Music has changed drastically over the last twenty-eight years. A lot. The possibilities in music have become personally centred and driven in a way that was impossible twenty-eight years ago. Think of the recording industry – who have been fighting a rear-guard action ever since the cassette tape – utterly different twenty-eight years ago. Consider live performances, publicity, connecting with your audience, monetising musical ideas, learning an instrument – all drastically different twenty-eight years ago.
Why twenty-eight? This year, 2017, is the Internet’s twenty-eighth birthday. What an amazing impact this technological innovation has had on our interaction with music. We downloaded and now we stream and maybe subscribe but we can access a lot of music for free. Think back to the 1980’s when the only way to access music for free was to go to a friend’s house with a blank cassette and hope they had bought the single, 12-inch or album. Or you could listen to a radio station and wait for your favourites to appear on someone else’s playlist. How much of our hard earned cash, or carefully saved pocket money, ended up being spent at the record counter in Woolworths? Even the “Charts” have completely changed, arguably to the point of irrelevance. In the Guardian on 14th March 2017 I read that Ed Sheeran occupies sixteen places out of the top twenty. That’s a feat not even reached by heavyweights like the Rolling Stones or the Beatles in their heyday. Is everyone buying sixteen singles all created by Ed Sheeran? Of course not – it’s his album “Divide” that is being streamed and downloaded and bought as CD or Vinyl copies and because the album features sixteen tracks, they all appear separately in the data.
Think about how you buy your “music stuff”. How many of you have never visited a Musicroom shop but have spent money buying from musicroom.com online? When you think, “I need some new guitar strings!” do you head for your car keys or your computer? Want to find a book of pop songs? musicroom.com allows you to search their stock from the comfort of your lounge. From sheet music to self-help tuition books, exam material to musical instruments, squiggly pens in treble clef shapes to academic books for university scholars – it’s all there at the click of a button. There are entire catalogues and stock lists under our fingertips, ready to be searched and/or purchased in less time than it took me to write this sentence: unthinkable twenty-eight years ago.
Most offices no longer use paper, pens and typewriters and even my car MoT test needs a computer. I am not saying that everything in music is possible without books. It is vital to remember and learn how things can be done without technology. Nevertheless by using the internet and associated hardware we are now able to do pretty much everything that is required for “paperless” musical learning.
I believe that music should be leading the way in terms of embracing technology in education. The government seems to be turning back the clock with the new GCSE specifications resembling “O Level” style memory tests. The arbitrary range of subjects in the “EBacc” (the English Baccalaureate – a non-existent qualification by which all schools are judged) excludes music alongside many other creative or physically based subjects. Meanwhile, everyday use of the internet is commonplace for the vast majority of people and businesses are looking for creative and adaptable tech-savvy people who can adapt learn new skills quickly. This is one place where music can take the lead. We already use technology in so many aspects of what we do. We rely on it to make certain sounds, to capture and store musical ideas, to write down our musical thoughts. From the first caveman flute to the latest digital recording studio, music has always been on the forefront of new technological process. In schools this should be no different. We have the opportunity to keep school based Learning in the twenty-first century, to build those skills desperately sought by and needed for the modern workplace.
Just look at the award winning Rhinegold Education Online Music Classroom (OMC), powered by MusicFirst (musicfirst.co.uk). Here you have an example of the very latest “Virtual Learning Environment” technology – a place for teachers and students to work and interact. Powerful software means students can read and write musical notation (using “Noteflight”), create and record multitrack music (using “Soundation”), learn about and listen to musical instruments and technical language (using “Focus on Sound”). This all takes place online – in “the Cloud” – so there is no need to install or update software. Teachers and students (and parents!) can access these programs on any web-enabled device wherever they can connect to the internet. Students are not limited by lesson time or expensive school software. Just like purchasing, the classroom is now at your fingertips too. It’s easy to see why the OMC came first in the “Best Digital / Technological Resource” category at the 2017 “Music Teacher” Awards for Excellence.
For teachers it holds even more benefits. The OMC comes with lessons prepared to suit your GCSE or A level specification, with links to Spotify and YouTube for listening with a section for writing and storing lesson plans and units of work of your own too. The OMC includes a calendar, so you can schedule assessments, concerts, visits, exam revision, homework or classwork and share appropriately. The OMC enables you to set specific tasks for your classes, using the linked software or perhaps pointing to a research or practical task away from the computer. This might include a software task, listening, watching, writing, reading, discussing, recording audio, making a video or a preparation task. There is a Markbook for storing your students’ data and progress. At a glance you can see who has completed homework or lesson based tasks. You can import and export data so you have everything at your fingertips when data must be produced and shared. The computer can even mark the work for you automatically on certain tasks. All of this can be stored online thanks to unlimited storage access too.
It’s almost unfair on those of us who have had to learn spreadsheet skills and design PowerPoint presentations and seek out homemade playlists over the years. All you need is right here in the OMC. Whether you are working with an exam class or one to one with an instrumental student, the OMC provides a solution. Need to jot down a practise exercise to do at home? Use “Noteflight” and not the torn off half-page from a manuscript book. Want the student to listen back to their work? Record in it “Soundation” and save it/send it in the OMC space. Need the student to do some revision? Set a task and test in “Focus on Sound”.
So “Happy birthday” Internet. The future is indeed with us. And we wonder where it will take music next…
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