Tuesday, March 20, 2007

THE MUSIC TECHNOLOGY LAB: FREE SOFTWARE SOLUTIONS


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:

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.

2 comments:

tristan@tristanluke.com said...

Nice blog on music tech. for kids. I love the tie in, regarding Notepad and learning notation, to pre-Gutenberg scribes.

Same notes, new method!

B. Rabuse Blog said...

Well said Andrew! There is also the issue of updadting full-versioned software for a few new features every year (or so it seems). Finale is the biggest offender here. I just bought Finale 2006 for my music tech lab at a hefty sum- about $120.00 per machine. Now I have the opportunity to "upgrade" to finale 2007 for $99 per machine. What kind of a deal is that? Is there really $99.00 wotrh of new features? What about some loyalty to the Finale subscriber base? Finale needs to realize that it was a huge ordeal to upgrade to 2006, and an expensive one at that. Can't I just purchase the new add-ons in a download? Maybe I don't want all of the new features. Perhaps Finale could take a look at what FLstudio is doing with their lifetime-free upgrades program. With a program like that, I get updated software every time it's available for free.

Brian