MET:Digital Technology and Trends in Music Education

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In the last fifteen years, innovations in digital technologies have significantly changed the nature of music making and music distribution. As a consequence, the perception of what constitutes music making has also changed. To stay aligned with these shifts in musical culture, music educators need to look towards using technology in their classrooms.

Technology, Music Distribution and Music Education in History

Every great advance in the distribution of Western music has been preceded by technological innovation.

Printing Press

File:Print press.png
Printing Press

The adoption of the modern printing press by Bernhard Breitkopf of Leipzig, Germany during the eighteenth century facilitated the mass publication of musical scores. Music now could be printed, stored, distributed, and consumed at an unprecedented level in Germany. The original publications of the works by the classical masters Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven would have been printed and circulated by Breitkopf. In addition, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven enjoyed a greater measure of freedom to innovate musically because income generated by the printing and circulation of their music made them less beholden to single patrons for their livelihoods.[1]

The mass printing of music scores made the learning and playing of instruments more accessible to a wider audience. It was in the early eighteenth century that private music lessons became more widespread among the upper middle classes.


Victor Talking Machine

Likewise, the invention of the phonograph (or gramophone) in the late nineteenth century in paved the way for mass consumption of recorded music. An economic boom in recorded music followed less than thirty years after the introduction of these record players.[2] In 1911, the Victor Talking Machine Company, which made and sold gramophones, created an Educational Department to oversee the use of gramophones in schools and colleges.[3] Although this department was formed primarily to increase gramophone sales, the genre of music appreciation and the concept of learning by listening still pervade music education in schools today.

Trends in Music Education

Most formal music programs follow curriculums that require students to learn how to read music notation, to recognize sound patterns, and to master a set of physical skills – such as fingering, technical dexterity, or embouchure – on an instrument. Such programs focus on formal learning, which consist of repeating physical exercises, acquiring theoretical knowledge, and reading music notation. Formal music programs remain a dominant format of Western music education.

In the last twenty years, emerging philosophies in music education have slowly shifted away from exclusive formal teaching to a learning-by-absorption model of teaching. Researchers such as David Elliott and Thomas Regelski have introduced new theories that promote more practical aspects of music making into music education. Rather than only emphasizing theoretical knowledge, notation and technical skill development, these authors believe that music education is multifaceted and should include other elements of music making, such as practical application, immersion in musical culture, and directed listening. In addition, the concept of obtaining fluency in music – the idea that a musician can think flexibly and creatively during performance – has recently appeared in music education research.[4]

Such trends align with current and new software music programs, many of which separate music making from music notation.

Digital Tools and the Music Class


Producer: Apple Inc.

The music-making program GarageBand, which comes preloaded on every Apple computer, has made a significant difference in the way music is made. Unlike many professional music-making software programs, GarageBand is accessible to the average person.[5]

GarageBand features a series of pre-made music loops, including a range of preset rhythm patterns, musical melodies, and balanced harmonies. The software interface is easy to understand and use, where music makers can “drag and drop” loops into a timeline to create sound patterns. A student with little to no knowledge of music theory can create professional-sounding music in GarageBand.

By incorporating GarageBand in their classes, music educators can teach their students to make music and to experiment with musical sounds long before they have obtained the reading and theoretical skills required to write a musical score. The inclusion of this type of program in the music classroom both enriches student experiences by introducing mix media and music and increases the relevancy of music making by incorporating current digital trends.

Guitar Hero

Producers: RedOctane, Activision

The game Guitar Hero is a rhythm game and was released in 2005 for PlayStation 2. The original version was followed by a series of subsequent releases (Guitar Hero II, III & V, Guitar Hero IV - World Tour and Guitar Hero VI - Warriors of Rock), as well as a number of expanded titles (Encore, Aeorsmith, Metallica, Smash Hits, Van Halen, Band Hero, and DJ Hero I & II).

The game is prepackaged with a guitar-shaped game console, which players use to simulate guitar playing. The game requires players to enact hand movements that resemble movements required for actual guitar playing while matching rhythms in popular songs. On its release, Guitar Hero attracted a wide audience and met with commercial success.

Like Garage Band, Guitar Hero immerses its players in music making without requiring any prior knowledge or skill. However, progressing in the game necessitates acquiring both a better sense of rhythm and some knowledge of guitar playing. The inclusion of this game in music classes helps students improve music skills while providing a sense of musicality. The game aspect also motivates students to play, giving beginners a sense of enjoyment while learning to make music.


Producer: Avid Technology Inc.

Sibelius is a software program used for composing and arranging music scores. Although the program focuses primarily on writing music in standard notation, the software includes other features, such as music playback, ensemble templates, and audio output. Currently, Sibelius is ranked as one of two top composition programs available in the professional composition market.

Sibelius features a WYSIWYG interface and flexible editing options. It provides templates for voice, single instrument, or music ensemble composition. Single parts of ensemble scores can be extracted and edited in isolation. Any composition may be converted to pdf for distribution. The program also includes a sound library with high-quality instrument sounds, which are used in the real-time music playback feature. Any compositions written in, or imported to, Sibelius can be converted into several audio formats (.mp3, .aiff, .MIDI, etc.) and exported as sound files. Conversely, the program can also convert sound files into music notation.

For a music educator, the benefit of using Sibelius is in its full feature list. While using the program effectively requires students to have at least a workable knowledge of music notation, its other features allow students to explore and create music efficiently and with a variety of mixed digital media.

Slow Adoption of Digital Tools in the Music Class

Although there has a been a proliferation of music making software, music educators have been slow to adopt digital tools in their classes.

One major hurdle facing the implementation of digital tools in the music classroom is the long history of formal teaching in the music education profession.[6] Serious music programs often apply Formalist Aesthetic views to teaching, which translates to “the policy of teaching the talented and entertaining the masses.”[7] Such programs often produce a small group of select musicians who excel at their craft. These programs focus on skill building, theory and notation, and follow traditional pedagogies that weed out all except for the few who excel in this type of learning space. Preferences for traditional teaching styles will ensure slow adoption of digital tools in these curriculums.

Anther major hurdle facing the adoption of digital tools is the lack of training available to teachers, in particular, training in music making software. The budget and time constraints of school boards today means that resources will first go to academic subjects, then to trades subjects, before being apportioned to art electives.

Stop Motion Video


Stop Motion Video Jakin Lam - June 7, 2015


  1. Brook, Piracy and Panacea, 13.
  2. Hudson, Disruptive Distributions in the Music Business, 39-40
  3. Symes, A Sound Education, 170.
  4. Gouzouasis, Fluency in General Music and Arts Technologies, 5.
  5. Gouzouasis & Bakan, The future of music making
  6. Gouzouasis, Fluency in General Music and Arts Technologies, 15.
  7. Reimer, Alternative views about art, 23.


Elliott, D. (1995). Toward a new philosophy and Musicing. In Music Matters: A New Philosophy of Music Education (pp. 39-77). New York: Oxford University Press.

Gouzouasis, P. (2005). Fluency in general music and arts technologies: Is the future of music a Garage band mentality? Action, Criticism, & Theory for Music Education, 4(2). 18 page ms.

Gouzouasis, P. & Bakan, D. (2011) The future of music making and music education in a transformative digital world. The UNESCO Observatory E-Journal, 2(2). 21 page ms. Available online.

Regelski, Thomas. (1996). Prolegomenon to a Praxial Philosophy of Music and Music Education. Musikkasvastus: The Finnish Journal of Music Education, 23-39.

Reimer, B. (1970). Alternative views about art on which a philosophy can be based. In A philosophy of music education (pp. 12-42). Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.