What Is a Music Technology Class
(and Why Should I Teach It)?

What Is a Music Technology Class (and Why Should I Teach It)?

I teach in Gwinnett County, Georgia, one of the largest urban school systems in the country, serving approximately 187,000 students. Our high school music programs had an established music technology curriculum in place and access to the equipment, hardware, and software needed to have a music technology class. I came up with the idea of creating a music technology course at my middle school. My theory was that general population students would be much more interested in this subject than they would be for general music. I presented the idea to my principal and fine arts director. They were both in favor of the idea, but there were a few obstacles. We had no lab, no hardware, no software, no specified class to schedule the students into, and no curriculum.

Undeterred, I pushed ahead. We have several computer labs in our school that teachers can reserve to take their classes to for specifics projects so I went in and reserved one of these labs for every period that I had my 8th-grade general music class. I had our school’s computer tech person push out Audacity onto all of the computers in that lab. I leveraged as many free loop sources and sound generators as I could find online and pushed ahead with teaching the class as I made up lesson plans and activities on the fly. It wasn’t what I would call particularly effective instruction, but the students were engaged and interested.  Nevertheless, we had no official class to register the students into and still, no curriculum.

Somehow our fine arts director was able to secure the funds to provide the hardware and software to create a music tech lab for my middle school and four other middle schools in our system. I am fortunate to be in a system that was able to supply 32 student workstations with Mac desktop computers, 61 key MIDI keyboards, USB audio interfaces, and a teacher hub to connect all of the workstations. There are very viable ways to create a music technology lab with far fewer resources than what we have, but that is a topic for another post.

While I continued teaching music technology to one section of 8th graders the following year in a real music lab, we still had no curriculum. I would spend the next two years on working committees to create a curriculum for middle school music technology including student learning objectives and common assessments for our county.  I also served on a working committee that created new state performance standards in middle school music technology for the Georgia Department of Education.  

As you can see, we really went about this backwards. “Building the plane as we were flying it,” so to speak.

A Paradigm Shift

As I worked with colleagues to create these new standards, the most important question we had to answer was, what exactly is music technology? As music education majors, we took pedagogy classes in brass, woodwinds, strings, percussion, voice, guitar, and piano; but nothing involving technology. Coming from a background based primarily on performance, a product-based subject like music technology required a major shift in our educational paradigm. The toughest thing to get past was the idea that we were not teaching anything through technology.

Technology for music teachers is typically used as a tool to teach some other musical concept. In contrast:

The goal of a Music Technology class should not be to teach theory, piano, guitar or any other musical genre using technology.”

The other idea that we had to accept was music technology isn’t just about teaching music. Students must also be taught the technology: hardware, DAW, microphones, cables, connectors, acoustics, input vs output, plug-ins, etc. This is the definition that I have used as the basis for all of my standards and curriculum decisions that I think best describes what a music technology class should be teaching:

Music technology is about creating and capturing sounds then using technology to manipulate, edit and produce a final product to achieve specific artistic and functional goals.”

What Is the Benefit for the Students?

I also want to share some information that may help convince administrators and stakeholders that beginning a Music Technology program is a valuable and viable program for the students we serve. Georgia Tech University in Atlanta, GA is one of the most respected technical and engineering colleges in the nation. They began offering a music technology bachelor’s degree in the Fall of 2016. When a university wants to start a new degree program, they must get approval from the state Board of Regents.

Dr. Frank Clark chairs the School of Music at Georgia Tech and he shared some of the data that he collected for his presentation to the Board of Regents. Burning Glass Technologies was contracted to collect data on employment trends. They tracked changes in the numbers of job postings in Georgia and nationally from 2007 to 2012 requiring a bachelor’s degree with core skills tied closely to music technology. Nationally, there was a 225% growth in postings from 2007 to 2012. Within Georgia, there was an even stronger growth of 250%.  

In 2017 Atlanta’s WSBTV produced a show called “Georgia Goes Hollywood.” Statistics in this program reported that the Georgia music industry is currently estimated to support almost $9 billion in economic output, compensation, 85,000 employees with billions of dollars in wages, salaries, and benefits. In addition, for state and local government combined, the movie, media and music industry is creating millions of dollars in revenues. These numbers have basically doubled in the last 5 years and the job growth is showing no signs of slowing down.

From the standpoint of providing students with an academic program that leads to a viable and sustainable path to college and a professional career, music technology is one of the fastest growing industries in the nation.

Reaching More Students

Furthermore, and I think most importantly, music technology programs in our middle and secondary schools are serving what is currently an underserved population. The students that I have in my music technology classes are not in our guitar, piano, band, orchestra or choir programs. I believe that the students who want to learn who to play an instrument or learn to sing in a choir are going to join those programs, but there are many students who have no interest in doing that. It’s not that these students don’t enjoy music. We know that they enjoy music because they are human beings, but most schools do not currently offer an option for these students. Music technology classes provide another opportunity to expose students to music education who would not otherwise be enrolled in a music class.

If you are convinced, or just curious, that starting a music technology program would be worth pursuing at your school, check out part 2 of my post where I will dig into the NAfME National Standards for Music Technology and how that can be used to design your local standards and instructional plan.

Heath Jones teaches music technology at McConnell Middle School in Lawrenceville, GA. He has served on working committees for the Gwinnett County Public Schools and the Georgia Department of Education in developing and revising performance standards and assessments for music technology. Heath has also served as lead teacher for music technology and general music for middle grades in the Gwinnett County Public Schools and has presented sessions at the NAfME and GMEA in-service conferences on music technology topics. In addition, he is the executive editor of mutechteachernet.com and continues to be a passionate advocate for music technology as a vital part of a student’s music education.

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