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date: 27 February 2020

Commentary: Music Learning and Teaching through Technology

Abstract and Keywords

This article presents an overview of Section 5 of the Oxford Handbook of Music Education, Volume 2. The section commences a critical but also constructive discourse about the role of “any” technology within the broader fields of music and education. The contributors have chosen different perspectives and foci in instigating this discourse, all of them diverse but, arguably, all celebrating how essential technology is (or should be) in our music infused modus vivendi.

Keywords: technology, music education, music learning, music teaching

Compiling a part of this volume that focuses on technology for such a monumental anthology of scholarly work as this one has been an exciting, yet significant, challenge. This was, mainly, due to the very nature of “technology” and, consequently, “music technology,” and their status within the broader fields of music and education. Identity and “labeling” are very strong notions in our field, often celebrating (or acting as self-assigned psychological reward tokens of) extremely hard and copious work invested, from the very early years, and continually through our lifetimes, in becoming musicians and educators. We are likely to perceive ourselves either as classical musicians, and/or popular musicians, folk musicians, jazz musicians, concert instrumentalists, solo artists, band musicians, conductors, early childhood specialists, music educators, vocal leaders, singing coaches, music therapists, community musicians, music teacher trainers, clinicians, group pedagogues, theorists, musicologists, music psychologists, sociologists, philosophers, researchers and scientists, world musics specialists, composers, policy-makers, and advocates for music. At the same time, we are likely to engage and interact, daily, with multiple forms of “technology,” not only within our professional acumen but also as an integral part of our non-professional lives. But how do we employ, utilize, engage with, rely upon, or enhance our practice with “music technology”? What is the role of “music technology” in our lives as musicians and music pedagogues and how is this evidenced?

(p. 430) This part of the volume attempts to commence a critical but also constructive discourse about the role of “any” technology within the broader fields of music and education. The contributors in this section have chosen different perspectives and foci in instigating this discourse, all of them diverse, but, arguably, all celebrating how essential technology is (or should be) in our music-infused modus vivendi.

In the first chapter of this part of the volume, Himonides (chapter 5.2) proposes that technology should be seen from a meta perspective, and not necessarily as narrowly focused as a substantial part of the music educator population might expect. In doing so, he argues that the technological humanity has rather been developing in tandem with the musical humanity and that we cannot really draw a line or threshold past which the traditional ends and the technological begins, not only at a philosophical but also at a praxial level. Himonides argues that the role of technology is often misunderstood and perceived as an ephemeron; the panacea; a heuristic remedy for very particular, task-driven approaches. He contends that it should be viewed as an integral—and unavoidable—part of the musical engagement, development, and educational processes and asserts that our focus should be on the critical assessment of the effectiveness of any technology and its role in effective teaching and learning, as framed by findings in ground-breaking funded research in education and the social sciences. In augmenting his argument about novel but also creative use of technology, Himonides provides 11 exemplars from real-life research where it is thought that technology has been employed innovatively and outside the common vernacular. In his conclusion, Himonides highlights that his argument is not offered as an act of denial of the undeniably rapid technological outbreak that we have been (and will continue to) experience in our time. He rather poses that we should be less focused on what technology and how to use it and more on why a technology should be employed and how it could be used effectively in celebrating our musicality and furthering our development as musicians and learners.

Purves (chapter 5.3) broadens the discourse by suggesting that large-scale, complex technological installations are not necessarily the ones that offer the most powerful professional development experiences to practitioners and educators. He explores how the economist E. F. Schumacher's concept of “intermediate technology” could potentially be used to describe a range of small, low-cost and increasingly pervasive technological tools that feature in the contemporary everyday working lives of many music teachers. Based on current educational theory and practice, Purves asserts that these “intermediate technologies,” although often taken for granted and outside the cutting edge music education technology limelight, are the ones that are likely to be catalytic in furthering and continually supporting one's professional development. Purves argues that, in distinct contrast to the “transformative” and “revolutionary” educational reform and technological rhetoric of governments, but also the technology manufacturing industries and supplying channels, teachers are more likely to make small, incremental changes to improve long-term teaching and learning practices. He provides evidence that suggest that music teachers are most likely to embrace such technologies when (p. 431) they align closely with their existing practice, beliefs, and teaching and learning objectives. In the final part of his chapter, Purves provides a case study of the open-source and freely available software Audacity as a popular paradigm of an “intermediate technology.”

In “The Student Prince” (chapter 5.4), King examines studio recording practice from a pedagogical perspective. King has cleverly adopted the title from Sigmund Romberg's famous operetta from the 1920s in presenting the paradigm of the multiple award-winning soul, funk, and rhythm & blues musician Prince (a.k.a. Prince Rogers Nelson; the Artist formerly known as Prince). Prince's exemplar is offered in presenting how different norms and ethics in studio recording practice might shift between generations and how particular workflows can be rethought or transformed with the advent of new (or more accessible) technologies. As King argues, “the approach used by Prince is typical of many young musicians who are able to compose, record, edit, produce, and ultimately publish their own music via the use of technology. Therefore, students are enthusiastically taking responsibility for the artistry of their work but also the scientific elements through its production.” King believes that it is important that educators nurture not only the creative talents of learners but also their scientific discovery when making music with technology. He believes that there is a need for further development of research-based educational theory and provides evidence that the plethora of current published work in the field rather focuses on the acquisition of procedural skills (or the teaching of tools), not least because of the complexity of the apparatus at the students’ disposal when creating music with technology. King also provides a very comprehensive overview of the different kinds of recording spaces and technologies and, consequently, the different classes of challenges that an educator might face in fostering development within those spaces. King believes that the recording studio is the ground where art meets science. He argues that this ground is still virgin but ascertains that it is also fertile and has the potential to become fruitful both for the educator learner and the student learner.

In the final chapter of this part of this volume, Savage (chapter 5.5) draws together what is presented in the preceding chapters, and provides further evidence that amplify this part's themes. Savage uses those themes in order to anticipate future dispositions towards the application of music technology in educational settings. He, too, highlights the potentially destructive power of the continually and rapidly expanding selection of technological tools and argues that “now, more than ever, music educators need to maintain their focus on what constitutes effective teaching and learning with music technology.” Savage quotes Sir Winston Churchill's statement “it is always wise to look ahead, but difficult to look further than one can see,” and invites us to consider what methods or tools we could utilize in order to do this more effectively. He discusses the challenges for establishing key principles for modern pedagogical practice, first by looking backwards and presenting how technology has permeated every aspect of our musical lives in the twenty-first century, and then by looking ahead and critically assessing how technology leaves its mark on our work and in our minds and how its imprint (p. 432) becomes firmly embedded on our pedagogies, implicating our thinking in implicit and explicit ways. A strong evidence-base that Savage provides for looking ahead is that of the funded research program Beyond Current Horizons, which was recently conducted in the United Kingdom. Savage scaffolds his arguments in respect of the future of music technologies in education based on four key principles that the Beyond Current Horizons program developed in order to assist its methodology. This approach is quite similar to the one that Himonides and Purves followed with the Teaching and Learning Research Program's Ten Holistic Principles of Effective Teaching and Learning (mentioned in chapter 5.2, as a starting point upon which the chapter is further developed). Savage goes further by inviting us to consider four key possibilities or challenges facing music education as new technologies emerge and are applied to processes of teaching and learning. These are: empowering “trading zones” and redefining subject cultures; developing a new language of music; relocating musical knowledge, skills, and understanding; and, facilitating educational collaborations. Savage believes that teachers will become more adept at creating interesting opportunities for learning with and through digital technologies for their students. Nevertheless, he asserts that future actions need to be contextualized within a clear understanding of wider frameworks and assumptions.

In conclusion, this author would like to invite readers to engage in the discourse inaugurated herein, first by performing a critical self-assessment about their personal attitudes towards technology within the broader fields of music and education. It has been a challenge to stay clear of treating music technology simply as another facet (or particular specialism) of music education, as a plethora of undergraduate but also postgraduate courses all over the world often do. The reader is invited to browse through the headings of all the other parts of this volume and see how technology can play an important role in—or even form an integral part of—our musically developing lives, irrespective of how these have unfolded. This is something that deserves to be celebrated.