25th January 2021

GUEST BLOG: Rose Asprey on the Music Technology in Education Conference 2020

Rose Asprey is a Specialist Music Teacher at The Mead Primary School in Trowbridge. Back in October 2020 we awarded Rose a bursary to attend the Music Technology in Education Conference 2020. Here Rose tells us about her experience:

I have always been very interested in music technology, and have informally accumulated enough experience during my career to allow me to record myself to a decent standard, and to know what to plug into where when I play live. However, it’s not an area in which I feel overly confident, and particularly not a subject I’ve ever felt confident in teaching to anybody else, and as a primary music teacher I have largely avoided it. So, when Wiltshire Music Connect invited me to join the Music Technology in Education Conference, I was very excited to (virtually!) attend. There were a number of inspiring speakers across the 4-day event with such a wide range of expertise.

The keynote speech on the first day from Tim Hallas really set the tone for the whole conference: you don’t need to be an expert in music technology in order to teach music technology, and you don’t need an enormous budget to do it well. Over the days that followed, a number of fantastic resources and organisations were discussed and demonstrated. There was a big focus on software that can be used for remote learning, some of which I have already used and has been extremely helpful.

One main thing I learned from the conference was about the wealth of fantastic and often free browser based music tech education programs that are out there. These allow students to access high quality music technology software without having to download anything, pay for anything, or have access to a particularly powerful computer. A few recommendations are:

  • Chrome Music Lab (https://musiclab.chromeexperiments.com/) Brilliant selection of apps which are particularly suited to KS2 primary pupils.
  • Ableton Fundamentals of Music (https://learningmusic.ableton.com/) This is a great sequence of lessons that are really accessible and enjoyable, and cover lots of the elements of music. Best suited to Year 6 and upwards.
  • Bandlab (https://edu.bandlab.com/) which enables teachers to put up lessons plans and assignment briefs, and track and assess student responses. Best suited to secondary pupils.
  • Flat (https://flat.io/) Browser based notation software. There is a free version, but paid access has more features. It is compatible with Google classroom, and best suited to Secondary pupils.

All this software can be used effectively remotely. However a lot of it would translate well to classroom learning as well, particularly in schools like mine where children only have access to Chromebooks in class, and are unable to download anything. I have been using Chrome Music Lab with year 5 and 6 over the last three weeks, using screen recordings to instruct children who are at home, and screen sharing over zoom to instruct the children who are in school. It has gone down very well, the children have been very engaged and it has been a really fun way of introducing them to musical programming, as well as building on base musical concepts such as rhythm and pitch.

Dave Guinane, head of music at a secondary school in St Albans, also gave some good recommendations for physical equipment to have in schools:

  • An audio interface for recording makes it much easier to control levels and get a high quality recording.
  • A portable midi keyboard
  • A USB condenser mic for recording singing and acoustic guitar
  • A good pair of teacher headphones, which enables you to move around a class and plug into their devices without having to play anything out loud, or share headphones with the students!

The last thing that really stuck with me was the presentation by Drake Music, who are an organisation dedicated to improving the accessibility of music for disabled people through music technology. They operate using The Social Model of Disability, which is the view that people are disabled by barriers in society, rather than their impairment or difference itself. This means it is the responsibility of non-disabled people to remove barriers to accessibility, in order for disabled people to achieve equality. Drake Music work with local authority music hubs and organisations in order to remove the barriers for disabled people in music to enable them to compose, perform and access music education. https://www.drakemusic.org/

I feel a lot more confident going forward in my teaching of music technology, and especially in realising the accessibility to music that it can bring. It can still seem daunting to teach, but with some of the more playful free programs, such as Chrome Music Lab and Ableton, I’ve found it much easier to have a play around myself, and see what I can discover. Blended learning has obviously brought huge challenges to music teaching, but it also provides opportunities to consider new ways of teaching and using technology, and I have felt very lucky to be able to use some of the software I learned about during this conference.

More featured recommendations:

Team Tutti https://teamtutti.org/ – Browser based Primary Music Tech Software

Sonic Pi https://sonic-pi.net/ – Code-based music creation and performance tool

Muse Score https://musescore.org/en – Free open source notation software

Sound Trap https://www.soundtrap.com/edu/ – Browser based digital audio workstation

Audio Tool https://www.audiotool.com/ – Free software for learning studio skills

Incredibox https://www.incredibox.com/ – Create beats using animated sprites