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20, May 2022
Technology in and for the Instrumental Music Class

Music education in any form can be traced back to the beginning of education. Although it has sometimes struggled for legitimacy, there have been its champions. As technology has grown in education, there have been many technological applications that can be used to teach music. Although most of the technology is intended for classroom use, there are some programs that can be used at home by students who have internet access and a computer.

Music education in America dates back to 1838, when Lowell Mason started singing classes at Boston grammar schools. Over the next 50 years, instrumental music was introduced in spurts but it was not included in the school day. Instead, it was added to the list of extracurricular activities. Instrumental music was accepted into the classroom around the turn of the century. However, it was often taught by people who were not trained in music education. There was also little standardization in the music literature and instrumentation. (Rhodes, 2007)

The quality of school music started to improve after the end of World War I. This was mainly due to the fact that veterans, who had been musically trained in various branches of the military, started to teach music in schools. Band was, however, still considered an extracurricular activity. (Ibid)

The Music Supervisors National Conference (now the Music Educators National Conference, or MENC), was established in 1907 to support school music. A proposal was made in 1912 to add music activities, including choruses, as subjects to be accredited. Band was included, but with a lower priority. Edgar B. Gordon made the following statement at the Cleveland MSNC conference, 1923.

The high school band is not an incidental school venture that was largely prompted by volunteer efforts of a high-school teacher with some band experience. It is a school undertaking that is assigned a specific place in the school calendar with a daily class period with a trained instructor, and credit for the satisfactory work accomplished. (Ibid)

The first National Band Contest was held in Chicago in the same year. This is likely because of the increased acceptance and importance. In 1928, he led the Conn company in its contribution to the creation of the National Music Camp in Interlochen. He also supported publications that support band directors. These efforts, while they may seem self-serving given his position with Conn in the company, helped to establish school band as an important part of school curriculum. (Banks, 1997)

Budget cuts often resulted in the curtailing or elimination of instrumental music programs, despite a gradual acceptance, though still limited, of it within schools’ curriculum. Due to state mandates and pressures, there has been a decline in support for music inclusion in schools. Michelle R. Davis stated in “Education Week” that “the federal No Child Left Behind Act is causing many schools to cut back music, social studies, and art to make room for reading and mathematics (Davis 2006). This is extremely unfortunate, considering that music has proven to be beneficial to all students, even increasing their ability for problem-solving and reasoning.

Many thinkers have helped to elevate music’s importance in education or, at the very minimum, shown that restricting the school environment to only the “Three R’s is not a good idea. Howard Gardner’s “Multiple Intelligences Theory” was based on the realization that not all children have the same learning propensities. They have different learning abilities and have different learning capacities in many areas. These are the areas of his varying intelligences, he explained. Originally describing seven intelligences (of which music is highlighted) he identified two specifically (linguistic and logical-mathematical) as “the ones that have typically been valued in school.” Gardner, 1999, p41. Gardner knew that education was not suitable for all students. He only wanted to reach those who could do school well. Gardner’s study did not focus on the existence of multiple intelligences. He demonstrated that one person can have strong intelligences in several, which allows them to interact with each other. Gardner explained that different intelligences can interact in other ways. One intelligence can constrain or mediate the other; one intelligence can help to catalyze another. (Gardner 2, 2006 p219) He also emphasized the benefits of musical intelligence, explaining that “…a person who is engaged in a linguistic task may be more sensitive to both the rhythmic properties and the meaning of the language. (Ibid, p223)

Many people assume that music and its study are primarily associated with what is heard. However, mathematics is closely related to music. Dahlhaus stated, in a reflection of Rameau, that music had its origins within the Pythagorean proportions (i.e., it is a math). (Gargarian 1996, p137-138). Regardless of one’s opinion on the theory that music is mathematical, it should not be disputed that music has a relative status to mathematics. In fact, the introduction of the coordinate or Cartesian , plane seems to help the new music student understand the horizontal (x) and vertical (y), axes in music notation. The horizontal (x), on the music staff, refers to duration and the vertical (y), relates to pitched. This is obviously a reflection of Gardner’s intelligence interaction theory.

Further evidence supports the claim that instrumental music studies are beneficial for students. Gottfried Schlaug et al published a 1995 study entitled “Increased Corpus Callosum size in Musicians”. They described a rise in neural fibers along the Corpus Callosum (CC) which contributed to its enlargement. Further, they were able to prove that instrumental music was responsible for the increase in fibers/CC sizes. (Schlaug et al. 1995) It is clear that if there is more cross-talk between the two brain hemispheres (specifically the left – thought of being the analytical and the right – thought to represent the creative), then the result would be someone with greater problem-solving abilities.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that other studies have also confirmed the connection between music and other skills. Bahr, Christiansen published results in “Inter-Domain transfer between Mathematical Skill & Musicianship”. They found that students who studied music performed better on math tasks when there was some musical overlap. (Bahr and Christiansen, 2000). This “structural overlap” could include the ability to divide measures into fractions or relate pitch to frequency or establish the link between the coordinate plane (Cartesian), and the music staff.

This enhanced problem-solving ability and increased awareness of mathematical concepts makes it plausible that music students could be proficient with classroom technology. Music students should perform at least as well with technology as other students. If this is true, then we can assume that they will do well with technology that is tailored specifically to them.

Somewhat recently, technologists, recognizing a dearth of technologically-based music applications began to develop computer programs for music education. Many music theory websites were created by symphonic orchestras and linked to them. Some were created by graduate students and teachers as part of their coursework. Others are available for anyone who wants to use the application. It is easy to find a variety of technological tools that are available online for music students by doing a quick internet search. Interactive music games, online music theory apps, numerous online pitch and rhythm websites and the most powerful applications called “computer assisted instruction (CAI)” are just a few of the many available. These tools can be used in both the classroom and for students. Steven Estrella published his findings from a January 2005 study that showed how U.S. music teachers used music technology. He discovered that around twenty percent of survey participants used CAI in their instruction. SmartMusic was the most popular software application, according to the survey. (Estrella, 2005)

SmartMusic allows students to practice at home with an orchestral accompaniment or synthesized band. With an included microphone, the program can record student’s performances and give them a grade using pitch and rhythm data. Students can instantly see their results and can retry any time they like. The student’s teacher/director will receive the recording and accompanying grade and it will be automatically entered into their teacher’s grade book. The program contains accompaniments for approximately thirty-thousand compositions, including those from the orchestra method book. (Nagel 2007) Although early reviews were mixed about SmartMusic, the company behind it, “MakeMusic,” responded to consumer and teacher complaints. The home version must be installed on students’ computers. In earlier versions, it was difficult to install, set up, and place microphones. Many of these problems were solved in SmartMusic 11, the most recent version. (Whaley, 2008)

SmartMusic has a variety of applications for classroom use. SmartMusic’s most basic functions include a metronome and a displayed tuner. SmartMusic’s utilities can be used in a music class with an interactive whiteboard. A teacher can play a prerecorded version to be studied, and the students can play along. The teacher can also instantly record the pieces for future playback. It also contains fingering charts for each instrument so that students can quickly check if they need additional instruction. You can easily change the keys and tempi. If a single performer wants to play with a prerecorded accompaniment to accompany them, the accompaniment can “listen” to the performer through a microphone and follow their changes in tempo. This is similar to what a conductor in a symphony orchestra would do during a live performance.
SmartMusic’s importance and power in the classroom is great, but its greatest application and primary purpose is as a home practice and assessment tool. The software includes thousands of scales and accompaniments, as well as thousands upon thousands of music titles. After students have signed up, downloaded the software (or installed it from a CD), and set the program up at home, teachers can create playing assignments that the student can access at home on their computer.

The program’s accompaniment is played through the microphone. Students can hear the music and see the correct notes. Mistakes are highlighted in red. The student is able to choose their own pace and practice with the computer-generated accompaniment before recording for a grade. The student has complete control of their own home. Students who have access to broadband internet and a fairly up-to-date PC can fully benefit from the program. (Rudolph, 2006)
What about those students who don’t have access to the internet?

SmartMusic’s power would be lost on students who don’t have access to the internet or a computer at home. The home version costs very little and some districts even offer the subscription for free to their students. (Nagel 2007) But can all districts afford a computer and internet access for their students?

David Thomas stated that schools have made significant progress in introducing internet and computer access to their classrooms. Access to the internet is still available at schools for students with disabilities. (Thomas 2003). Thomas also quoted Rod Paige, the then U.S. Secretary of Education.

“We must address the lack of technology access for students outside of school. We can do more. The digital divide can also be closed to reduce the achievement gap in schools. (Thomas, 2003)

New York University’s 2007 study found that between 75% and 88% of students have computers at their homes. (Traber 2007) It is possible to conclude that cross-country numbers are much lower.

Many music students are dependent on school-provided instrument, method books, or even supplies like valve oil and reeds (usually paid out of the teacher’s pocket). These students are often less fortunate than their more wealthy counterparts. They cannot afford private lessons and a computer or internet access. These students would be the most benefit from SmartMusic. SmartMusic can’t bridge the “digital divide”, however, no matter how powerful and useful it may be.

The student musician will be able to take advantage of the great potential offered by educational technology, but only if equitable access is possible, will there be a disproportionate level of success?

Refer to

Bahr, N. & Christensen C.A. (2000). Inter-Domain Transfer between Mathematical Skill & Musicianship. In Journal of Structural Learning & Intelligent Systems (Vol. 14(3), 2000, pp. 187 – 197). US: Gordon & Breach Science Publishers

Banks, Margaret Downie (1997). A Brief History of The Conn Company (1874-1999). The National Music Museum.

Davis, Michelle R. (2006, April). Study: NCLB Leads To Cuts in Some Subjects. Education Week

Estrella, Steven (2005). Survey of Music Educators & Music Technology. Shearspire.

Gardner, Howard (1999). Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences For the Twenty First Century. New York: Basic Books/Perseus Books Group

Gardner, Howard (2006). Multiple Intelligences – New Horizons. New York: Basic Books/Perseus Books Group

Gregory Gargarian (1996) The Art of Design. In Kafai, Y., & Resnick, M. (Eds.). Constructionism: Designing, thinking, learning and teaching in a digital age. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

Nagel, Dave (2007 August). Tucson USD Offers SmartMusic Subscriptions for Students, THE Journal

Rhodes, Stephen L. (2007). A History of the Wind Band-The American School Band Movement. Lipscomb University.

Rudolph, Tom (February 2006). SmartMusic. Music Education Technology.