Music. Technology. Internet. Three words that have become synonymous with our modern lives. Unless you’re part of a remote tribe deep in the Amazonian jungle, you’ve certainly experienced the benefit of these three things, both individually and collectively. Time has been generous to us, in that we live in an unparalleled age of information no generation before us experienced. The world from the utilisation of electricity early in the 19th century to the present arguably changed more so than time since the dawn of human history to when electricity was discovered by Benjamin Franklin. Such has been the tremendous development of technology, jobs which never existed have now become essential to the current structure of our society. Entire industries, countries’ GDP, government elections, all forms of education, and our overall way of life now heavily rely on both the internet and modern technology. The world of today barely resembles the world of the Classical period under which artists such as Mozart and Beethoven wrote themselves into the annals of history. Yesterday’s dream has become today’s reality. Ever since the advent of the internet, the natural development of learning music has gone through a revolution all on its own. The age of the internet has transformed music and music learning in ways the great composers of yonder years would have dared not even imagine. It then becomes increasingly necessary to pose the question, exactly how has the effect of technology and the internet changed music learning?
The rise of apps and online piano lessons for kids
Technology is a tool, and while it is necessary for teachers to have an understanding of various technological tools, such knowledge is not in itself sufficient. Teaching and learning are dynamic processes that involve numerous factors. When it comes to effectively using technology, the combination and interaction of all integral elements has perhaps not always been fully considered. The contextual nature of classrooms and rehearsals do not lend themselves to an easy blueprint that will guarantee successful learning, with or without technology. The art and science of teaching by skilled educators involves making ‘real time’ instructional decisions to making adjustments on the fly. The use of any teaching tool, including technology, requires the ability to consider that tool in light of students, learning outcomes, pedagogy, the classroom environment, and the tool itself. This is of itself a noteworthy, however, in the fast changing world of today, the fundamental principles of teaching and learning remain imperative regardless.
Smart phones, tablets, phablets, computers, and the like, are changing when, where, and how people engage with music. When the iPod was first introduced, one of its attributes it was praised for was the ability to have 1000 songs in your pocket. Now, through WiFi and cellular data connections, combined with cloud storage and streaming music services, a person can access nearly any recorded composition on the planet at anytime and from anywhere where they are connected to the Internet. Apps, designed for these devices make it possible for anyone to learn about, create, or perform music in simple or sophisticated ways. Many of these apps are free or inexpensive, with some specialising in piano lessons for kids. In certain ways technology such as this could be argued to be democratising music making, as they allow people of all ages to engage in creating, performing, listening to, and learning about music, even if they have limited prior knowledge and experience. Accessibility has made music and music learning essentially universal. No longer are people limited to the genres of their geographical area or the musical age they were born into. Today, you have the freedom to enjoy practically any piece that was ever recorded in human history.
How one music teacher has begun to implement the iPad into a traditional band program.
The ever changing technological landscape
Teaching piano at educational institutions in the past students were often confronted by a passive situation, whereby they were able to accept quite little knowledge. Moreover, because the teaching process was too stiff and the atmosphere too serious, it was hard for students to exercise their thinking ability. Thus, their enthusiasm was relatively low. Under the mode of applying internet and technology to develop teaching activities, the role of music teachers has greatly changed from that of an authoritative leader to a scientific leader, meaning they look at both the number of students who learn as well as the number of students that follow through on their musical goals. Likewise, students have also changed from passive knowledge receivers to positive explorers of music. Both their mentality and attitudes have changed. On this basis, you could argue students have improved their enthusiasm to a certain extent. In such times, teachers no longer make all-around interpretations, but start to let students explore unknown things by themselves. This has proven to be helpful for them to improve their perception and manipulative their ability which in turn has begun to play an important role in improving their innovative side. The application of technology makes the traditional piano class become lively and colourful with the student more engaged than ever before. Teacher-student relationships and roles have changed positively. This has enabled the teaching activity to develop more smoothly and naturally focusing on the “how” and “what” rather than the “when” or the “why”.
“For the times they are a-changin’.” – Bob Dylan
The online world has impacted the musical experiences of people everywhere. Due to the resources available online, individuals can informally learn about all aspects of music in ways that were previously not possible. Someone living in rural Australia or suburban England can listen to music from around the world via internet radio stations. Children can creatively explore music in a game-like manner through specialised web piano applications. Teenagers can learn piano by watching videos on YouTube. People of all ages can learn about music theory through interactive websites. Music teachers can engage in conversation about curriculum, pedagogy, and other aspects of music education through personal learning networks that take advantage of social media such as Facebook and Twitter. More formalised music education also takes place online. Webinars are offered by professional organisations such as the National Association for Music Education. Some complete courses offer lessons on a variety of music topics which are freely available to anyone (including piano lessons for kids). Opportunities for high school students to learn about music in online classes are also growing. Individual classes and complete online graduate degree programs are growing in popularity for in-service music educators. While there are affordances and constraints to any music learning situation, the challenge for the music education profession is to design online music learning experiences that provide authentic, deep understanding of music, and in the case of music teacher education programs, teaching and learning.There are countless tools available for both sides of the musical learning fence at the touch of a button. Research on how new and emerging technologies can be used for creating, performing, and responding to music, as well as music teaching education itself, is an ongoing field of study.
Technology has influenced all aspects of society, schools, and music throughout history. Today’s digital technologies are no exception. They are facilitating new ways of learning and being musical. Utilising these technologies in music education doesn’t mean we have to eliminate valued traditional classes, ensembles, teaching and learning approaches. The situation doesn’t have to be either/or. It can be both/and as we maintain the best of the traditional while embracing the new and innovative. However, it is imperative that music teachers are open to and actively consider ways in which new technologies may be able to enhance and transform the traditional when appropriate, and how these technologies may provide a means to reach learners of all ages, including students who previously haven’t been involved in formalised music programs. Current and developing internet technology holds the promise of a more musical culture and society, allowing everyone to learn and be active musical participants throughout their lives. For this to happen it will require the leadership of technologically proficient music teachers, educators, and students who thoughtfully consider the role of technology in traditional and emerging ways of musical participation and expression.
The internet is here to stay
The rapid development of music technology in recent decades has dramatically changed the way people interact with and enjoy music today. Due to the enormous flexibility of digital music formats and the huge amount of available information, people’s access to music has changed. For example, instructional videos are recorded, which mainly feature famous musicians that offer some guidelines in terms of performance and practice. The internet has presented a new learning environment for those music learners who are able to use it. Computers and the internet broaden the field of music education even further in the informal field of learning. Many computer programmes and software as well as the whole internet have developed music-making, composition, and accompaniment, and made practice and improvisation easier and more meaningful than ever before. Music and music making too is increasingly taking place in the field of informal learning. Using the internet to learn music may be approached from different points of view. The internet may be seen from a pedagogical, educational point of view as the effects on learning are observed. Alternatively, one may concentrate on the technological aspects of the internet that can be used to develop pedagogically useful, practical and efficient solutions for teaching and learning music.
What help could the internet offer in learning instrument playing or making new notations? How could the learner practice piano playing, learn chords, supporting accompaniment, blues, and different styles of popular music at home with their instrument? What options does the internet offer to learners? Broadly speaking, the Internet and digital music formats can be seen as an open learning environment; it is usually informal, but in some ways, it is also a formal environment in which learning experiences can be seen as part of a life-long process. Often network learning is seen as a part of the formal learning environment. Learning through the internet plays an important role in learning processes especially among the youngest learners. Network learning motivates young people, and offers essential support for home learning today through social interaction and a feeling of belonging to a community. The recent popularisation of informal engagement with music technology in online social networks may embody a form of informal community music education. The potential of online music education to create positive change in terms of professional development should also be noted.
Learning through the internet can be seen as information searching or more widely seeking information and expertise, and the different searching processes that are used by a novice learner up to an expert can be examined. Internet learning can also be seen as a part of learning through social media where peer learning is part of the learning process. For example, countless video clips available online offer hints and tips on learning chord riffs and patterns on piano or guitar. The different applications and websites meant for music learning can contain different learning material: information and illustration material, interactive problems and practices as well as dynamic pages built by web communities. There are many pages for learning different instruments, different styles, solos, scales, chords and techniques of playing musical instruments. Music technology develops all the time and the development gets even faster every day. It evokes admiration, confusion, fear and respect among other responses in teachers and everyday users. There is always something new developing in the world of music technology. The programmes, applications and devices develop more rapidly and are available to more people as they become less expensive with more competition. Often the question is, are people able to keep up with the innovations? Are the best innovations being used in teaching and learning?
Mixing the old with the new
Dr. Gail Fischler of Piano Addict and The Musical Adjectives Project notes the most positive aspects of learning the piano online are the convenience and immediate feedback factors. That being said, she also mentions that sometimes you in fact learn more by being just a little frustrated. She believes that because the piano is so orchestral, unlike the violin or trumpet where the student only needs to play one letter, the ability to now graph music in visual and auditory layers offers students a fundamental understanding of the total fabric of a piece. In saying this, Dr. Fischler warns that since often there isn’t usually a benchmark for a student to judge their progress on, some learning apps and programs have basically become exercises in typing. As a result, students may become frustrated due to needing technical help. She highlights the difference in learning from live music, as opposed to watching videos and recordings, to model performances after which she thinks will be fascinating to study the impact of going forward. Her expert advice to teachers is to use the best of the old and new. It’s a universal fact that today musicians need computer skills as well as the ability to be flexible in their careers. This won’t change. Teachers should facilitate learning rather than retain the status quo of being the sole source of a student’s experience. Students in turn will need to be more responsible and become active learners too. You’ll see this to be the case already from when students graduate from High School to University where they go from teacher centred learning to student centred learning. This is simply the next stage in the musical learning process.
Gail Fischler is an MTNA Nationally Certified Teacher, and a past president of both Arizona State Music Teachers Association and Tucson Music Teachers Association. She holds Permanent Professional Certification in piano from Music Teachers National Association. She has contributed to The Piano Bench Magazine, The American Music Teacher, and Grand Piano Passion, and has been featured on the Podcast, The Modern Musician.
Gail is the founder of Piano Addict, the international blog for piano students, teachers, and avocational players to connect, discover and enjoy all that is piano. She created The Musical Adjectives Project, an interactive Wiki to aid pianists and musicians in understanding and describing the emotions and character within themselves and their music. She created the popular board game Musical Words, which is based on the descriptives found at the Musical Adjectives Project.
To a music enthusiast the internet offers a broad learning environment. There is learning through the internet or learning with the help of the internet. For instance, in learning guitar playing using the internet, the learner typically imitates learning when a model is shown as the learner imitates it, just as in master journeyman learning. There can also be audio-visual learning. Naturally, learning an instrument using the internet requires much practice, repetition and drilling as well as self-reflection on one’s own playing. The learner must engage in purposeful exercise and set their own targets and learning speed, and most importantly engage in honest and objective self-evaluation. Thus, they are in charge of learning. The role models and idols offer a good motivational base for learning and playing. Practicing instrument skills through using a tablet and through the internet can be seen as learning through the imitation of idols, and it involves using different learning strategies. We know the first iPads appeared on the market in 2010. They were needed for help especially in the media business, as they made electronic commerce in magazines and books easier for the customer. By 2011 in the USA, electronic books outsold normal paper books. Since the iPad came to the market, all the other participants in business were forced to make their own solutions of tablet technology for the market. The most popular of these tablets is still Apple’s iPad. The development of applications for smart phones and tablets has grown very rapidly in the last five years. Many music-related applications are already on the market, some of which deal with music learning and playing. In fact, in many cases, the tablet has become the go-to device of choice for many online music learners.
Some of us sure miss these monologues, don’t we?
Different challenges involve the use of Music Information Retrieval (MIR) techniques in music education and their integration in learning software/applications. Recent developments in such portable devices as smart phones and tablets has resulted in higher processing power, more powerful audio-processing features, and visuals that are more appealing. As a result, the application market has had tremendous growth and every day more music-related applications are available for both the Android and iOS markets. The MIR community has had its share in the development of pitch detection, audio recommendation, and audio identification algorithms necessary for such applications. All of these devices and applications are popular for good reason. Four key features account for much of the popularity of mobile devices. First, they are economically priced compared with laptops. A second advantage is the number of low cost applications. Thirdly, young people are instinctively drawn to the intuitive touch design of pads. Finally, tablets are light and portable. The iPad weighs less than one kilo, and the sleek, slim design is easy for small hands to manage and transport. In addition to the ease of use, the iPad is popular because of the thousands of different applications available for use with the device. It can be divided in many different ways such as into games, and applications for teaching. Frequently it used to be that a new program was developed for the computer and after some months became available as an application for the iPad. Nowadays, many of these programs debut on the mobile and tablet app markets first.
Complementary tools not necessarily competing dynamics
Take a look for instance at, Chordify, a free online music service made for and by music enthusiasts that transforms music from YouTube, SoundCloud or a private collection, into chords. The software automatically recognises chords from the audio signal, and aligns them to the music in a simple and intuitive player. It’s a cutting edge service that helps both novice and trained musicians play the music they want to play, making state of the art music technology available to the public at large. Chord Detector similarly developed an application for the iPad that analyses audio sources and automatically detects the musical chords within it. Music technology is constantly changing and developing in ways that did not even seem possible only a few years ago. Now there are over 1 million applications for the iPad, and of these several thousand of them are music related. New applications are developed every day, as the competition in the business is stiff, and only some solutions are good enough to survive. If the application is directed to only a small group of users, it will soon be forgotten no matter how extraordinarily good it might be. On the other hand, the main goal of the application developer is usually primarily to make money. Sometimes an application, which has been proven good, such as GarageBand, has also become very popular as a lite version for the iPad. GarageBand is popular because of the connection possibilities, which allow it to be used with guitars, keyboards, microphones, etc. Most of the single applications are either free or inexpensive making it further attractive.
Jennifer Foxx, a veteran piano teacher of over 25 years, and founder of Music Educator Resources and Foxx Piano Studio, warns that one risk of the instant gratification of getting to know a piece is that students are essentially being spoon fed. It’s a case of “here is the note, now play it” which means there isn’t a whole lot of learning going on but rather copying. Over time, students may lose interest as a result of this. In addition, they aren’t learning the proper technique of playing which could lead to potential long term injuries if not careful. Foxx, who herself implements piano learning apps into her lessons, recommends using piano apps as a means to motivate students as they can be used as tools to reinforce what they are learning in the studio. Interestingly, she believes how we read and write music is also already changing. For example, we now can use apps to write our music. Whether it’s recording in Garageband or notating it in Notion, the tools and options continue to advance. While there are certainly fads on how to read music, she believes the basic fundamentals of music notation itself will continue. After all, music is a language and the notation is the text. Jennifer’s advice to piano teachers in the the modern era is to “look at your role as a teacher in the 21st century as someone who not only teaches, but mentors, guides students, encourages creativity, motivates and inspires them.” She says she has seen her students on a weekly basis for many years and has watch them grow up. She’s “usually one of the very few adults in their life besides their family that gets to do that.” Jennifer believes “if parents and students understand this, then the collaboration between the parent/student/teacher triangle can be very positive.” Jennifer’s advice for piano teachers is to stay relevant with their students. Technology will continue to advance, but teachers will not go extinct. There will always be a need for teachers, but if teachers don’t stay relevant, they might not flourish.
Jennifer Foxx has over 20 years of experience in speaking and enjoys giving presentations to fellow music teachers, sharing with them her teaching ideas and practices on topics such as technology, practicing, motivational programs, group lessons and summer music camps.
Jennifer has been interviewed on podcasts, The Modern Musician Show, TeachPianoToday.com and TimTopham.com. She has written articles for Clavier Companion magazine, The Piano Bench Magazine and has reviewed for the American Music Teacher magazine. Jennifer Foxx is nationally recognised from her teacher resource blog: MusicEducatorResources.com.
In addition to teaching, blogging and presenting, Jennifer enjoys creating and developing music educational resources and curriculum.
The usage of music technology in music education is an ongoing process: on the one hand, it completely relies on the accomplishments of the scientific/technology community; on the other hand, it is a process that requires a progressive change of mentality in a community where many processes and techniques remain very traditional. The development of new music teaching systems face many challenges:
- Development of music technologies robust and efficient enough to be delivered to the final user.
- Bridging the gap between two communities – music education versus music technology. Two communities which have completely different environments and mentalities.
- Design of appealing and entertaining systems capable of creating interest while developing real musical skills.
The recent popularisation of informal engagement with music technology in online social networks may embody a form of informal community music education. The potential of online music education to create positive change in terms of professional development should not be overlooked, but perhaps embraced. Music technology gains ground due to eager pupils and teachers. The enthusiasts are the real trailblazers whom all others follow. They work as precursors to whose teaching is being followed and observed, and whose thoughts are respected. Through using this classification it is possible to consider the pupil’s, student’s or even teacher’s knowhow development in a ordered way. The inclusion of music technologies in both formal and informal music learning is still new. However, new generations grow up and live submerged in a digital era where possibilities are endless. This poses an important challenge to the music education community, as in order to reach the new generations, education methods have to evolve correspondingly. Nonetheless, changing mentalities and opening minds to new approaches is never an easy process and even less in a community as traditional as the music education community. This inevitably implies that music technology and music education have to work together to reach a common goal; to develop systems for music learning that can be flexible, appealing, and suitable for developing real musical skills.
Next time we’ll look at part two of this series where we’ll take a look at how technology during the 20th century affected the nature of learning music, from sound recording technology from playing pieces, to how they influenced musical style, and ultimately how we learn these pieces. In the meantime, please feel free to share your thoughts on where you believe music, technology and the internet will be in the years to come.
- Piano Addict
- Foxx Piano Studio
- Music Educator Resources
- The Musical Adjectives Project
- Michigan State University: Music Learning and Technology
- The European Journal of Social & Behavioural Sciences: The iPad and music in the new learning environment
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