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Using Technology to Support a Music Curriculum

Published: Sat November 18, 2006  News Feed

The newsletter this month includes some ideas that are in keeping with the theme of providing enriching educational opportunities for young people through music. Although such opportunities can come, for example, through simply playing an instrument we are keen at Dolphin Music to shed some light on the opportunities that are available through the use of music technology.

Technology can support students’ learning and open new horizons for creative experience. In my role as a teacher of music technology at KS3, GCSE and vocational at KS4 and Post 16 I discovered that students can unlock their potential for achievement in music through the use of technology. Naturally, the technology can not be seen as a substitute to creative effort.

System Profile 002: Classroom Composing and Recording

I used the system described below in my teaching at Gladesmore Community School and the Haringey City Learning Centre where I taught KS3 song writing and music technology schemes, GCSE, A Level Music Technology, NCFE Level 2 in Music Technology and extra curricular access clubs.

A Dolphin Music PC [Dolphin ID 15102]
This computer is designed for use with music technology and is as such suited to the rigors of sound processing. Computers bought for general purpose cannot be guaranteed to work as part of music technology systems.

M-Audio Ozone USB MIDI keyboard/soundcard [Dolphin ID 1780]
The Ozone keyboard/soundcard is both a MIDI controller keyboard that can be used to play MIDI virtual instruments or sound modules. It is also a soundcard that offers high quality sound signal processing and connections for microphones and instruments. It is a convenient way of providing the basic requirements of a music technology system.

Cubase SX2EDU [Cubase 4 EDU Dolphin ID 15788]
Cubase is sequencing and recording software that allow users to record and arrange parts – either as MIDI or audio. Editing tools and effects are also included. Cubase can be seen as a complete music production application.

Reason 3 EDU [Dolphin ID 5737]
Reason is the leading all in one virtual studio software. It includes a sequencer for recording and arranging parts along with instruments and effects processors. Reason can be used on its own but is limited when used in this way to MIDI sequencing and cannot be used for recording with microphones or ‘live’ instruments. It can, however, be used in synchrony with a ‘host’ sequencer, such as Cubase, which will allow users to use the range of instruments available in Reason but with the sequencing and recording tools of the host application.

Sennheiser HD 201 Headphones [Dolphin ID 6033]
Headphone Splitters

Students were able to use these systems for composition and recording. When recording it was simple to connect a microphone or instrument to the input on the Ozone and record into Cubase. MIDI sequencing for more advanced students combined Cubase with the instrument and effects rack in Reason. The two programs work really well together using this Rewire connection but of course Reason can also be used as an easy to use, all-in-one virtual studio. For my younger students, or for those just wishing to enjoy music making, Reason was outstanding.

The KS3 students were able to begin learning about composition by using Reason song templates with loops that I had prepared as building blocks for arranging and ‘remixing’. We would begin with loops and make a basic song structure. Then more able students could progress to adding accompanying parts by playing the Ozone’s MIDI keyboard and even record vocals or ‘live’ parts. We would listen regularly to examples of songs in styles that the students enjoyed and then apply students’ knowledge and listening skills to determine how their own work might mimic the desired characteristics. It was a really fun and highly successful scheme. Even students who would not usually engage with ‘normal’ music lessons could enjoy taking part.

The GCSE students were able to use Reason and Cubase for their coursework. The wide range of sounds available in Reason made the process of creating coursework compositions fun for the students and those who wished to work with a score could use the score editing feature in Cubase. When finished the coursework was easily mixed down to an audio file that we stored with the students records and later burned to CD.

For GCSE performance recordings this system was excellent because students could easily book a time to perform and record their coursework using a general purpose microphone [we used the Shure SM58 and AKG1000s models] connected to the Ozone. These recordings could then be stored in the students’ records. Having students’ work stored in this way on our staff computer made the process of collating coursework for marking and moderation so much easier – remember the days of recording to tape!!!!

Also at KS4 we offered the NCFE Level 2 Course in Music Technology, worth two GCSE grade Bs. This vocational course was offered in the first instance to able but often disengaged students. It lent itself well to this kind of student and proved very successful and popular. The course was largely undertaken using the system outlined above but required that we provide a modest recording studio facility for some of the course elements covered. The recording studio facility [covered in next month’s newsletter] was also necessary for the A Level Music Technology Course we offered to our sixth formers.

The music technology systems we used were so popular with students that we opened access through lunch time and after school clubs. We also used them for project work including, for examples, our school’s anti gun crime album production, a local community music project promoting positive behavior and ideas. We also ran classes in music technology for adult learners from the community that proved very popular.

We found that the buzz and excitement surrounding our music projects really helped to reinforce the ethos that school was a good place to be; a place where learning could be fun and valuable at the same time. We tried where possible to link our music curriculum with other subject areas such as ICT, History, Literacy and Numeracy. 

If you would like some advice on how to set up your own music technology classroom system and offer any of the courses mentioned in the profile above you can contact our education department at Dolphin Music for some advice.

There are useful guides published on the Dolphin Music Education Web Pages that will help you decide what equipment you need and how you might put it to good use.

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