New Titles in Music Technology: Textbooks, Software Guides, and Historical and Critical Works

August 31, 2005


webster williamsballorarudolphreese wrightExperiencing Music Technology, by David Brian Williams and Peter Richard Webster.  3rd ed. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Schirmer, 2006. xxix + 467 p. ISBN 0-534-17672-0.

Essentials of Music Technology, by Mark Ballora. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2003. viii + 248 p. ISBN 0-13-093747-9.

Teaching Music with Technology, by Thomas E. Rudolph. 2nd ed. Chicago: GIA Publications 2004. xi + 467 p. ISBN 1-57999-313-3.

Strategies for Teaching: Technology.  Sam Reese, Kimberly McCord, and Kimberly Walls, compilers and editors.  Reston, VA: MENC, 2001. ix + 158 p. ISBN 1-56545-140-6.

Listening to Music, by Craig Wright.  4th ed. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Schirmer, 2004. 485 p. ISBN 0-534-60372-6. With 2-CD set ISBN 0-534-60374-2.


Software Guides and Bibliography:

pursefranzaxfordThe Finale Primer, by Bill Purse. 3rd ed. San Francisco: Backbeat Books, 2005. xii + 275 p. ISBN 0-87930-815-X.

Producing in the Home Studio with Pro Tools, by David Franz. 2nd ed. Boston: Berklee Press, 2003. xi + 282 p. ISBN 0-87639-008-4.

Song Sheets to Software, by Elizabeth C. Axford. 2nd ed. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2004. 267 p. ISBN 0-8108-5027-3.


History and Criticism:

manningbattinogreeneElectronic and Computer Music, by Peter Manning. Revised and expanded edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. vii + 474 p. ISBN 0-19-517085-7.

The Art of Digital Music, by David Battino and Kelli Richards. San Francisco: Backbeat Books, 2005. x + 260 p. ISBN 0-87930-830-3.

Wired for Sound: Engineering and Technologies in Sonic Cultures, by Paul D. Greene and Thomas Porcello, eds. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2005. viii + 288 p. ISBN 0-8195-6517-2.

Music instruction has always used technology. Since the time of Pythagorus and the monochord, tools and technology have been crucial to music pedagogy. Theory classes use pianos to illustrate concepts and music history courses would be lost without recorded anthologies. Music teachers continue to include even more technology in their work with the web-based version of Grove and the oft-dreaded drill-and-practice ear training software.

Music technology is a quickly growing field. As technological advances increase, so does the desire to understand and implement the latest applications. The Association for Technology in Music Instruction (ATMI) exists to assist music educators with their technological needs. Many authors have written about music technology, but where and how does one begin to learn about the field? If a freshman in high school decides to teach herself music theory, should she immediately sit down with Der freie Satz? Probably not. This review-essay attempts to wade through a number of new titles and match them to their best audiences. Absent from this survey are books that focus on the composition of electronic, algorithmic, acousmatic, electroacoustic, or computer music. The texts included are intended for a general music educator and student looking at a wide range of music technology materials applicable to everyday use. A similar overview on the subject of teaching electronic music composition must wait for another day.

I have grouped these resources into four categories. These divisions are themselves problematic and serve only as a starting point. First are textbooks, or books that are best used in a classroom. Second are software guides. No manual or tutorial, no matter how inclusive, will have the same insight as an independent third-party perspective. Third are publications on the history and criticism of music technology. The existence of these works shows that scholarship in music technology extends beyond hardware and software tutorials. The fourth and final group includes important web-based resources that might otherwise be missed. Again, the information provided here is merely the tip of the tip of the iceberg.



In the software world, a "gold master" is made when a program is complete and ready for duplication and distribution. In the music technology text world, the "gold master" is Experiencing Music Technology by David Brian Williams and Peter Richard Webster. Experiencing Music Technology covers all areas of general computing and music-specific computing. The focus is on skills and concepts, not on specific or exclusive software platforms. Examples alternate between Windows and Macintosh and often show a single concept played out through multiple available commercial software packages. This text can be easily implemented regardless of available hardware or software.

The basic materials covered include fundamental computer concepts such as operating systems and networking as well as information on basic digital audio and MIDI formats. The music-specific technologies are then discussed in greater detail, leaving a great deal of flexibility for the instructor. Experiencing Music Technology also includes extensive sections on how people use technology and CAI (computer-aided instruction). The accompanying DVD-ROM contains cross-platform supplemental materials that run through any web browser, making the need for additional materials negligible.

While basic concepts are at the heart of this text, intermediate and advanced topics are also abundant. Digital audio chapters discuss the most recent MPEG codes, multi-channel formats, and how to build a digital audio workstation. MIDI chapters cover extended controllers (including how to build your own), SoundFonts or MOD formats, and MIDI time codes.

This text includes everything that is necessary for an introductory computer use course for musicians as well as intermediate and advanced music technology courses. Depending on the available curricular offerings, this one text could be used for several different classes, a factor that makes it even more appealing. Experiencing Music Technology is written with a bigger picture in mind: teach students how things work and create adaptable and informed computer users.

In addition to Experiencing Music Technology, several other recent textbooks can be extremely useful. Mark Ballora's Essentials of Music Technology bypasses the basic computer skills and jumps right to audio recording. Acoustics is covered in depth before the introduction of MIDI and digital audio techniques. The book deals with everything concerning sound recording and computers without emphasizing any specific recording software. Ballora achieves a solid balance between highly technical language and simple diagrams. Various filters and effects are described in clean, easy to understand language. They are also presented in their mathematical forms. This book would work extremely well as an introductory text for audio engineering or electronic music courses and also is a reliable desk reference.

Thomas E. Rudolf's Teaching Music with Technology provides basic information and introductory materials for computing and music technology with a slant towards applications in a music education environment. This text lacks the depth of Experiencing Music Technology or Essentials of Music Technology and instead provides a myriad of teaching strategies and ways to implement technology into a classroom setting. Teaching Music with Technology has sections on how to set up a music computing or keyboard lab, how to integrate technology within a curriculum, and how to advocate funding for technology. Chapter reviews and project ideas are included on a cross-platform CD-ROM accessible through a web browser.

Unlike the previous three titles, Strategies for Teaching: Technology, compiled and edited by Sam Reese, Kimberly McCord, and Kimberly Walls, discards any explanation of technology in favor of pedagogical application plans. Published and distributed by MENC, Strategies for Teaching: Technology is a treasure trove of application plans and ideas for using technology in teaching music, including general music classes (grades K-8) and performance groups (grades 5-12). Each application is cleanly written with objectives, materials, prior knowledge, procedures, indicators of success, and follow-ups. It seems that no aspect of music is left out. Basic listening and analysis skills are covered, as are intonation and improvisation. Strategies for Teaching: Technology is not really a textbook but a supplemental resource. Combined with Teaching Music with Technology, a music educator will never be at a loss for information about technology and knowing how everything works.

While not a music technology text, the fourth edition of Craig Wright's Listening to Music demonstrates how textbooks on any subject are incorporating technology into instructional modalities. The basic application of music technology for music appreciation or music history texts is to include recordings along with printed materials. All of the major music history and appreciation texts come with some form of recorded anthology. Listening to Music follows suit, and is available with either a 2-CD or an extended 6-CD set, making the text usable for both non-major and introductory music major classes. But Listening to Music goes a bit further by adding web-based materials created by Thomas Smialek and L.A. Logrande in order to heighten the listening and learning experience. The website includes timelines, games, online quizzes, and other materials. Quiz results can be sent to the instructor via e-mail for grading. Listening to Music's primary focus is music appreciation—the technological materials are clearly ancillary. Utilizing publisher-based sites such as the one that complements Wright's text with class management architectures like WebCT and Blackboard, any faculty member can custom build their own web-based learning environments.


Software Guides and Bibliography

Right or wrong, Finale is notorious for being difficult to use. Being a Finale autodidact, I can see the need for books such as Bill Purse's The Finale Primer. While Finale has always produced thorough tutorials, online manuals, and access to an extensive user group, sometimes one still needs more help. This primer walks users through the basic and intermediate capabilities of Finale, including how to set up a score, various methods of note entry, page layout functions, and even some "power user" tips that can decrease the amount of time one spends entering information. The problems of this book are those inherent in all publications of this type. This book specifically addresses Finale 2005. Since Coda produces upgrades to the Finale line of software each year, one never knows how long the information in The Finale Primer will remain accurate. The author provides helpful information that is relevant to earlier versions of Finale, but many times throughout the book the example dialog boxes are different from the ones encountered in the actual program. This discrepancy may lead to some confusion. Nevertheless, The Finale Primer can be used as a textbook for a music notation class and music computing labs equipped with Finale should definitely have this book readily available.

Turning from notation to recording software, David Franz's Producing in the Home Studio with Pro Tools gives not only a thorough introduction to Digidesign's software (Pro Tools version 6) but also insights in how to create a successful recording environment. The techniques of solid recording production occupy the bulk of the volume. These concepts are illustrated using Pro Tools examples. The focus on "good recording practices" makes this book appropriate for a recording techniques class. The accompanying CD-ROM includes audio examples of projects created with Pro Tools as well as the sample projects discussed in the book.

Though not really a software guide, Elizabeth Axford's Song Sheets to Software is an extremely useful bibliography of materials, including software guides, related to music technology. Following a history of sheet music and copyright law, Axford offers a canonical listing of software, CD-ROMs, educational DVDs, and book/CD sets geared toward musicians. The final chapter is a list of thousands of music-related websites. The author is to be lauded for assembling such a vast array of information in a single, cohesive volume. Given the huge amount of material in this vast bibliographic source, however, it is inevitable that new materials will be released and over time websites will migrate to different servers. I hope that the next phase of this project will be a web-accessible database that can be maintained and updated on a regular basis. There are sites that provide some of this information in different places across the web, but none so thorough and consolidated as this book.


History and Criticism

Music technology has certainly entered into its own as a scholarly discipline. One manifestation of this is the ever-increasing number of historical and critical works on the topic. Peter Manning's Electronic and Computer Music offers a detailed survey of the genre from a scholarly perspective. Manning begins his magisterial review in 1897 with the patent for Cahill's tellharmonium and ends with recent software used for signal processing and live electronic music generation. The book focuses on the history and development of the genre and technical language is kept to a minimum. Instead of detailed descriptions as to how various technologies work, Manning centers his prose on the impact of these new technologies and the possibilities they create. Electronic and Computer Music is an ideal textbook for a course on the history of electronic music, and would also provide useful supplemental material for classes in twentieth- and twenty-first-century music. It includes an extensive bibliography and discography. This important work should be in every library's music collection.

David Battino and Kelli Richards take a different approach in The Art of Digital Music by focusing on the popular music industry. The book combines historical information in the form of brief biographical sketches with musings on studio production and guides to the music industry. The accompanying DVD-ROM includes interview and music video footage as well as songs, licensed samples, and additional essays. The biographies cover a wide range of people known for their influence in music technology such as The Crystal Method, Herbie Hancock, Marty O'Donnell, Steve Reich, and David Zicarelli. The book is intended more for the interested amateur rather than for the professional musician or student.

While the history and techniques of music technology are fascinating, so is the impact of the field on music and culture. Wired for Sound takes a broad multi-ethnic look at how music technology has shaped and changed the music of various cultures. This collection of essays edited by Paul D. Greene and Thomas Porcello includes writings about South African traditional music, the production of world music albums, and guitar timbres in heavy metal music. Topics such as Nepali pop music and the rise of the radio in 1920s America are also addressed. This collection is insightful and engrossing and has a place in any technology seminar, musical or otherwise. Several essays could also be useful in Ethnomusicology courses and contemporary music seminars.


Online Resources

Going beyond The New Grove online and Google searches, many music-specific tools are freely accessible on the world-wide-web. Many campuses offer online classroom management through WebCT or Blackboard. These tools provide an excellent, infinitely customizable framework for easy-access resource material, class discussion, and online quizzes. The interface is usually intuitive and easy to use without any prior experience of web creation.

ATMI's website ( contains information about their conferences, various resources, and a software search engine with a detailed database of music-related freeware, shareware, and commercial products. If you are looking for software related in any way to music, the ATMI database is an excellent place to start.

While the ATMI database is excellent, there is strength in numbers. and are sites that contain various sorts of software downloads, some free and some commercial, that cover not only music-related software but any other software imaginable.

I always tell my theory students about Ricci Adams' excellent website Adams created a web-based tool that teaches the fundamentals of music theory and provides the same tools as a free download that runs on any computer operating system. The site also has exercises for note identification, ear training for intervals and chords, and fingerings for keyboard, guitar, and brass instruments. The software also contains a staff paper generator (another staff paper generator can be found at

Being a composer, I am always looking for free or inexpensive software to help generate electronic music. Two major sites that I have found to be particularly useful are and the Freesound project at MacMusic has lists of music specific software, including free plug-ins and CAI programs. The Freesound project is a collection of free-licensed samples for anyone to download and use. These are only two of the many internet resources for electronic composers that now exist.

The field of music technology is truly vast and shows no signs of getting smaller. Books will always be needed to demystify software and hardware and show how we musicians can implement this technology for the benefit of ourselves and our students. The resources mentioned in this review-essay are only starting points in an on-going journey of discovery.

4140 Last modified on April 22, 2013