Squeak and Blat: Future Thoughts on Advancements In Technology and the Music Classroom

October 31, 2009

Squeak and Blat,

Q: You've offered us many good technology tips in the past. I need help with the future. I'm involved in long-range strategic planning for our School of Music at Counterpoint College and we'd appreciate your insight on what we might see in terms of music technology further down the road as we stretch our thinking several years out. Can you help?

Dr. Fuzzy Fugue, DMA


Dear Dr. Fuzzy Fugue, funny you should ask. Blat and I just gave a presentation at the recent CMS/ATMI National Conference in Portland on this very topic. It was titled "Advancements in Technology: Impact on Music Teaching and Learning." Not sure our crystal balls are very clear (there was a good deal of rainy, cloudy weather in Portland) but we'd be delighted to briefly share our thoughts. I addressed two topics, the future of digital audio and what they call "cloud" computing and its impact on music education.

Digital audio gets intelligence and legs. There is considerable development happening in the digital audio realm where computers are able to analyze and deconstruct complex sonic events as well as pattern match complex music events. These techniques permit automated identification of music, mapping of sonic events to musical notation, and reconstructing the music in new ways with pitch, time, and tonality adjustments. A few examples go from translating monophonic patterns to notation in Sibelius and Finale, music fingerprinting techniques used with services like Shazam for instant identification of popular music recordings, to the more complex Direct Note Analysis of complex multi-voice audio events with Celemony's software. That's the "intelligence" part of this future view; the "legs" part is the incredible miniaturization of digital audio recording. We can see a trend much like with digital cameras as we watch new developments in iPhones or iPod Nanos or handheld digital recorders from Zoom, Korg, M-Audio and others.

What impact does this have on music instruction? Here are four bullet points out of several we discussed. Advancements digital tools may offer:

  • Impromptu digital student recordings for classroom analysis and study from anywhere.
  • Sophisticated sonic analysis of music performance nuances and translation to symbolic representations for study.
  • Interchangeable timbres, pitch changes, and more for exploring what-if music scenarios (Lego music blocks).
  • Intelligent music-minus-one flexibility for performance simulation of music genres and ensembles, past and present.

Working and making music in the clouds. Let me wet my reed for a minute and toot and squeak through my second topic. There was much talk in Portland about what is known as "cloud" computing. Your data storage (shared, public, and private), applications you need to use (from word processing to music recording and notation), and social networking tools (Twitter, Facebook, Ning) are all stored out in the "cloud" on the Internet. To access them, find any computer, any place, with nothing but a web browser, and you can do your computing, share photos and music, socially interact with friends and students, and write your report or notate your music composition among the few of many possibilities. Yes, the options here, especially for music, are a bit limited at the moment, but most crystal-ball gazing sees ever increasing sophistication and options with these resources. For just a hint at what's to come check out Noteflight, Aviary Myna, and Hobnox Audiotools for music making as well as Google Docs and Zoho for productivity tools.

Advancements that cloud computing may offer for music education:

  • Online portfolios will grow in one's personal "cloud" from student musician to retired professional.
  • Attend or participate in performances virtually anywhere, synchronously or asynchronously.
  • Student and faculty personal lives intertwine as social network paths meet with contacts, photos, life stories, creative productivity, and more.
  • Scholarly "authority" will be accessible to anyone, anytime through online wikis, blogs, and e-publications, not just in the classroom.

We also discussed "speed bumps" or key issues with these new advancements. Digital copyright, artist compensation, network bandwidth, and privacy and security of data were a few Squeak noted for the above.


Glad to add my take on this. First of all, note that you can find our handout and our PowerPoint at: http://teachmusictech.com/resources/portland/advaTech.htm and http://www.teachmusictech.com/resources.html.

I spoke about two related topics: (1) performance tools expand in public ways and (2) Classrooms go interactive!

Performance Tools Expand in Public Ways. Great harbingers of the future include the continued development of laptop music ensembles (hopefully under the support and direction of college and university music units). The whole video game market is worth watching, especially the Wii controller and other types of devices that allow physical interaction with sound sources. Blat blathered on about cell phones as performance devices and speculated too about the continued development of real-time music performances across the Internet between say a trumpet player in Taiwan, a tuba player in Turkey, and a trombone player in Toledo. I also speculated about concert goers impacted by new technology such as jumbotron projections of the orchestra, much like we see at sports facilities. It seems to this tired old trumpet player that audience development is important in the coming days and that concert halls need some kind of enhancement for this video-oriented populace.

Classroom Go Interactive! Interactive musical toys such as the Zizzle and the Siftables (see David Merrill's work at MIT) show great promise. These toys all build on the idea that kids can interact with block-like objects to create sound patterns that make sense to them. This emphasis on constructing music with objects is so powerful and goes to the heart of good music learning (Blat's interest in creative thinking is showing through!) Software like Subotnick's Making Music and Making More Music, as well as Machover's Hyperscore continue to intrigue and make substantial contributions in the hands of skillful teachers. Cell phones are not seen as the enemy but as real enhancements for learning in the classroom (this is a controversial topic that has our crystal ball breaking in two!) I speculated about Smartboards and music in the college classroom as we take a lesson from our public school colleagues that use these devices frequently to enhance learning. Finally, I suggested that eBooks as texts cannot be swept aside as fad. The political pressure alone from tuition-paying parents of college-aged students may force as us all to come off our paper-bound high horses.

Some implications for us as college teachers are:

  • Project-based work prevails but we need to continue to teach skills and knowledge in the context of projects
  • Cell phones and tablet computers will be more useful as portable devices but we will still need larger displays as we work with in-class presentations
  • We will expect a greater exchange of ideas from students as we work on more sophisticated musical problems with technology support (gather around screens and expect student communication with the screen via hand-held devices).
  • Rarely request that students buy "hard copy" materials since much of the required work will be in the form of electronic material, videos, projected holography, and the like.

Just keep in mind these words from the famous Beliot College Mindset List:

Members of the class of 2013 won't be surprised when they can charge a latté on their cell phone and curl up in the corner to read a textbook on an electronic screen. The migration of once independent media-radio, TV, videos and CDs-to the computer has never amazed them. They have grown up in a politically correct universe in which multi-culturalism has been a given. It is a world organized around globalization, with McDonald's everywhere on the planet. Carter and Reagan are as distant to them as Truman and Eisenhower were to their parents. Tattoos, once thought "lower class," are, to them, quite chic. Everybody knows the news before the evening news comes on. Thus the class of 2013 heads off to college as tolerant, global, and technologically hip…and with another new host of The Tonight Show.

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