A Conversation With Tom Rudolph, Music Teacher Technologist

Mike Lawson • Technology • June 1, 2009

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The world of music technology in education is so young that most of the pioneers in this field are still alive and kicking. Dr. Tom Rudolph, president of TI:ME, is one of those people. An outstanding model for music educators, Tom is continually evolving and developing himself as a teacher while staying at the forefront of technological innovations and their applications to education, as he has done since 1984. I recently caught up with Tom to discuss the applications of technology in music education.

John Kuzmich: Tom, can you tell me about your early days in music technology?
Tom Rudolph: I was interested in electronic music as a double major at the University of the Arts, where I studied Trumpet and Music Education. I took several courses on electronic music in the 1970s using a Moog synthesizer. After graduating, I purchased an Arp Odyssey. The first book on technology that I purchased was Learning Music with Synthesizers, a 1974 Hal Leonard publication, by Friend, Pearlman, and Piggoit. I still have that book and refer to it frequently. The concepts introduced there have not changed.

In 1982-83, the high school in my district canceled the Level 1 and Level 2 Theory classes due to lack of enrollment. So I became interested in finding out what was up with technology and learned that we could use the Apple II computers in our high school for music. We then decided to offer both theory levels in the same class and, in doing so, were able to re-instate one music course. After this success, I ventured into state and federal funding for computers at Haverford High School.

Most of my education in music technology has been self-taught. I did take one summer workshop with Tim Kolosick in Texas back in 1982.

JK: You created practice CDs for students very early on, which is an easy and fundamental way to use technology to assist students practicing. It not only makes their playing better, but helps students practice more creatively and thoughtfully. If we don’t give them resources to use 24/7, we’re missing the boat.
TR: I agree and it doesn’t take long to learn how to create play-along CDs. Teachers just need to learn how to enter a note or melody into Finale or Sibelius in an audio format, which can be done with a click of the mouse in the file menu. Enter the melody in GarageBand or Acid Music Studio if you are a Windows user. By the way, I’m not a Mac person or a PC person; I’m a technology person. It doesn’t matter which one you or your school use. You can do it all with either a Mac or a PC. Once you learn how to enter in the chords in Band-In-A-Box and save it as a MIDI file, you can put it anywhere.

The most important tool that every teacher needs to learn right now is iTunes. If you can use iTunes, you will not only have instant access to files but can drag MIDI files into it, burn CD’s, and convert them to MP3 for kids’ use or drop them into Web sites. It doesn’t take that much training to use. And those people that have iTunes and an iPod are able to play more music for their students in the classroom, and integrate technology into the curriculum, giving students the opportunity to listen and respond to music. That is huge, along with using whatever software you have to create practice tracks. Having students practice outside of the rehearsal is music education in action.

Tom Rudolph with students at the Haverford Middle School Music Technology Lab in Havertown Pa.
Tom Rudolph with students at the Haverford Middle School Music Technology Lab in Havertown Pa.

If you walk into my band rehearsal you won’t see a computer, but you will see an iPod as a tuner playing some interesting SmartMusic accompaniments for the students to play along with. It is a minor part of my rehearsal. The major part is me running the rehearsal as a band director. That will never change. You have to be a great director. Technology is not going to change that. But technology gives me more tools to be an effective director. The idea of creating materials for them to practice with after rehearsal is critical, and with these tools, students are going to put more time into their practice. As Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser noted, when Hal Leonard put CDs into their method books, they didn’t add the total cost of the CDs on to the retail price of the books, which they could have done to keep cost down. Instead, Hal Leonard ate the cost. They did this because their research indicated that the students who get those CDs will practice significantly more and are more likely to continue playing their instrument than those that don’t. So if we can get students to use technology that may mean we will be producing more life-long music makers.

JK: What are some of the technology strategies you use today to improve students’ musicianship and performing skills?
TR: Each year I create a practice CD for my jazz ensemble students and I post the files on a Web site (www.tomrudolph.com/haverfordjazz/practice.html). I also encourage students to purchase a SmartMusic subscription and use the wonderful practice materials available there. I encourage students to listen to CDs and performances on YouTube and other venues. We provide a SmartMusic computer to practice with as a part of our curriculum in creating instructional materials outside rehearsal.

My most popular course for the past three years is creating accompaniments using the computer. This is something teachers need to learn how to do for a variety of reasons and it is so easy to do with the software. You enter the melody, save it as an audio file, and away you go.

JK: You are one of the pioneers of TI:ME, an original co-founder, and now you’re the organization’s president. Would you talk about TI:ME’s national music technology programs for educators?
TR: TI:ME has been successful with certification. There have been more than 2,000 teachers who have taken one or more TI:ME courses. But the goal of TI:ME is not certification. It is in-service education. Certification is offered to those who want to have it on their resume, but many teachers take the courses and do not pursue certification.

JK: I agree that the ultimate goal should be solid in-service education rather than certification.
TR: The only reason we offer certification is because we followed the model of other similar organizations. My philosophy was to start with a great model, emulate it, and then make it our own. Look at Orff and Kodaly, which are the two biggest organizations in music education that are pedagogically oriented. MENC is a professional organization, as was IAJE. And there is also the Gordon Institute for Musical Learning, which is a less well-known group than Orff and Kodaly. They all have certification because it’s a proven structure. That said, we also wanted to be different. You don’t have to become certified through TI:ME; you can drop in and just take whichever courses you feel might benefit you. Certification is there if you want to put it next to your name for professional advancement. Our main goal is to teach educators and provide them with in-service training. This is unique to TI:ME and more people need to understand this.

JK: That’s great. How have you evolved as a music educator with technology?
TR: In the 1980s, I used technology for computer-assisted instruction. Now, I am mostly focused around being creative with things like GarageBand. Scoring videos is my newest undertaking with students. My teaching has also evolved. Being involved with music technology, there is always something new coming along, which has kept me young. I’ve been teaching in the same building for 30 years with the same curriculum, but I’m not burned out because I’m continually learning and looking for new tools and resources. I’m anxious to go to TMEA and learn a couple of new ideas. A few years ago I learned how to score for videos; I had my 6th graders working on it shortly afterwards.

Another way I have changed over the years is that I have become much more project oriented. I realize that when students work on individual or group projects, they tend to put more of themselves into it than if they are passively listening to me, even if I am giving my best lecture. I use projects to engage students and give them an opportunity to perform, rather than sit back and listen or react. While I include listening in almost every lesson, it is not the primary focus. I would rather students put their own stamp on their own work.

JK: That’s it! You have found the Fountain of Youth for educators. Technology gives the power to avoid burnout.
TR: Absolutely. Professional development keeps people fresh. Few professions have that built in. Recertification every five years is critical in teaching. Sabbaticals serve the same purpose, and that tradition goes back hundreds of years. The idea of a sabbatical at the university level is that after teaching for seven years, you need to go out and learn new information and techniques, then come back and teach more creatively. With music technology, you get a new tool and you use it. When I see a teacher not succeeding in my summer workshop, it is usually a teacher in a rut. When is the last time that teacher learned a new instrument, 30 years ago? When is the last time you learned a new technique in your classes? You’re going to have difficulty with technology if you’re not learning new things and embracing new techniques and skills into your teaching. Technology can get you going and energize you.

I became a music teacher because I loved music and wanted to play and perform. I like teaching and music technology allows me to be that creative person that can be excited. I’ve seen it happen to other teachers. I have had people write to me about what’s happened to them after taking a TI:ME workshop they’re rejuvenated and start using accompaniment tracks and composition software in their classrooms. The benefit is that no matter what the tool is, the most important benefit it can give you is excitement that will create new energy in the classroom. More energy in the classroom with kids will create more music makers and composers. It is a positive cycle of being excited and using excitement creatively. When I talk to student teachers about what they are most excited about, I say, “Give me five things that you are excited about in music. Then relate how technology or its curriculum can enhance that excitement.” The most important thing is that technology gives educators the tools to create more excitement in the classroom.

JK: I recently came up against a pertinent question in Australia. If I do all of these fancy things with computers, are my students going to drop out of band, orchestra, or chorus?
TR: My experience is just the opposite. With music technology, kids want to be more involved in music. How do they become more involved? Join the choir, play the tuba, play percussion. It is also important that teachers know that there is funding for technology. Get on the tech committee and let principals know what you’re doing with technology. A principal will frequently ask, “What do you do in music with technology? Why do you need computers?” We music teachers are usually very good at promoting our programs’ performances, but it is also our responsibility to educate our administrators, our school boards, and our committees on how and why we need to integrate technology into our music instruction.

JK: Did you do something special to convince administration that music technology was essential in the traditional music curriculum?
TR: I did several workshops early on. One was with the Haverford School Board back in 1984. I did a demonstration with them in the high school Apple II lab. I started by having them draw a picture and color it with crayons. Then, I had them create music on the Apple II with some of the MicroMusic Library of titles. After that, I told them that the Apple II was the crayons for music education. This analogy worked and has been my mantra in my lectures and courses over the past 25 years.

JK: You’re an incredible clinician. Do you have any secrets on giving successful presentations?
TR: My success can be attributed to how I prepare for my presentation. I ask myself: “What three actions do I want my constituents to be inspired by in my talk today?” I follow those guidelines whenever I stand up at a conference, what two or three actions do I want these teachers to understand and do. For instance:

  1. There are many ways a teacher can use technology.
  2. Technology is not a panacea. It is not the end-all for everything. I have seen people use technology and misuse technology.
  3. Implementing technology is not something that happens overnight.

John, you and I have both spent vast amount of hours working over the computer trying to make things work. We have been frustrated but we worked through it. Yes, technology offers a lot, but it is going to some effort, too.

JK: What are your recommendations for how untrained music educators can become involved with music technology?
TR: Become a member of TI:ME. I am prejudiced in this area as I am a co-founder and president of the organization. However, I can tell you that TI:ME has helped me tremendously in my career. I have met many colleagues there who have influenced me. The TI:ME national conferences are the best single place to attend dozens of presentations on state-of-the-art of technology. Attend music educator conferences and seek out sessions and training in music technology. Be open-minded and consider how technology might be helpful in your teaching.

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