Embracing Technology in Music Education
By Karl Fitzgerald-Sloman

As musicians we are influenced by technology in all aspects of the profession.  This includes being a performer, arranger, composer and educator. If you are not one with lots of technology savvy, then this article is written to help  you (the musician/instructor) with some of the basic tools available to you which when implemented, can make life much easier and make your students experience more rewarding. 

There are a number of technologies available to the musician ranging from the inexpensive to the exorbitantly expensive. While many are useful in a variety of applications others are specific to one task.

If you are reading this, then you probably already have a computer. If you are limited in your computer skills, now is the time to get better! A computer is an indispensible tool for running a music business. The basic system can perform duties from simplifying your accounting to student tracking from writing music to performing studio quality recordings. Whether you are an Apple Macintosh or Windows user, the system will be your lifeblood in running your business. The basic programs I suggest that you have include the following:

Software Description


Integrated Office Suite

Microsoft Office, iWork

Financial Software

Quicken, Microsoft Money, ACPAC, QuickBooks

Photo Editing Software (for advertisements etc)

Adobe Photoshop, iPhoto (comes with the Mac)

Website Building Software

Dreamweaver, iWeb, FrontPage

Video Conferencing Software

iChat, MSN Chat, Skype etc

Music Notation Software

Sibelius, Finale, Tab Trax, Guitar Pro

Music Editing Software

Cakewalk, VST, Logic Pro, Pro Tools, Garage Band (comes with the Mac)

Music Playback programs

Windows Media Player, iTunes, AtomixMP3, Audacity

The following is a quick overview of each programme:
Integrated Office Suite
The key to these programs is the fact that each application within the programme can communicate with the other applications in the package. This allows you do work in each application and then combine the results in a final document.

MS Office includes a suite of programs, which allow the user to create everything from posters to letters to financial reports. Depending on the version of the programme you will most likely encounter Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Word is a word processor which allows you write letters, documents etc (this article was written using word. Excel is a spreadsheet programme, which allows you to do financial statements, and analysis, if you are working with numbers of any kind Excel will make your life easier. PowerPoint is a presentation programme, which will enable you to make first class presentations and handouts. It can also be used to make posters or diagrammes.

iWork is the Mac version of MS Office (although there is also MS Office for Mac as well). IWork consists of three applications: Pages, Numbers and Keynote. Pages is similar to Word, Numbers to Excel and Keynote to PowerPoint. The beauty of iWork is it is easier to use, in many cases, than MS Office, and it also has wonderful templates for setting up projects you are working on. Mac programs have always prided themselves on being more about creativity and as such can produce stunning results for the artist and musician alike.

Financial Software
These programs are specifically designed to handle financial information. Many have an interface that is user friendly (most look like a standard money ledger), but once the information is entered the power really comes to life. You can sort accounts, list payments from and to clients, get summaries of spending for tax purposes and even print out your own cheques. At the Wizdom Music Academy we have found using financial software has cut our expenses for accounting services dramatically because when we go to our accountants, the numbers are already listed in a logical order. This means less time for the accountant to work, which is money in our pockets.

Photo Editing Software
These applications allow you to take a standard photo and modify or enhance it. This is great for making posters or placing photos on a website. With a good photo editor combined with a good office programme you can make the ordinary look extraordinary.

Web Building Software
Many small business owners and musicians are intimidated by web building, so instead of creating their own site they pay someone else a lot of money to create one for them. There is no need to be intimidated and there is no need to spend all the extra money. Most modern web building programs are user friendly (relatively) and often work similar to other office programs. However, the power of this software cannot be overstated. Having a website lends credibility to your business and also attracts new clients. Our website (which we created and posted ourselves) gets about 50 hits per day, and not just from musicians, but other skilled artists. It is a great advertising tool, which anyone can access with a good web design programme.
The remainder of the computer programs I will discuss are all music specific. These are not essential to running your business, but they will make it much easier.

Video Conferencing Software
Most video conferencing software is free, however, sometimes the actual service will cost money, so be aware and know what your costs are up front.  I have used all three of these systems, and have had good results with all three. I prefer iChat, because I find the interface is very smooth and you can have multi users talking at one time (unlike MSN at this point). Video conferencing software allows you to bring drummers from all over the world to your computer in real time. The application of this technology means that you can have a clinic with a well-known drummer like Dom Famularo without having to deal with the logistics of physically bringing him to the venue. This cuts costs and time for all involved.

Music Notation Software
The purpose of music notation software is to allow the user to write professional looking music charts and have the ability to play them back and hear them. There are a few programs out there that all work extremely well for this application. The two largest are Finale and Sibelius. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, personally I find Sibelius to be the easier and more powerful of the programs. At the end of this article you will see an example of some patterns that have been written using Sibelius that we use in the Wizdom Academy. The great part about these programs is they allow you to play back the pattern as well as print it out. This allows you to construct a CD for your students with the tracks of the written music. You can even slow down the tracks for the beginner student.

Above is a patter I wrote using Sibelius, notice that it also allows me to type in written words as well as music notation.

The next two programs may be used for notating but also have other functions. These applications reduce the amount of work an instructor has to do when writing out parts for the student to perform. The first of these is Tab Trax.

Tab Trax is a drum programme that allows the user to convert drum tabs off the Internet into standard notation. I have thousands of files that I have converted and the programme does a good job. The programme also lets you play back the converted files so the student can follow the patterns and how they go together. You can then print out the newly notated songs for the student to take home. The only drawback to programs like this are the original files. If you download an inaccurate tablature then the output in Tab Trax will also be incorrect. However, as an instructor you should be able to modify the final version for your student, and Tab Trax allows you to do this.

Guitar Pro is, as the name implies a guitar programme which allows you to download guitar tablature, however, in most of the downloads there will be the entire score for the song including the drum parts. At the Wizdom Academy we have over 55,000 songs in Guitar Pro format that we use with our students. It makes things easier when a student tells you they want to learn Joe’s Garage by Frank Zappa, and you have the ability to print out the music in minutes.

Music Editing Software
Music editing software allows the musician to actually manipulate music files. You are able to take away parts, loop sections of songs and even slow down the parts. There are a number of applications that give you these skills and it is in this area of software that the most expensive programs reside. For instance Pro Tools with all the add in modules can set you back up to $100,000 however, there are other programs which have most of the functionality of Pro Tools for considerably less money.

Cakewalk, VST and Protools are all programs used for recording music. Each has different capabilities and for the most part are fairly intense programs which are used by professionals as opposed to the average user. However, it is good to become familiar with this software as it opens up other opportunities for employment.

Garage Band is a programme that comes with the Mac computer. It has a very easy interface and is used to develop songs using loops. You can also record into the programme and loop your riffs and drum patterns. Although the programme is much less intense than the ones listed above, both Trent Rezner and Paul McCartney have recorded albums using Garage Band.

Music Playback programs
Most computers are equipped with one of two music playback programs. Windows comes with Windows Media Player, and Mac comes with iTunes. There are a host of other music players out there Winamp being the best known. These programs allow you to play CDs and to “rip” (convert to MP3) CDs.  They also allow for organizing music into different categories and to make play lists. We use play lists for individual students so we can find their music quickly.

A separate but very powerful playback programme is AtomixMP3. It is a DJ programme that allows you to mix songs together for DJ purposes. However, one powerful feature is the speed adjuster, which allows the user to speed up or slow down the music. Thus if you have a student that is having difficulties with a particular passage of music you can use this software to slow the music down. And unlike the old days with turntables the pitch of the music is not affected just the speed. Another programme that also slows down music recordings is Audacity it is a free programme. Although it does not have as an exciting interface as AtomixMP3, the price is right!

Video Monitor/TV
A second “must have” is a TV and/or Video monitor. These are used in conjunction with a VCR, Computer or DVD Player. This allows you as the instructor to introduce “multi-media” into your lessons. In today’s market, the average youngster wants excitement and flash, as an instructor it is your responsibility to give it to them along with substance. DVDs by Tommy Igoe, JoJo Meyer, Thomas Lang, Neil Peart etc, give a plethora of opportunities to instruct and make the lessons exciting.

Video Recorder
Video recorders allow you the opportunity to record your student. This in turn allows you to analyze their technique and just give the student the feeling of progress. Also the video does not lie, a student may not believe that what you are telling them about their playing is correct, but if you can show it to them, then they will be convinced and work to change the weakness in their playing.

Digital Recorder

Zoom H2 Digital Recorder
In recent years the market for inexpensive high quality digital audio recorders has soared. There is now a range of good quality recorders which function, as the name suggests to record audio. These recorders are a powerful tools because of the quality of the audio the produce and their portability. When you record a student with one, the subtleties can be heard very clearly through the playback. Many of the audio recorders can record in MP3 and Wav formats, which mean they are fully compatible with your computer.

Electronic Drums
Although many “purists” will resist the change, there are great advantages to using electronic drums in lessons. First and foremost is the control of the volume. Many young drummers I have taught love to play loud and even when they play soft the volume levels can be intense. The fact that you can turn down the volume of the playing with a knob is a great plus. The lower volumes make it easier to communicate and also protect everyone’s hearing.

Electronic kits are also cool for the student to work with because they have many features that a standard acoustic drum set does not have. Depending on the drum module being used you can have an almost unlimited number of sounds available at the touch of a button. Also there is a built in metronome to practice to, and with most modern electronic drums there are also songs built in (that can have the drums removed) that a student can work on.

One of the main complaints of the electronic drums are the feel, and that they don’t feel like an acoustic drum set, well the short answer is, they are not an acoustic drum set, so why would they feel that way. However, modern designs with Mesh Drumheads and weighted cymbals feel remarkably similar to the acoustic drum sets. The key is do not rule out these instruments as they offer a great deal with few disadvantages.

Although technology is sometimes intimidating, it will give you capabilities that will set you apart from your competition. Do not shun technology, embrace it and it will open new opportunities for you and your students. Remain current on the latest trends and incorporate them into your studio and instruction, your students will appreciate it and you will be a better musician for it.