Music Technology Labs

Mike Lawson • Technology • April 1, 2003

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Computer music labs have always appealed to me especially when I see how enthusiastically they interact with software and hardware applications. I wanted to find out how my experiences were shared by other music educators, so I designed a questionnaire that addressed six categories: 1) how the lab was established, 2) budgeting, 3) inventory of hardware and software, 4) curriculum, 5) set up, maintenance and enrollment ideas, and 6) future developments for their labs. Thirteen music educators responded representing elementary, middle and high schools. I am happy to report that the information they provided was insightful and will encourage your interest in a computer lab.

For the sake of definition, I defined a computer music lab as a minimum of two workstations that are dedicated to computer music technology instruction. To my surprise, the average computer music lab in this survey was 22 workstations with MIDI keyboards. Some of these music labs began as early as 1987 with the latest starting up within the last two years. Some labs used only keyboard workstations. There was one with a Palm PDA lab of 30 workstations, but most had traditional computers with MIDI keyboards. The most prevalent applications were sequencing and notation. Classes varied from one music technology class a day to several daily classes. The following music educators participated in this survey, representing 12 states: Dennis Mauricio of Hilltop High School in Chula Vista, Calif.; Bryan Bogue of the Libby Center in Spokane, Wash.; Scott Lard of the North Carolina School of Science and Math in Durham, N.C.; Richard Smith from North Northwest Classen High School in Oklahoma City, Okla.; Sarah Bush Randolph from Kelvin-Milne Grove School (elementary/middle schools) in Lockport Dist. #91, Ill.; Joe Chase from the Houston Independent School District in Houston, Texas; David Osnowitz from the West New York School District in West New York, N.J.; Mike Matthews from the Vista Middle School in Las Cruces, N.M.; Sebastian Zubieta from the Ross School in East Hampton, N.Y.; Wayne Splettstoeszer from Torrington High School in Torrington, Conn.; Ken Simpson from Brookwood High School in Snellville, Ga.; Brandon Pedigo of Plano East High School in Plano, Texas; Tom Rudolph, from Haverford Middle School in Havertown, Penn.

How They Got Started

While some schools’ labs came from the school budgets, most used grants, music booster organizations and other creative financing to get started. Joe Chase in the Houston Independent School was fortunate to use funds from his school district’s instructional technology division.

David Osnowitz in the West New York district started with eight piano workstations in 2000. Then computer workstations were added later. Funding came from the Information Systems Department for the nine computers, monitors and software. The high school music department budgeted for the Suzuki electric keyboards. The biggest obstacle was the facility, which limited the number of workstations possible. They used flat screen monitors to make more room for all of the hardware.

Mike Matthews at Vista Middle School was fortunate to have money supplied by a third phase technology bond and a technology grant. With these grants, the entire lab was funded – 30 workstations with computers networked through a Novell server and 30 Kawai Z1000 MIDI keyboards.

Careless contractors gave Sebastian Zubieta wiring problems at the Ross School, but a bigger challenge was coordinating between the Information Technology folks responsible for computer system setup and maintenance and music staff.

Ken Simpson of Brookwood High School started up a computer lab with 13 students and eight computers in 1996 using matching funds from the school and the county/state lottery.

Wayne Splettstoeszer at Torrington High School used a Title VI grant in 1995 to fund six Macintosh computers with Kawai KC20 keyboards. Once the school saw that the program was worthwhile, the lab was increased to 20 stations in the school’s renovation project.

Tom Rudolph of Haverford Middle School started a lab with 32 Korg X-3 keyboard stations using a grant with the district technology coordinator.

Dennis Mauricio of Hilltop High School started his first music tech lab in 1987 with seed money provided by the district to purchase two synthesizers, an Apple computer with sequencing software, a drum machine and a four track “portastudio.” Response was so high that two sections of Music Technology were offered.

Sarah Bush Randolph, Kelvin-Milne Grove School, started with one borrowed computer and Music Ace in 1997 and by 2000 – with funds from a school referendum – gained a computer lab of 32 computers.

In 1989, Richard Smith of North Northwest Classen High School taught in a school district that did not accept the idea that a music program should have computers. He purchased his first workstation with the proceeds of ice cream bars that he sold to students during lunch. In 1998, a state agency donated 10 outdated computers of which seven are still in use. Each of the five practice rooms attached to the band has at least one workstation in it.

Bryan Bogue, Libby Center, established a gifted students lab for grades five and six to teach music fundamentals with the use of the Palm PDA. He received half of the PDAs with a grant from Palm, Inc. and then budgeted for the rest.


Chase, of Houston, annually budgets for his lab with the Texas technology allotment funds. Osnowitz, of West New York, accesses available funds from the school’s Information Systems Department, and so far he has gotten everything that he has requested. Matthews, in Las Cruces, Simpson, in Snellville, Rudolph in Haverford, and Zubieta in East Hampton maintain their music labs primarily through school funds. Rudolph receives about $1,000 annually for repairs and new equipment. 
Splettstoeszer, of Torrington, finds that budgets change every year for technology so he needs to spend wisely and carefully since there is no guarantee for annual budgets in the future. Pedigo, of Plano, uses replacement/update budgets on a rotation basis. Otherwise, there is no yearly budgeted maintenance for the lab and less than a couple of hundred dollars goes to the theory department annually.

Mauricio, in Chula Vista, has had major funding for the technology program this past year due to the vision and commitment of the district’s superintendent. Interest in expansion and funding for the program increased when career and vocational options beyond traditional musical performance were developed because music technology and multimedia offer real career options. Creative funding through a Carl Perkins Applied Technology and Vocational Act grant provided most of the funding for the current facility at Hilltop High School. The Carl Perkins grant is a federal level grant which requires focus on applied technology and vocational opportunities. Qualifying programs need to contain sequential courses that lead to a technical career and provide access to special needs students.

Without minimizing the importance and value of a traditional music program, it may be beneficial to make a cost comparison of a band and technology program. An entire lab can be funded for about the cost of one set of band marching uniforms. The uniforms are used for special occasions while the lab can be used every day by several classes. A complete student lab station can be purchased for about the same price as a sousaphone. In the Hilltop High School program, the music technology program has demonstrated that repair costs have actually been lower than in the instrumental music program. Synthesizers purchased eight years ago are still working and in use. Lard, of Raleigh, is presently funding the recording technology lab with an approximate school-sponsored budget of $15,000 a year. Randolph, of Lockport, has an annual budget of $500. Funding and finding facilities large enough to house furniture, computers and wiring are her top two concerns. Smith, of Oklahoma City, has no budget for his computers.

Inventory and What Works Best

Chase, the Houston director, uses mid-range Yamaha keyboards and Sibelius notation software in the district level labs. He teaches music educators Sibelius and keyboarding/electronic evening music classes for beginning students. 
Osnowitz, the New Jersey director, is primarily running Sibelius 2.11, Finale 2003, and Band In-A-Box. He is still looking for a sequencing program under Windows XP. His lab is connected to the school server with full Internet connections. Furniture and ventilation were problems due to no windows and only one A/C vent, so the lab is frequently warm and uncomfortable. Sibelius and Finale are essential software in these music labs.

Matthews, the New Mexico director, uses a Novell network, which stores all of the students’ work. The student has access to a music listening library with some 1,200 selections from classical, pops, oldies, jazz, country, world and ethnic media. Hardware includes a Roland Analog/Digital Converter, a recording booth with four channel sends and monitors, a five-piece Roland MIDI drum set with sequencer, a 16-channel digital mixing board and a 30-channel audio group lesson controller for audio communication with students both individually and in a group setting. Regularly used software includes Alfred’s Essentials of Music Theory, levels 1, 2 and 3; Cakewalk Home Studio for sequencing; Sibelius 2 for composition and arranging; PhotoScore for scanning printed music; TDK Digital Mixmaster to burn CDs from a collection and convert small MP3 files into large audio Wave files for use on a CD player; Cool Edit Pro for editing Wave files and sound clips; Music Match Jukebox for playing and converting MP3/Wave files; Band In-A-Box, SmartMusic, Amadeus, and a Roland RPC-3 AD/DA Converter recording package.

Zubieta, the New York director, has a two-year-old lab with 12 workstations all running Windows XP Professional. The keyboards are Yamaha Clavinovas with alternative Roland Drum Controller. Software inventory of major applications includes notation, sequencing, theory, scanning, automatic accompaniment generators: Finale 2003, Sonar 2.0 XL, Home Studio XL, Acid 4 and Pro Tools LE.

Simpson, the Georgia director, is using 16 iMacs paired with Roland RS-5 synthesizers. Software includes Cakewalk’s Metro, Sibelius, MiBAC Music Lessons 1 and 2 and Band In-A-Box. The lab is not connected to the school server, thus no Internet.

Splettstoeszer, the Connecticut director, uses Band In-A-Box, Master Tracks pro MIDI sequencing software, Cakewalk Pro Audio 9 Sequencing, Sonic Foundry’s Sound Forge 5.0 professional editing software and Acid Pro 3.0 looped-based music creation software and Microsoft Front Page. Special hardware consists of a Mackie 1202 unpowered mixer, a Samson TM300 powered mixer, a Tascam DA20 D.A.T. recorder, a Tascam MKII analog tape deck, an Alesis SR-16 drum machine, a Roland BR-1180CD digital recording studio, a Roland VS-880 Digital Studio workstation and Roland XP-10 keyboards.

Rudolph, the Pennsylvania director, incorporates Finale Notepad, Freestyle sequencing software and Music Ace and Music Ace 2 software. The biggest challenges for his music tech program are in selecting the best hardware and finding teaching materials for the curriculum.

Pedigo, the Plano (Texas) director, uses software mostly in lab packs such as: Finale 2000, MacGAMUT 2000, MiBAC Music Lessons 3.0, Music lessons 2, Practica Musica 4, Auralia 1.0, MicroLogic AV, iTunes. Hardware includes 21 workstations with CD-RW capability, Roland EP-9 or similar keyboards, Roland JV-1010 or similar sound module, and much more.

Mauricio, the California director, has amassed a lot of hardware and software since 1987. The Music Tech Ensemble is the most visible part of the music tech lab and is responsible for most of its high visibility even though its curriculum is one of the best in the entire country for a high school. Current instrumentation for the ensemble consists of eight keyboards, an electronic drum set, two percussion octapads, two electric guitars, bass guitar, a MIDI wind controller, vocals and a seven-piece brass section. All of the instruments and microphones are connected to a 32-channel mixer via a 125-foot audio snake cable and are powered by a 2,000-watt sound system. There are two monitor mixes for the performers – one is for vocal floor monitors and the other is for the musician’s side fill monitors.

Lard, the North Carolina director, uses Alesis ADAT recordings and studio 24 consoles, Steinberg Cubase and Wavelab Editing software (PC), Zoom RFX 1000 effects processors, various dynamics processors, AKGC1000 and SM 57 and 58 microphones and various other recording equipment.

Randolph, the Illinois director, operates 32 PCs with Music Ace 1 & 2 and Sibelius/Scorch and Neuratron PhotoScore network site licenses as the main core, plus Band-In-A-Box and Microsoft Office PowerPoint. Her hardware includes a Hewlett Packard scanner.

Smith, the Oklahoma director, has eight computers with five MIDI keyboards connected. He has no Internet connection or any networking capabilities in the computer lab, but he has a long network cable from his office that connects a single machine when needed. The computer in his office is used for music production work. His program’s software includes Sibelius 2, Musition, Auralia and Alfred’s Essentials of Music Theory.

Bogue, the Washington director, uses a unique concept of music technology: he does it all with Palm PDA handheld computers with 30 workstations. Music software runs only $175 to $400 a workstation and includes handouts, tone module and software. This is about one-tenth of the usual cost of $2,000 to $3,000 per workstation. The Palm, Handspring and Sony Clie N and T series PDAs all work well. He uses a Swivel Systems tone module attached to the Palm III PDAs and the Beat Plus tone module in the Handspring. The Sony Clie has the tone module built in. The software is from MiniMusic. It includes BugBand for note reading, NotePad for music writing and BeatPad for learning rhythm. He is working with a beta program called EarTrain for learning intervals.

Curriculum and Enrollment

Osnowitz, of New Jersey, teaches two classes in music technology during the school day. The music technology class is a five-credit class that meets five days a week for 40 minutes each day. Students learn the basics of MIDI, music copying, scanning and other music-writing methods with computers and electric keyboards. This class fulfills the fine arts requirement. Sibelius is the most popular software application because of its ease of use. Currently there are 12 students enrolled in the two music tech classes.

Matthews, of New Mexico, offers six sections of music technology, which are taught daily. Up to 30 students attend each class and every student must also be enrolled in a traditional music class.

With Zubieta, of New York, the lab is used for regular classes during the school day and in the evening classes are offered for adults in the community. Presently, there are three courses available: Music Composition and Performance, Senior Project, and Integrated Projects.

Simpson, of Georgia, mostly uses sequencing programs to create original projects for his school’s broadcasting class. Students also create CDs each semester that they market to the community as a fundraiser/service project. Students can take intro, intermediate or advanced music tech classes during the school day. It is interesting to note that a substantial number of the music tech students are not formally trained and would not use a notation program, so several students start off with Band-In-A-Box. Enrollment presently includes 64 intro students, 24 intermediate students and 18 advanced students along with 11 Advanced Placement music theory students.

Splettstoeszer, of Connecticut, offers two music tech classes. Music Technology 1 is an introductory course that starts students with basic principles of the sound system, including microphones, speakers, effects processors, analog and digital audio tape machines. Students then learn the who, what, when, where and why about MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface). Students use Band-In-A-Box MIDI accompaniment software to create rhythm sections and learn about chord progressions and how to create lead sheets. After Band In-A-Box, students study basic sequencing techniques using Cakewalk’s Pro Audio 9 sequencing software. Students explore basic recording principles such as looping and over-dubbing while creating original compositions using both MIDI and audio. Music Technology II is an advanced course that focuses on real-world applications of music technology. Students start by creating soundscapes and studying the Art of Foley. Students use a passage from a short story or poem and compose original music and sound effects. Next, the students create radio jingles -15, 30 and 45-second commercials on everything from Music Technology class (a great recruiting tool) to going out into the community to produce a commercial for an area business. Students are the artists/composers/producers/recording engineers with the final product recorded onto digital audio tape or compact disc for the customer. Students then dive into the world of film scoring. Here, students take small clips from movies and/or television shows and create original scores. Students have scored everything from the opening credits to the “X-Files” to “Star Trek Deep Space Nine.” As a culminating project, students create an electronic portfolio in the form of a Web site that includes all the projects and topics studied throughout the course. Each project has its own page with student-created descriptions of the project, resource links, and examples of their work. Because of the hands-on nature of these courses, enrollment has increased dramatically. An initial offering of one class with five students the first year has now become multiple sections of two courses with a waiting list. Music technology classes have become the fastest-growing courses at Torrington High School.

Rudolph, of Pennsylvania, uses keyboards primarily for teaching basic keyboard skills and some sequencing applications to all sixth- and seventh-grade students. They meet two days per week for class and one of those days is in the lab. He schedules 1,200 students per week and would go into the lab every period if he could. He also teaches basic improvisation skills and integrates the performance materials with the knowledge units from general music. The biggest obstacles are the length of time it takes to learn how to use the group education controller hardware, and the frequent updates and repairs that are needed to keep up with 1,200 students per week. The headphones need to be replaced and keyboards need to be serviced every summer.

Pedigo, of Plano, Texas, uses MP3s with iTunes for dictation. He records dictation files on MP3s. Since each student has access to the files while in the lab, they can always make up missed examples outside of class. The teacher also distributes the assignments as Finale files that the students can print for grading. The teacher also likes to use Finale for analysis with Roman numeral chords and custom-created articulation marks to identify non-chord tones.

Mauricio, of California, offers six classes in music technology involving 50 students with Music Technology 1/2, Music Engineering 1, Advanced Music Engineering, Music Business Productions 1, Web Design/Multimedia Arts and Music Tech Ensemble. The Music Technology 1/2 class introduces students to basic keyboard skills, music fundamentals and music technology. Music fundamentals are taught three days a week and music technology units are taught two days a week. Some of the music technology units include History of Electronic Music, Physics of Sounds, Subtractive and Digital Synthesis, Computers and Digital Sampling, Multi-track Recording and MIDI. Students also learn how to use sequencing, notation and digital audio recording software. Music Engineering 1 is an entry-level course that focuses on the technical side of the music industry instead of music performance. Units of study include sound systems, microphones, signal processing, physics of sound and multi-track recording. Music Business 1 is a business applications course that covers using a word processor, database and spreadsheet, as well as job interviewing and business telephone etiquette. Job roles such as producers, managers, booking agents, music contractors and sound engineers are also studied. Other topics include copyright forms, band contracts and payroll, music publishing, royalties and career opportunities in the music industry. Multimedia is another entry-level course. It includes Web page design and the Internet. This class teaches how to create multimedia, presentation and Web page design projects using authoring programs such as HyperStudio, PowerPoint and Netscape Composer. Students can develop their creative and technology skills with interactive projects while being prepared for a possible career in a rapidly emerging field.

Lard, of North Carolina, offers two classes. The introductory class includes physics of sound, basics of acoustics, microphone theory, over-dubbing theory and practice, the mixer and mixing theory and basic effects processing/mastering and digital editing. The advanced course includes advanced digital editing, dynamics processing, studio session protocol, analyzing recordings, analog recordings, DAW recording and product and brand recognition.

Randolph, of Illinois, currently offers grades K-8 music theory, ear-training, music history, classical music selections, piano instruction and composition instruction to 350 students in a general music setting. What makes her teaching situation unusual is that her school is registered through the Illinois State Board of Education as a teacher-training site for music technology, offering teachers CPDUs for teacher re-certification.

Smith, of Oklahoma City, is presently working on adding an Introduction to Music and Music Technology course.

Bogue, of Washington, offers music rhythm, ear-training, theory and composition activities in his middle school setting. He discusses a concept and then turns the students loose in the lab to explore the possibilities.

Future Developments For Their Labs

Chase, of Houston, has a music tech lab that serves as a model for the district’s campuses. Their schools have dying music programs but music technology is revitalizing music education in the Houston Independent School District.

Osnowitz, of New Jersey, wants sequencing to be added to the curriculum next year. Putting student work onto the school’s Web site will also be considered. His advice is to get the best computers with the most RAM memory available and offer a Mac lab in conjunction with PCs if there is room and money. Have a large enough room to expand the numbers of stations to accommodate the growing demand for the courses. The facility should also be well-ventilated as the computers heat up the room. Get as much software as possible for notation and sequencing.

Matthews, of New Mexico, was fortunate when his school district passed a major bond issue that will allow a new music wing to be built. This will include a major addition to the existing music tech lab of 30 workstations. He recommends that you preview software before purchasing. There are many software packages that promise to deliver but too many well-packaged gimmicks can cause a lot of grief and waste of valuable funds. Make sure that software is compatible with your computer environment – workstations, network server, etc.

Zubieta, of New York, advises you to keep things as simple as possible. Whatever devices may fail will invariably fail, at least occasionally. He would like to expand the lab with more Digi001 systems in the future.

Simpson, of Georgia, suggests that a network server be used to save student files and that more digital audio workstations be made available. Funding is an important issue to include training and tech support.

Splettstoeszer, of Connecticut, is going to include student work on the school Web site during the next school year. The site does not offer audio capabilities via audio or video streaming. He wants to explore the possibilities of using Smartboard technology, and upgrading computers and MIDI guitar in his program.

Rudolph, of Pennsylvania, would like to add computers to every keyboard station and to move the lab from the band room to a separate classroom so more electives are available for students in music technology.

Pedigo, of Plano, Texas, is going to contact record companies about the possibility of mechanical licensing fees so that he can import all of the CDs that the theory program owns onto the hard drives to create a listening library at every workstation. He is also hoping to have his entire curriculum and all assignments posted to the school’s Web site by the beginning of the 2003-2004 school year, or by the end of the present school year. He recommends that you use plain old desks. His students have to do all of their work while sitting at the workstation. There is no comfortable writing surface, and the computers block their line of sight.

Lard, of North Carolina, would like to expand to Pro-Tools and continue to upgrade microphones and equipment.

Randolph, of Illinois, is now building a music technology lab separate from the current computer lab. This lab is being built one station at a time as funds become available so she will have a completely separate lab from the general computer lab in her school.

Smith, of Oklahoma, is pursuing donations for more and newer computers. When completed, he should have 20 to 25 networked workstations in a classroom. SmartMusic 7 is the next planned software acquisition.

Bogue, of Washington, notes that his PDA lab is very low maintenance and very cost-effective. He is hoping to continue exploring how music is constructed. He would very much like to get together with some programmers to develop some programs for learning instrument fingerings for band students.

Closing Comments

These are exciting developments – “mega trends,” if you will. We can learn a lot from these 13 innovative music educators who are successfully teaching in music tech lab situations. Obviously, they are excited about their teaching situations and optimistic about the growth and development of their students. Several of these teachers have their own school Web sites where you can learn more about their music technology programs:

It is exciting to see how music technology is electrifying teaching environments and at a cost that can revitalize the traditional band program. Bryan Bogue’s PDA program in Spokane, Wash., proves that a computer music program can be very affordable with good entry-level programs especially appropriate for the elementary and middle school levels. But don’t shortchange PDA technology. Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Wash., has a very viable composition program on PDAs. Regardless of which direction you explore – be it keyboards, PDAs or a traditional computer/MIDI keyboard lab situation – it’s a great springboard and inspiration.

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