Education Music Technology

Music Technology Essentials

book cover

I am pleased to announce that my new book, Music Technology Essentials, is now available for purchase.

This book is a culmination of over ten years of teaching an introductory music technology course at the college level. I was frustrated with the choices of textbooks for my course. The texts were either too advanced for new students or glossed over details I felt were important. A few years ago, I decided to abandon textbooks and create my own content for the course. Over time, I edited the content until I found a balance between detail and practicality.

I was surprised by the amount of misinformation students possessed. The information they gathered from the web and magazines was missing a foundation. They know how to use their software, but they did not understand how or why things worked. If they wanted a louder snare drum on a track, they would add compression because based on the information they had, if you want something louder, use a compressor. If they want to increase the low end in a mix, they will use a shelving filter on the entire mix. The web is filled with “tips and tricks” to make your mixes better. Every month there is a new plugin that promises to enhance your work and give you “professional” results.

As educators, we often joke about imparting students with “just enough information to be dangerous.” We want students to have knowledge, but not more than they need. If they are too curious, they might push the wrong button and ruin a recording session or damage the equipment. The students in my classroom all possessed just enough information to not only be dangerous, but also the inability to make informed decisions about the hardware, software, and plugins they bought.

The goal of this book is to provide new users with an essential understanding of audio, MIDI, and synthesis. It is a starting point, one which hopefully will inspire questions and curiosity. This book is not meant to be a solution, but rather a starting point.


Technology Enhanced Learning

Many years ago when I worked as the IT Director for the School of Music at USC, the Provost began a new campaign called “Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL).” The goal behind TEL was to equip select schools within USC with “smart” classrooms to provide a “technology-rich environment” for the students. The Music School was the recipient of one of these classrooms. Only a technician could understand the provided manual and the room interface was clumsy at best. The room featured three large projector screens and a variety of sources. Ideally, you could have one screen showing a video, the other a slideshow and the third would be a live feed from another location. A “smart” tablet was installed and could be projected on a screen; the intent was to eliminate the need for a whiteboard.

The room was filled with good intentions but poor planning and lack of vision led to the room’s failure. Faculty only wanted one screen and a computer connection. Anything more complex than that would require an in-house technician to sit through the lecture and push buttons. In fact, the schools that succeeded in using the smart room did so by hiring people to sit in the room all day and push buttons. As a result, no one really embraced the technology and the students did not gain from the experience either.

Many institutions feel that the way to introduce technology into the classroom is to spend a large amount of money and hand it over to the faculty. At another College, a Dean was very excited about iPads and purchased a fleet for the faculty and left them to figure out how to incorporate them into the classroom.  Within weeks the iPads were returned and reported as useless.

Campus leaders are inspired by success stories they read and react without ever considering how others succeeded. Often times, the institutions that succeeded invested an enormous amount of time, money, and resources towards the technology solution. Faculty need to be trained, systems need to be tested, and custom solutions created to facilitate the process. There are no out-of-the-box solutions. To make matters worse, the ones who create the technology solutions have never stood in front of a classroom. A poor technology solution will turn faculty away from future solutions.

Before incorporating any technology solution, you need to have a clear vision of your goal. You cannot purchases technology and hope that it will find a role in your classroom. Every technology solution will require you to modify your workflow and learn a new skill. Technology will not adapt to you. You need to adapt to technology.

More on this next time.

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