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The Sound of Music (and Technology)

With phrases like "21st-Century skills," "project-based learning," and "digital citizenship" whizzing through the mile-high Denver air here at the ISTE 2010 conference, you'd think there was no room in the ed-tech world for a sweet melody.

Not so, said William Bauer, director of music education at Cleveland's Case Western University, whose lecture Tuesday highlighted a dozen or more online resources music teachers and technology specialists should find both free and useful. And it's a little odd that more music teachers aren't aware of those resources already, he said, considering how profoundly technology has changed music. (Remember the invention of electricity, the radio, the compact disc or the MP3 player?)

While technology and music are usually thought of in a commercial sense, Bauer highlighted resources that can help students compose, perform, and respond to music in academic settings, and even, on occasion, serve as a bridge between music and other areas of study.

Bauer encouraged teachers to use programs as common as Apple's Garage Band to help students understand how the layers of a band or ensemble fit together. With Garage Band, for example, students can place guitar riffs on top of bass riffs on top of a drum beat, without having to even understand what constitutes four-four time, let alone read music or play an instrument.

"It's a way to immediately begin to engage [students] and get them to think about sound," Bauer said. "You can move on from there to think about dynamics or talk about form."

Bauer went on to mention online-based programs like Musescore and Noteflight, which allow students to write basic sheet music, as well as the San Francisco Symphony's kids website, which offers interactive musical content.

As far as students' performance, Bauer said there are immense opportunities for self-improvement with technology, whether by using an online tuner or metronome, downloading Audacity to record and self-evaluate performances, or logging onto the Project Gutenberg's sheet music database to print out free scores. There are even online video tutorial databases like the Michael Hopkins String Pedagogy Notebook. All of these resources could be accessed in class, of course, but Bauer suggested it might be better to use them during at-home practice time.

"I always want to make my students independent of me," Bauer said. "One key to doing that is being able to self assess your performance; knowing what went well, what didn't go well, and knowing how to fix some things that did not go as well as you might have hoped."

When teachers want their students to gain musical context, there are online music theory exercises at Ricci Adams' Musictheory, and audio lessons from non-profit organizations like Cincinnatti Public Radio and Carnegie Hall.

Of course, not all music teachers are going to have the time or the ability to access all these resources, but the strategic use of a few of them could go a long way, Bauer suggested, even if it means the music teacher has to assign a little homework once in a while.

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