Technology: A Critical Component of the Modern Music Classroom

Tony Sauza • December 2021Modern Band • December 18, 2021

Like most areas of life over the past year and a half, music education has undergone a significant and irreversible transformation. In the past, new resources, tools and methodologies would typically go through a long process of analysis and scrutiny before they would gain acceptance amongst teachers across the country. In 2020 music educators were put in a position of embracing technology and the world of music-making applications and web-based platforms or risk being dismissed as incapable of adapting to the quickly changing needs of their students. For some already immersed in this environment, the transition was a smoother process and they adapted rather easily. Those who were resistant to learning and utilizing music technology previously found themselves in a compromising situation. The result was a large pool of teachers confronting many of their reservations and skepticism towards the value of integrating digital resources. 

The pandemic has proven to many that meaningful music education can exist within virtual environments, both synchronous and asynchronous formats. Through cloud-based digital audio workstations (DAWs) such as Soundtrap and Band Lab, music educators were able to provide platforms built around creativity and expressiveness for students of all skill levels. With the emergence of transformative technologies such as the metaverse, artificial intelligence, and more, the need for teachers to developed their skills with various tools and resources seems to be increasing each day.   

I teach a digital instrument methods course for the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music at California State University Long Beach. Dr. Tamara Thies, the director of music education, initiated the creation of this course which launched in fall of 2021 and now required as part of the instrument methods course series. In this course, students are exploring the world of live sound, digital and electric instruments, audio production, and technology. Although pre-service music educators have grown up around the internet and many forms of technology, a significant number of them are not familiar with tech tools or have little to no experience with audio production and recording. With this in mind, it is quite clear that there is a need for ongoing teacher professional development around these topics for current teachers and, concurrently, a shift in the way music education preparation programs are designed and structured in universities across the country. While there are an increasing number of related courses being developed, there are still many more programs that need to embrace a student-centered approach within music education which reflects the interests, needs, and values of their students.

While many of these emerging skills and tools can seem overwhelming, it is important to emphasize that these skills should be developed gradually and in manageable chunks. Identifying one or two tools or resources to dive deep into is more than enough for one school year. Similar to practicing on an instrument, consistency is the key for developing each skill, even if done in a limited amount of time. It is also important to be aware that it is unnecessary to master each tool or digital instrument. The skills and knowledge in existence far exceed the time most educators have available while teaching full-time. Also, many of these skills might be too advanced for most of one’s students, which may make them less relevant to a particular class’s curriculum. Generally speaking, the goal for every teacher should be to gain a working knowledge of each tool or digital instrument in order to successfully present and implement it in the classroom. 

The following items represent an example of relevant skills a music educator should possess as we move into the 2020s. They will assuredly need to be updated on a regular basis in order to adapt and reflect the current tools being used in and around the music industry.  

Understanding Tone for Electric Instruments

Many music educators have limited experience with operating guitar and bass amplifiers as well as understanding the function of pickups and their influence on overall tone. In the same way that a band director would want their students to work on their embouchure, a 21st century music educator should be able to spark an interest in their students around understanding tone and refining it until a desirable sound is attained. Effects pedals can be used by various electric instruments such as electric guitar, bass or keyboards, and are essential in today’s performance setup. Vocal pedals are used regularly in live settings and provide students an opportunity to explore their voices and vocal range in a unique way. Effects pedals exist for a myriad of sounds and applications. Like our overall approach to technology, take your time and familiarize yourself with basic sounds such as delay, phaser, flanger and distortion/overdrive.   

Live Sound

WIthin the area of live sound, some of the most basic skills include operating a mixing board, understanding microphones and the different types that exist, and understanding the purpose of stage monitors. 

Audio Production

DAWs are undoubtedly the most powerful music-making tool currently available. Nowadays, DAWs can exist in the cloud (as in the case of Soundtrap and Band Lab), or on a mobile device, like apps such as FL Studio, iMaschine2, and many more. Students who enter into the world of audio production have the ability to record and express musical ideas through the use of pre-made loops, MIDI instruments, or by recording audio from any electric or acoustic instrument. This entry point tends to foster a curiosity about other related equipment and topics such as microphones, mic placement technique, plugins, and audio editing. Most professional recording artists record music through DAWs, and their processing abilities and features only seem to be gaining momentum. 

Digital instruments such as the EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument), synthesizers, theremin and more are great options for classroom integration. 

The possibilities seem endless at times but through consistent learning and implementation, everyone can begin to move towards updating their skill set in order to provide a rich learning experience for their students. 

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