Category Archives: Process

ISME 2016

So, now that I’ve given my presentation for the 32nd annual conference of the International Society of Music Education I don’t have to worry about the spoiler alert! I am very grateful to Dr Brad Merrick for showing up and stimulating a bit of informed conversation afterwards. I will follow this post up with some general impressions of the conference in general, so stay tuned! For those of you out there who just couldn’t make it, despite your best efforts, here it is in a nutshell:

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Hi, my name is Aengus Kirakowski, I am a musician and music teacher and I also recently completed my MA in Digital Arts and Humanities in University College Cork. Just in case some of you are unfamiliar with the world of Digital Arts and Humanities – it is a growing interdisciplinary practice which focuses on the use of IT in academia and the arts. I therefore had the opportunity to investigate what I felt to be a growing problem with private music teaching.

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The problem I was finding as I developed my teaching practice was basically a confusion of interests between myself (as teacher) and the students and their parents. I teach classical guitar, and have a few core method books with nice and whimsical duet arrangements of Beethoven, among other things. Of course, some students take to it better than others, but I would often try to mix things up by checking out songs from YouTube that they were interested in. Almost invariably, the motivation was stronger, with a better ear for detail from the student, and I found myself wondering at the difference between a book that would likely stay closed for 4 days out of the week, in a guitar case, and a website which was most probably a daily visit and place of influence for a young person.

So how can I justify valuable lesson time spent transcribing and interpreting songs from YouTube when many parents are looking for grade results, or a young John Williams virtuoso?

After all, the skill-set I was introducing to the student (playing by ear, transcribing, interpreting) was no less admirable than the preoccupation with sight reading and music history, and the content generally contained interesting musical lessons – song structure and rhythmic syncopation, to name but two. But the lessons felt so different, there was always a lingering fear that we weren’t making true progress!
Was this use of the screen rather than the book distracting us from a higher/better educational goal? Or was there a genuine, albeit unfamiliar, educational opportunity presented?

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During my research I was interested by a distinction made by Beckstead in an article from 2001 – an amplicative use of technology serves a higher educational goal and does not effect the teaching practice, whereas a transformative use of technology can change the course of the learning.

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When we think of the first known recourse to notation in music education, the system of Neumes, we might say that its goal was to amplify a tradition that was already there, which itself was serving the higher goal of worship.

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However developments in architecture and acoustics brought about a development in style and complexity of this devotional music.Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 18.25.51

The arrival of the printing press has to be said to have transformed the practice of music – with unprecedented access to printed scores, as well as music being written for more secular and casual contexts (i.e. non-sacred).


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As instruments were further developed and grouped to form what we would come to call the orchestra, the performance space was also under continual development, all in a complex interplay with the possibilities and limitations imagined by composers.


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By the early 20th century we have composers like Varese, and later Stockhausen who were particularly outspoken about these limitations and craved sonic means which would match their conceptions of what music could be.

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Further into the 70s, Steve Reich’s experimentation with sequencing technology led him to develop his own style of music, now known to represent the forefront of the minimalist movement in music.

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By contrast, the trend in music education at the time was one of conservation. Maybe it was this over-arching sense of sanctity in teaching practice which prompted Paynter and Aston to develop lesson plans that engaged more with the spirit of the times. It was an approach which allowed the student to explore the media (new and old) of music in a creative way, rather than in a re-creative one. For example by recording various instruments on tape, then altering playback speeds and creating soundscapes from the various textures.

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A like-minded contemporary in Canada, Schafer was imagining a total break from the history of the Western Canon. … What both writers recognised was a need for education to be at the forefront of development, rather than generations behind. Despite the differences in era, my experience in teaching resonated strongly with the views of Paynter and Schafer in the 70s.

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We are now surrounded by technology and tools which present great possibilities, it seems counter-productive and culturally insular to prescribe musical content on the basis of its educational merit. … and rather than drag our re-creative tendencies into this age, by merely transcribing songs from YouTube for example, a creative approach is needed which will empower students to explore. So how can this be done?

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The application of Bloom’s taxonomy to the teaching of music was apparent to me from the start. Playing and learning to play music is such a blend of the cognitive (understanding of musical text for example), the psycho-motor (being able to play what is written on an instrument) and the affective domains that even if it cannot fully describe the experience, divisions like this can surely help us gain a methodological stance in a mixed media environment.

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Even though the psycho-motor and affective domains are still important, there’ve been interesting developments in the cognitive domain – originally beginning with simple knowledge through analysis up to evaluation, a revision made by Anderson and Krathwhol’s puts ‘creating’ as the highest order of cognitive development, notice also the change in word-types – verbs replacing nouns suggesting more of an active (and ultimately creative) learning.

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Another more recent development of the taxonomy, made by Anthony Churches, adds IT activities to this verbiage, including digital skills like editing and social networking – all as valid learning terms. Blooms original taxonomy, with these revisions finally offers us a possible way of structuring these sessions from the screen (which I spoke about earlier) in order to ensure that there is some direction in learning.

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Inspired by this I drafted a rudimentary Process Map, paths through which might be used to make out various lesson plans or more long-term creative projects. Along the top we have our Bloomian categories, with our creative end-goal. The map itself includes a handful of digital tools I had recently come across, expressed in some of Churches’ new digital keywords.

Here is a video clip giving an illustration of one path through this process, using some of the tools I mentioned, with music from a fourteen year old guitar student of mine who has given me her permission to show it at this conference.

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Around the submission date of my thesis, the OECD report was released which showed a clear echo of my own concern and research from the last few months.

We can’t launch into the 21rst century with 20th century practices. We need to develop ways of teaching that are student-centred; that inspire the student to create; that use existing technology in educationally meaningful ways.

Most importantly, as music teachers in this age we have to be open to explore with the student.

A Matter of Context – Cambodia and the world

Much of what I have previously written here has centred around the challenges of the music lesson in today’s context – given the constant stream of media, yadda yadda – but I just read Kallio and Westerlund’s article about music education in Cambodia – check out the abstract here.

A heightened and immanent example of what is happening all around the globe, in my opinion. The choice between preserving (not to mention reviving, as in this case) a tradition and letting it change is as important historically as it is for education. Whats the use in hammering in sacrosanct content – and basing whole teaching methodologies on it – when the student as a result perceives more the gap between it and current culture? This is surely a self-defeating objective – a revival by isolation.

On the other hand, is it the fate of all culture to become one homogenous blob – where ‘folk’ music from all around the world gets confused with ‘pop’ (if you’ll excuse the indulgence in genres for a second), and specifically ‘pop’ whose object is to appeal to as many listeners as possible?

And yet, we have all heard and cited the possibility of popular niches in music afforded by the web. Who knows? If more Cambodian folk music was up on YouTube, supplemented with electronic beats, we might all be listening to it a lot more. You might cite the cross-pollination sound of Kila as bringing niches together, such as Irish and African traditional musics, forming new fan-bases all around.(I know I’ve been listening to more African music since my first Kila listening experience!)

I suppose we have to wake up to extremes in our(my?) thinking and realise that openness is the name of the game in the information age. Practitioners of traditional musics have to be open to change, and we have to be open to listen. To bring this back to our theme of music education, it just what I’m continually asserting – the teacher has to be open to the student if the lessons are to be applicable for them, while also maintaining control of the learning curve. Im sure that if both ends of the bargain are kept, more and more exciting things can happen!

Which leaves me with a question – what term could we give to a type of education that simultaneously creates its own content as the learning progresses?

Autonomy in Learning, Flexibility in Teaching.

The more we let the student decide, the more flexible the teacher has to be. Here I discuss three levels of student autonomy and the resultant expectations of the teacher, in the context of private music lessons. There is also, as usual, a few technological bells and whistles attached…

As a teacher I am supposed to be a paragon of wisdom and virtue. But as a professional musician in these times I find myself in a similar situation to the students – a landscape where the guitar itself is not the main feature, but one among many other seemingly unrelated ones (social networking, publicity, knowledge of current pop songs etc). My own feeling these days is that blindly sitting down to just play is not enough. There has to be at least a recognition of some sort of context or goal.
In a way this is the position many young students are in – without yet having a definite idea of what they’re about musically, they are taking the teacher’s vision for granted and doggedly learning because they are told to. Whereas if I were to be honest, I couldn’t say that the way Im showing is the best way, or that a certain type of music is ‘better’ than another. Perhaps the line we draw for students to walk should be a bit broader than the development of strict performance skills for classical music. Perhaps broad enough to allow them to ‘move around’ themselves, if we wanted to continue the analogy. But what could this mean?

Well, ‘moving around’ may come down to autonomy or self-direction. As teachers we try to set the parameters of the lesson so that the student finds answers rather than being supplied with them. Given the plethora of influences via the media, the ability to ‘self-learn’ is becoming increasingly important, as the role of the teacher is surely also changing to that of facilitator – one who discovers with the student, helping them to learn. In my own private teaching this has regularly taken the form of hearing a student’s request on YouTube and transcribing the melody or figuring out the chords for them. Student advancement in learning comes by showing them how its done – finding the tonic in the song, for example; or distinguishing between verses, choruses and bridges. In this way, the student has given an autonomous request for learning material, and the teacher has responded by working on the actual material (i.e.: writing out the chords etc.), but also by altering the lesson plan so that the student might gradually learn to do it him/herself. There seems to be two levels of autonomy here:(i) the student’s choice for material and (ii) the student’s ability to assimilate the material. It’s the second level where our job as teacher/facilitators would come in, and it requires a certain amount of flexibility when it comes to lesson plans. It also takes a certain opportunism to recognize musical lessons hidden within student’s requests.

For example, a student wants to learn a solo found on YouTube; the solo requires the student to play in fifth position, which they of course readily do (more-so than if you said ‘right, this lesson we’re learning about the fifth position’); as the student grapples with the technical challenge of the solo, the teacher introduces a simpler piece of music to be played in fifth position, and the student is surprised at their own achievement! Their intrinsic motivation has pushed their learning further, and faster, than any kind of advice from the teacher. In the place of advice, it is in the teacher’s holding back that the student achieves.

This is fine for a while, but their comes a time when YouTube videos become just as dry and uninteresting as the book – despite, and probably due to the waning of enthusiasm which comes along with any regular behavior. What I and many others (most notably Paynter in the 70’s) have dubbed ‘creative projects’ offer a new sort of territory for learning, one in which there is a much greater scope for autonomy or discovery when handled correctly.

Take for example, Paynter’s Sounds on Tape (I mentioned it before here. After a preliminary explanation of how to achieve different sounds using magnetic tape (chiefly by altering playback speeds and layering the recordings), the students are invited to create a piece of a certain duration. Apart from the time constraint, the only limits here are the techniques themselves, within which the student is granted artistic freedom. Of course, this exercise isn’t all that relevant now because we don’t use large tape-decks anymore. However, with the rise of Digital Audio Workspaces (such as freeware Audacity) we have the potential for an even more intuitive version of Sounds on Tape, aided by the visual element and a whole heck load of different effects. We are not limited to one sound either, we can through a couple of found sounds in the mix in order to try and create something really interesting.
Allowing a student to splash about with technology in this way is a real example of learning by doing, and in my experience young students are adepts at operating the DAW within a very short time. However, again, the teacher needs to learn to step back at important moments where the student is getting used to something. Faced with the goal to create a short 3 minute track, with a little bit of support and perhaps collaboration from the teacher, the student finds his/her way around the DAW.

Here is another excerpt from my thesis last year, which tries to incorporate these ideas into a simple lesson plan, while also attempting to categorise each stage of the learning in Bloomian terms:

“Using private musical instrument classes as the model, the approach to creative projects in this study will either begin with sound or with text – the instrument or notation. Viewed as an overall process with either of those starting points, there are many possibilities for exercises and projects, which overlap frequently. Both will have different note entry requirements, which employ different tools.
The following diagram offers a visualization of these overlapping possibilities, as
considered from the two starting points of sound and text, in a technologically integrated iterative learning process.
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Diagram 1 – Process Map
This map outlines a learning process shaped by the possibilities offered by some of the technologies listed above, with the presentation of the creative project as the goal. The categories from Anderson and Krathwhol’s revision of Bloom are included to indicate the general trajectory of the process. Beginning with sound, we can ask the student to Play from Memory a piece they might want to record on a basic device or simply using a phone. Once taught the basic controls for doing so, the student can demonstrate their Understanding of the technological aspect of the task by importing the recorded sound file into a DAW such as Audacity. They can Apply their new found knowledge of the DAW by carrying out some basic editing or by adding effects to the sound file – an activity which will require them to Analyze the recording. After Evaluating their editing work, they can decide whether to add other recorded elements.
The final creative product can ultimately be broadcast online using any one of the popular mediums such as Soundcloud and YouTube.
Beginning with text, there are a handful of options using different technologies, from simply writing something down on manuscript paper to playing an improvised melody to the transcription app ScoreCloud, or entering in notes by the keypad into Noteflight. Once up in Noteflight, the web-based notation environment, we can continue with more instructional content, such as a basic arrangement task – a simple accompaniment to a melody for example. As a web-based task there is an asynchronous element, which can facilitate a more qualitative interaction between teacher and student than the simple setting and correcting of tasks. Suggestions for the piece of music, based solely on musical taste rather than a specific learning goal, amount to an online collaboration between the teacher and the student where both are creating. Recording the piece at the next lesson brings the process back in line with the affordances of recording and editing technologies, after those offered by the text-based softwares have been explored. As in Bloom’s original taxonomical structure, the steps in the process map can be revisited as many times as needed. For example, during the editing phase there may be some re-considerations concerning the text of the piece. Amendments to the piece can be made easily by using ScoreCloud to transcribe new melodies, while different recording takes can be shared on Soundtrap for further collaborative editing. The ultimate goal, then, is to present a creative project by uploading it onto a popular platform, such as YouTube. This stage presents the overlapping concepts of Create as a Bloomian cognitive process and Faultley’s ‘Pluratistic Developmentalism’.
2.2.1 – An example of a sequence of learning activities:
i) Play a melody by memory into Scorecloud.

ii) Correct any mistakes after Scorecloud’s transcription.

iii) Upload the XML/MIDI into Noteflight. Tasks and outcomes can be set,
at this point, to the arrangement. For example, set a baseline to the melody which makes use basic note durations.
iii) Play through the collaborated arrangement at the next lesson and discuss improvements. The student and/or teacher sync the recording onto the text in
iv) Collaborate with the teacher on creating the final product – a combination of straight recording and audio processing in Audacity.
v) Mix the sound events of the recorded and edited piece in Soundtrap. vi) Broadcast the final product on a platform of choice (eg; YouTube).”

In the context of such ‘creative projects’ the teacher has to be as flexible as possible, and ready to accept anything the student produces and work with it. Otherwise the student is likely to react badly and this avenue is closed for a considerable time, if not forever… and this is not what we want.

Different views on technology in teaching

Literature around the question of how to introduce young people to technology in a particular context, such as learning a musical instrument, is fraught with the scepticism many have for Technology (with a capital ‘T’) in general. However, there are also some interesting points of view arising among educational researchers which suggest a much more secularized integration of technology – using different technologies in combination with domains of learning in very specific ways that transform the short term goals of the teaching. In order to present a thesis, I had to trim some of the more interesting overtones of this debate into a basic dichotomy – ‘Transformative’ or ‘Amplicative’. In hindsight, things probably aren’t that simple, but at the same time different views do seem to either find themselves in either of these camps. The following is another chunk from my thesis in which I explain and illustrate these a little more:

Keen, in a recent article from the Sunday Times entitled Do as iSay, not as iDo: Silicon Valley’s two faces on learning (Keen 2015), examines the facts surrounding web-based learning and argues that optimism for the industry is primarily monetary rather than genuinely representing a positive change in education. Rather than democratization, the effects will be those of centralization; surveillance; and an increase in the gulf between those who can afford a technologically advanced education and those who cannot. Keen identifies this sweep of reinvention as the next wave of the internet revolution after Web 2.0, where “the outcome was anything but beneficial for anyone except the increasingly monopolistic platforms that owned and operated this content” (ibid). The automatic free sharing of content taken up by many online education companies is thus seen as a self-deprecating move. Such a funded sweep of reinvention of traditional means of education takes on a more pessimistic hue when we consider that the majority of children of the burgeoning industry’s leading moguls in Silicon Valley take part in ‘Waldorf’ education which prioritizes human over technological interaction, to the point of exclusion of the latter.

The question of how technology can and should be employed into traditional teaching methods in music is well debated and documented, with a general dichotomy between an ‘amplicative’ integration and one that is ‘transformative’ (Kiesler, as cited in Beckstead 2001). An ‘amplicative’ integration of technology is one in which the way of teaching and the tasks set for the student remain the same and the computer is merely another instrument to be used for this purpose, thus amplifying pre-determined and unchanged teaching methods. The efficiency of the tool can be assessed against the reaching of the predefined goal. The example offered by Beckstead is a student’s composition of a piece for string quartet via a MIDI keyboard and notation software, where the beat-alignment between the parts is visually obvious and transposition to different clefs can be done easily. Technology has served to reinforce traditional compositional practices in a manner more efficient for the student.

Ruismaki et al. (2009) offer the term ‘inside-out’ as an approach where technology is used to develop new methods for traditional tasks and goals. According to this view, technology must be thoughtfully integrated into predefined praxes to avoid the wholesale replacement of ‘living music playing, music teaching and students with machinery’ (Ruismaki et al. 2009. My italics). On the other hand, Draper (2008) stresses the importance of finding and maintaining an ‘authentic ontology’ in the balance between old and new ontologies in music education, as a disconnect develops between a new techno-integrated culture and previous educational models. Although a clear fault line between these approaches is hard to find, a need for integration is generally identified, with more weight given to either tradition or innovation. For our purposes, the terms ‘amplicative’ and ‘transformative’ (adapted from Kiesler) will represent both sides of the debate on technological integration.

A ‘transformative’ use of technology involves a qualitative change in what constitutes music. Beckstead (2001) cites the debate argued by composers like John Cage and Edgard Varese as they began to experiment with electronically produced sound. With new and detailed ways to achieve sound, the working habits transform from the classical image of the composer with manuscript sheet in hand to a whole wide range of experimental activities. For example, in An end to Electronics, composer Steve Reich gives an account of how he developed the Phase Shifting Pulse Gate by collaborating with Bell Labs’ Larry Owens. The device contained 12 channels, which each gated an analog signal and were also capable of shifting the sequence according to a programmed length of time for each gate. By gradually shifting the sequence of the gates a rhythmic process is initiated, the sound of which would become recognizable as part of Steve Reich’s style as a composer. Due to reservations Reich had about performing with the machine – its instability as a prototype, lack of a visual musical performance – he went on to score similar rhythmic processes in traditional notation for different combinations of instruments, beginning with four organs and maracas (Reich, 1970). This is an early example of how a composer’s habits were both transformed in a practical sense, and later a theoretical one, by technological research.

         Reich’s Four Organs was completed and premiered in 1970. That same year saw the first publication of Sound and Silence by Paynter and Aston, which presented a series of exercises in creativity for music teaching and learning which situated the lessons in a contemporary context. Project 17, Sounds on Tape, is another early illustration of a transformative use of technology, this time in an educational context. By using the various speeds for recording and playback on a tape-recorder, Paynter offers methods for creating new sounds – such as increased and decreased speed; loops; and reversed sounds – as well as compositional exercises using those techniques to create pieces by students in the then relatively recent genre of Musique Concrete.

Although these may be examples involving extra-ordinary individuals (both Paynter and Reich were definitely ground-breakers in their fields), there seems to have been a general climate of creative behavior in many disciplines at that time. Clouse (2009) identifies a general trend towards exclusivity in Computer-Aided-Instruction softwares, from a nascent period of free and open use in the 60’s. Bitzer’s original system Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations (PLATO) from 1959 was constructed with two goals in mind: to investigate the potential for the use of computers in education and to develop a system which was economically viable and sustainable. The fourth iteration, PLATO IV, proved a success in terms of the second goal, while its subsequent use would help determine the potential in educational settings. The system was devised both for solving educational needs, and for educational research where new ways of teaching, using the system, could be measured statistically. Different uses of the PLATO system began to develop into curricula within the system, such as Hofstetter’s Graded Units for Interactive Dictation Operations (GUIDO) – an aural skills programme devised within PLATO. MUSFUND by Gross and Foltz was another example which focused instead on music theory, recognition of notated scales, intervals, chords and terminology. GUIDO recorded incorrect answers, and allowed Hofstetter to better identify aspects of aural training with which students were having difficulty. Gross and Foltz compiled scores and interviews at the end of a study period where some students used MUSFUND, and noted “higher degrees of comprehension of music fundamentals than those who did not” (as cited in Clouse 2006). The pattern recognized by Clouse in this historical review was that scholarly research, and use of CAI steadily rose from the 60’s, peaked during technological and commercial innovation throughout the 80’s, but diminished in the 90’s with the arrival of more finished and commercial CAI products that put CAI under a sealed hood, inaccessible to the teacher. Without the possibility to interact with and change the drills, or how the correction data was collected, the use of CAI diminished in general.

Although the case of PLATO exemplifies how educational technology should be researched and developed, it is also an example of the ‘amplicative’ integration of technology to a pedagogical approach which is instructional rather than ‘constructive’ in the sense of Piaget. The use of computers for contingent tutoring in music technology education as described by King (2009), is situated in a social constructivist (Pear & Crowne-Todd, 2002, as cited in King 2009) – a recent development on Piaget’s learning model of active construction, which values both peer-to-peer and expert interaction. King’s case study in 2009 involved a web-page style Learning Technology Interface, to be used as support in assigned tasks in the recording studio. The same tasks were carried out by pairs of students with use of the LTI and other pairs working from a paper manual. Both the time spent on a particular task and how the pair interacted towards the outcome were recorded, and revealed significant time benefit as well as overall enthusiasm from the students for the LTI supported learning. The use of an interactive interface was found to facilitate the ‘social constructivist’ approach to activity learning to a greater degree than the paper-based counterpart. The use of technology in the study is ‘transformative’ because of the departure from typical ‘instructional’ lessons on recording studio techniques to social constructivist exercises supported by a Learning Technology Interface.

Webster offers a survey of tools in Music Technology as a Servant to Real Music Experience (Webster 2009) as well as ways to use them, which will have a minimal impact on time spent actually making music. He focuses specifically on the possibilities for contingent learning and asynchronous interaction offered by many tools, all of which are either available for download or hosted online. This presentation of tools and methods is an appeal to music teachers who value their lesson time as time for playing the instrument itself. The tools, therefore, are presented in an ‘amplicative’ way in that they serve the traditional purpose of the teaching without imposing on the time spent in the class.

Although it may be difficult to draw a clear boundary between the ‘amplicative’ and ‘transformative’ approaches, it is clear that the group of teachers just mentioned would view Paynter’s Sounds on Tape project as an imposition on class time rather than as a ‘creative project’.


Strategies towards the successful integration of technology into traditional teaching methods offer a potential middle ground between these two extremes. However, the debate about how to do this is also interwoven with the preconceptions of both teachers and students as prospective users of the technology.

Ho (2004) carried out a study of teacher and student reactions to the usage of technology in music education, carried out at the end of a five-year strategy to incorporate the use of IT in the education system in Hong Kong. The strategy ‘Information Technology for Quality Education’ involved the professional development of teachers, and sought to initiate a paradigm-shift in teaching methods, from a largely text-book based, teacher centered approach to a more interactive and learner-centered approach, with recurring grants to research and to buy new educational software. Despite these measures, as well as IT training in previous education, many teachers still maintain their image as knowledge-givers, rather than learning facilitators in an information-rich age. The study was to measure the planned paradigm shift through ethnographic research. 11/28 teachers agreed that in some respects IT was more effective than traditional methods. Respects such as visualization of knowledge, availability of information, and interactivity were mentioned. From the 10/28 who answered ‘depends’, the answers referred to more physical activities such as choir practice and rehearsals, and feedback in lessons by experienced musicians as cases where IT could not help. Unsurprisingly, the majority disagreed that IT usage was a good measure of quality of education.

Students’ positive reactions included improved accuracy of musical accompaniment programs for practice, that the availability made IT convenient for learning, and that it was tidier than a manuscript. This last point is particularly relevant for our study of the usage of Noteflight, as it prevents the untidiness of the students own writing from discouraging their activity, as well as offering accurate playback and correct beat alignment of what is written. The minority who disagreed that IT helped motivate their learning cited examples of physical interaction – gestural learning absent from IT, immediate response from a teacher who knows your background, unwillingness to listen to electronic sound, or that they were uninterested in music anyway and IT did not achieve in arousing their interest.

Ho concludes that in order for the challenges of IT to be met in education proper designs for use of technology in musical pedagogy are needed, as well as teachers with both technical skill and appreciation for the ‘knowledge-based age’. Further identification and dissemination of appropriate technological tools for students and teachers are also needed.

Enter the digits!…

Unsure whether or not the digital artefact I collaborated to produce ticked enough boxes for our Digital Art project, I started to experiment with the sound-file in the Digital Audio Workstation Audacity.

Although I had used GarageBand for the basic editing (bit of cutting, splash of reverb), I had heard of some of Audacity’s in-house effects and took the opportunity to mess around with a few. Paulstretch basically stretches the sound-file you apply it to, in only extreme amounts – my five minute track for the slideshow was turned into an ambient texture lasting about 30 minutes! With a bit more cutting, I finally arrived at this:

Each of the three sections of the original piece is represented here. After cutting out these representative bits I joined them up together to form this new piece – a simple cut and paste job, an open-ended jigsaw with my own pieces that occupied me well into the wee hours!

It occurred to me that there seemed to be something of a progression of thought between the original invitation to create and this final, open-ended exercise – both driven by a specific goal (the submission for the module). Would it be possible to steer a young student through something of the same process, utilizing some of the same software? What would the educational benefits be? Are we beginning to steer away from Music (with the capital ‘M’?).


This blog is initially a public, reader friendly version of my current MA thesis at UCC in the Digital Arts and Humanities. As such, it will feature selections from my writings which can be quite ‘wordy’. The title of my thesis seems daunting even to me –  Music Pedagogy and Technology: A Transformative Integration of Technology into a Student Centered Design.(!)

However, in the long run I hope this to be more like a reflexive space where I can share any interesting stuff I come across in the use of music technology for teaching. As is the case in many other disciplines I’ve learned about this year, the use of technology for music education tends to be counter-balanced by underlying concepts we have about music itself – some of which we share, some of which we may not. It is never a simple question of whether we will use this or that digital tool for a single specific purpose. Instead, a manifold of fundamental questions arise from the possibilities and potential the tools provide to a given discipline. As a couple of famous examples, Alan Liu discusses this phenomenon in relation to English and the Humanities in general, while Laurence Lessig, co-founder of the Creative Commons writes of how copyright law necessarily has to change in order to apply to the new platform of Web 2.0. Although not strictly speaking about technology, in the following talk Ken Robinson argues the necessity of a like paradigm shift in education:

So many themes and issues raised in 10 minutes, all of which are significant, but those of standardized curricula; aesthetic experience; collaboration; creativity and divergent thinking became especially important for my own research into how all this relates to music pedagogy. It almost seemed like a tendentious leap to imagine that big concepts such as these might relate to my own experiences of education, or of music education more specifically…

However, despite a privileged education in the general Arts and in Music there had been some unsettling instances where I was asked to create or ‘make something up’, and felt I just … couldn’t. A really strange feeling of knowing what one would do but not being able to do it. Could this be another example of some theoretical inheritance, a ‘filling-up’ of conceptual knowledge which ousts any creative impulse or aesthetic experience?

An instance of this occurred when a DAH classmate approached me about putting something together for an assignment we had. For some reason, the ‘academic’ context and collaborative nature of the task seemed less daunting. Perhaps it is that something like creativity needs these kinds of limits. I set about recording an improvisation around an old melody I had been playing in my spare time – ‘An Raibh tu ag an gCarraig’ – and added some more sections to expand the duration to match the sequence of pictures. Here’s what we both came up with:

So, not exactly what Katrina had had in mind – something a little more jolly was probably in order – but I remarked to myself at the time what a great focus a little project like this could be … How effective would a task like this be as a learning process for younger students? After all, there needs to be a considerable amount of practice on the instrument before you can record (even to the poor rhythmical standard as above); the task of editing your own work, although painstaking, is a great exercise on many levels; and lastly (perhaps most importantly) learning how to collaborate is an essential, and highly transferable skill.

Coming back to how the paradigm shift Robinson refers to applies to music education, it seemed to me that the affordances of various forms of new technology are a relatively untapped educational resource which might further serve a student-centered and collaborative approach to teaching. But again, where’s the line and how do we measure it? are we really teaching Music (with a capital ‘M’) with stuff like this? and how will students actually react to this use of technology in teaching?

The free and open inter-disciplinarian environment of DAH at UCC meant that I could go on to create and propose a research project centering around questions like these.