Introduction by George Litterst
admit it: I love technology for
its own sake. Technology is cool, and the best technologies can
even be magical.
My obvious enjoyment of technology often leaves my colleagues feeling a little skeptical whenever I tell them about my latest application of technology to teaching. But, I do understand their point of view. What good are these applications of technology if they do not help us to accomplish something that we could not accomplish otherwise?
In my first years of teaching, I quickly lapsed into the habit of extending lessons beyond the scheduled ending time. I couldn't help it. It just seemed like there were so many things to teach and too little time. Worse, my students were going to spend the next six days without me!
As I matured as a teacher, I became more disciplined about sticking with the clock. However, the same basic issue remained: I simply could not cram into the lesson all of the repertoire, theory, ear training, and history that properly constitute a complete musical education.
For me, this issue became the entry point for new technologies in my teaching. If a new technology could help a student learn something more quickly, then there would be more time for other musical matters during the lesson. If new technology applied outside the lesson itself could provide my students with important music experiences for which there was no time within the lesson, the total musical education could become more complete. If new technology used at home could function-at least in part-in my role as teacher, my students would be better prepared for their next lesson.
Broadly speaking, these are some of the ways in which technology
may be able to help a teacher accomplish goals that could not
be accomplished previously. Let's now take a look at how new technologies
have, more specifically, assisted three veteran teachers in their
Article by Kathleen Maskell
he art of piano teaching and all the peripheral activities involved in that pursuit have changed since I began my adventure with technology. What started as a curious investigation soon became anything but a routine adventure.
There are a myriad of examples of how technology has enriched my teaching experience, some quite basic and others quite surprising. In particular, I have found that MIDI sequences have impacted my teaching most dramatically.
Although MIDI accompaniment disks are widely used now, this was not always the case. I began using MIDI disks about 9 years ago, starting with a special Roland format that predates today's Standard MIDI Files. I even made my own MIDI accompaniment disks. I found that my students liked listening to a simple guitar, bass, and drum accompaniment and that playing along with this sort of accompaniment was much more fun than using the metronome.
I run a music school where I also employ voice instructors, so the demand for musical accompaniments has grown to meet this need as well. MIDI accompaniments have relieved the vocal teachers from having to accompany their students and instruct them simultaneously. As a result, I have noticed how much more comfortable our instructors have become in their teaching because they can focus totally on the lesson and not be concerned about their piano proficiency.
When teaching beginning classical repertoire for the piano, I encourage my students to listen for independent musical lines. When they play along with a MIDI accompaniment, they must focus their ears on the musical counterpoint of the MIDI tracks. I may also broaden their ears by asking them to play their part using different sounds found on their keyboard. For example, using a flute sound for the treble and a basic string sound for the bass turns the ever-popular "Minuet in G" into a new musical experience. Employing the crisp sound of a harpsichord can be helpful as a way of discouraging a student from using the pedal in an early Scarlatti sonata.
When learning duet repertoire, my students find it helpful to have a MIDI recording of the piece for practice. I use Power Tracks Pro, an economical and user-friendly program for Windows, to sequence these duet files. When the students use the duet MIDI file, they can mute their part and play along with the other part, or they listen to (and play with) both parts as needed. Practicing ensemble parts is more enjoyable and productive using this method. I have also found that ensemble MIDI files have been helpful when preparing students for piano monster concerts.
Many of my students are very skilled at using the Internet. Several years ago, one student asked if he could learn one of the current pop songs and had downloaded the MIDI file. Taking his lead, I also downloaded the file and imported it into my notation program. With some editing, we made an ensemble arrangement complete with percussion parts that created a real life scenario of playing "cover" tunes.
As a church musician, I have used my sequencing skills to orchestrate accompaniments for children's choirs and handbell choirs. Using the Roland MT-120 and MT-120S, I was able to enhance performances while making my directing responsibilities less tedious. By sequencing brass parts, tuning the MT-120S to the pipe organ, and using the sound system in place, we were able to bring grandeur to an Easter morning service when brass players were at a premium.
I have always enjoyed writing arrangements of pieces that my students were eager to play. Before the advent of computer notation, I wrote arrangements by hand. In recent years, after starting out with entry-level programs like MusicTime and moving on to the state-of-the-art Sibelius program, I have been able to make arrangements more easily using the computer. In addition, I can store these electronic music files in the computer, keeping them accessible for future students without having to store piles of music on the shelf. I have also found that writing ensemble arrangements is an easier task using the computer because the computer can play back my compositions as I write them.
Along with many other teachers, I have been using computer-based music theory programs with students at all levels. Music Ace, MiBac Music Lessons, Home Concert, and the technology embedded in the VanKoevering instruments have all benefited my students. The most important thing that all of this technology has allowed me to do is best illustrated by the story of one particular student.
Two years ago I was asked if I would teach a young girl who was blind from birth. Although I was apprehensive, I decided to try since that was all that the parents asked of me. My student, who has perfect pitch, learned everything she could absorb by rote in our allotted lesson time. Realizing that she needed to "take me home" with her, we started working with MIDI files that I recorded during the lesson and sent home as her "homework" to play back on her PC. These recordings have provided her with an effective and stimulating model, and they have enabled her to learn music during the week without the benefit of printed sheet music. As a result of using this technology, she has developed her playing skills to the point where she wants so much to play "real classical music and not arrangements."
There have been many occasions in which I have felt that I needed to defend the use of technology in my teaching. Those moments are counterbalanced by my greater joy of watching a student who may never grace the concert stage having a wonderful time exploring music in ways we could not have previously imagined.
is the owner and director of MusicWorks Studio in Tewksbury, MA.
She attended New England Conservatory of Music and received a
Bachelor of Music degree from the Berklee College of Music, Boston.
She is currently President-elect for the Massachusetts Music Teachers
Association and has been selected as their 2002 Commissioned Composer.
Article by Ellen Johansen
or years, I have grappled with beginning method books that teach children to read music visually rather than aurally. I have observed children enter my studio reluctant to play their new pieces while at the same time begging me to hear "the new piece" their best friend taught them by rote. I have had parents tell me they were unsure whether their child was practicing correctly or whether he or she were even practicing the right piece!
Now, for the first time, I can give my students (and their parents) a practice CD that will help them practice, develop "ear intelligence," and firmly lead them on the path of musical literacy. This CD is part of Music Makers: At the Keyboard. In the words of the authors, this is "an introductory method for groups of young beginners ages 5-9, and is based on an aural approach to music literacy that provides a natural pathway to reading. This method features a variety of activities which help lay the foundation for success at the keyboard and independent musicianship."
Using the practice CD that comes with the Music Makers program, I can form a direct link between my class activities and the student's home practice, which could never have happened before. The CD provides an opportunity for children to hear the keyboard songs played in a way that they, themselves, will soon be able to play them. With the aid of the CD and the excellent MM program, now I am my students' "best friend."
The practice CD contains all of the songs learned in class. Each song is followed by a carefully designed four-part learning process that guides the child to hear and reproduce every keyboard pattern found in the song. Here are the steps in the process:
The child now knows exactly what is expected during practice time. After practicing the isolated patterns as many times as needed, the student naturally takes the next step independently and uses the patterns to create the whole melody. This inferential leap is not hard for the children because their ears have been amply prepared in class, and the CD at home reinforces the work. Every child runs into the next class bursting to play his/her new piece for me. I am pleased at the child's accomplishment, also knowing the youngster has practiced effectively as a result of using the CD.
The CD also contains melody, harmony, and rhythm games created to promote visual identification of the keyboard patterns. We play carefully sequenced games in class, and the children are assigned to play the same games at home. The home practice CD supports this work.
An exciting milestone occurs when the child discovers that she/he can read the score of the song being learned. I remember a special moment in class when a student grabbed his mom's hand and his music, ran to the piano and proudly put the music on the music stand. To the tearful amazement of the mother and myself, he read the music while happily playing the piece.
The Music Makers: At the Keyboard practice CD is the link between the classroom and the home. Finally I can give my students a home tool that will aid in their practice skills and in their ear development. The CD makes it easier for the parents to support and encourage their children to practice because both they and their children have a clear model of how I expect them to practice.
As a direct result of using this technology, I am assured
that the children will learn to find the music that is in their
ears and to express it fluently on the piano.
ELLEN JOHANSEN is a classically trained pianist and independent piano teacher living in East Hampton, New York. She studied at the Juilliard Preparatory Division and continued her studies with Blanche Abram at Hofstra University where she received her B.A. in Humanities. Ellen is also a trained Musikgarten teacher and has taught early childhood music classes in her community for over ten years.
Article by Jennifer K. DeBrosse
s I first read the proposed question, my mind wandered back a few years ...
In 1999, my family (and piano studio) relocated to a new state. This move translated into accepting many beginning students and my decision to start a computer lab.
I meticulously researched software reviews looking for titles that would motivate young students. As my studio quickly grew, I achieved my goal of finding computer programs that successfully incorporated notation, ear-training and rhythm skills. My new lab offered such "classics" as Music Ace, Alfred Theory Games, Alfred Essentials of Music Theory, and Rhythm Ace. In addition, I added "fun" titles, such as Beethoven Lives Upstairs, Juilliard Music Adventure, and The Pianist. My students also enjoyed playing their prepared lesson assignments using MIDI and/or CD accompaniments, such as Piano Adventures Background Accompaniments for General MIDI from FJH Music.
All of my students were excited about piano and spending time in the computer lab. In addition, I was delighted with my students' new knowledge of theory concepts. What I did not realize at the time was that my students were also acquiring credible listening skills.
I was fascinated to observe my students relate newly introduced musical concepts to listening examples. For instance, listening to Mendelssohn's "Song Without Words, Op. 119, No. 6," or Offenbach's "Barcarolle" from Tales of Hoffmann, transferred into successfully feeling the pulse of 6/8 meter. I also found that students became more aware of a steady tempo by playing with MIDI accompaniments.
These unexpected benefits led me to investigate more opportunities to provide listening activities. I discovered several web sites that provide MIDI files and brief composer biographies. My favorites include the Classical MIDI Archives page (www.classical archives.com), The Classical MIDI Connection (www.midiworld.com/ cmc/index.htm), and Robert Finley's Classical MIDI Page (www.ultranet.com/ ~rfinley/). Students can easily download MIDI files from these web sites and listen to them in the computer lab with headphones.
As I began to discover new sites, I developed a "listening plan" for my students. Through my early childhood music training, I have often read, "Hearing is a faculty; listening is an art!" With that in mind, I continued working on developing this listening program in order to give my students the opportunity to develop perceptive listening skills.
Using the listening plan, my students are exposed to a variety of music styles early on, highlighting the four major time periods. Students maintain folders in which they record what pieces they listen to as well as biographical notes. After this musical introduction, students delve deeper, listening to several works by a specific composer.
As their teacher, I am excited to report that many of my students can not only understand, but hear the stylistic differences of Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and Contemporary music!
These listening activities are not reserved for only my older students who play literature written by major composers. Younger students also get involved by completing worksheets that feature theory concepts-such as dynamics, articulation, and even smiley or unhappy faces to record their thoughts on a piece! The Piano Education Page (www.piano.avijon.com/ index.html) features many age-appropriate music activities, including composer interviews.
Incorporating listening activities through technology has significantly enhanced every aspect of my students' playing. Awareness of tempo, development of artistry, or the evaluation of an interpretative decision may be based on developed listening skills. This has been an unexpected but exciting benefit to opening a music computer lab.
As I reread the question, "What can you accomplish with
your students, using a new technology, that you could not accomplish
before?" I realize that in my situation, the question may
be reworded as, "What have my students accomplished
through the use of new technology?" I feel I am still near
the beginning of my journey into music technology, but as I continue
that journey, I am on the lookout for those "unexpected"
JENNIFER K. DEBROSSE, an independent piano teacher in Cincinnati, is currently president of the Keyboard Teachers Association. She has published piano solos with Heritage Music Press and maintains a Kindermusik studio.