to create podcasts that demonstrate what students are learning in class. For example, students could have done a series of podcasts outlining the discussion in this blog post (this may come to pass-stay tuned).
The idea of having their own voices on the internet is very exciting to students. The idea that people ‘out there’ might listen to the podcasts and provide comments or feedback is, in many ways, a quality assurance guide. Let’s not forget, though, that what they are podcasting is what they are learning. That’s a win-win situation. And, like Finale Notepad, it’s free. (See previous post about where you might consider starting podcasting).
When times are tight, we don’t need to throw in the towel and jeopardize our music technology programs. Look locally for equipment for your lab and absolutely use the many free and powerful software programs out there to teach a rich curriculum. I have only outlined those that work for me. Share your solutions as well.