“Computers, Keyboards, and Music” – A Curriculum Restructure

As part of the Music Education curriculum here at UMiami, I take a course entitled “Computers, Keyboards and Music.” The course is the only music technology class that is in the curriculum, and the course description is as follows:

An introduction to basic computing skills for the musician that explores computers, keyboards, and other MIDI- (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) related instruments as tools for the musician. Topics include electronic keyboards, computer hardware and software, MIDI sequencing, computer-assisted musical notation, and teaching strategies using new technologies. Students gain hands-on experience while completing projects in each of the above areas.

While this seems to be a fairly comprehensive course description, it’s an extremely glorified way to explain the fact that the course includes three units:

  1. Instruction in the use of the Yamaha Clavinova keyboards that the keyboard lab uses
  2. Instruction in the use of Sibelius musical notation software
  3. Instruction in the use of music sequencing programs including Garage Band and Logic

As a great supporter of the use of technology in music education and of new opportunities to use technology in music, I find that this curriculum leaves a lot to be desired in this area. There are many more areas that could be explored, and I feel it would benefit future students in this course to explore these new areas of music technology. In this proposal for a new curriculum, I outline a few different sections: my specific gripes with the current curriculum, some changes I would make to the current units, and a few new units I would add to the new curriculum. Please forgive me if I get long-winded!

Gripes About the Current Curriculum

The curriculum for this course has been the same for at least 5 or 6 years, as far as I know (I will confirm this over the next few days). The textbook (which is recommended but not required) includes screenshots of some MIDI programs on a Mac OS prior to OS9… back when screens were black and white. The entire course is severely outdated. I attended a session by Dr. James Frankel at the 2009 FMEA convention, in which he made an interesting point. The presentation was about “New Trends in Music Technology,” and Dr. Frankel made the point that he loves making this presentation because each time he does, the contents change because new trends are developing on an almost daily basis. Based on this thought process, it’s my opinion that not only should the curriculum of this course not have remained static for so long, but that in fact it should change each semester, as new trends develop.

My other major gripe is with the first unit of study in the current curriculum. The first unit is instruction in the use of the Clavinova keyboards. This includes how to navigate the keyboard and select voices and styles, and how to record songs. While I believe this is a good skill to have, I think there are so many more skills that are more relevant to this day and age than learning how to navigate one specific brand of keyboard. I think if this were to stay in the curriculum, it should be a one (or maybe two) class unit, and no more. We spent at least a month on the Clavinova.

Changes to the Current Curriculum

As I said, the first major change I would make is cutting down the length of the Clavinova unit significantly. I feel that we spent way too much time on this unit, and that this time could be spent exploring other, more relevant areas. Secondly, I would shorten and diversify the Sibelius unit. Currently, this unit includes learning how to input notes using the Clavinova and the computer keyboard, and replicating 5 different pieces of sheet music on the program. I think this is a good way to teach Sibelius, but there are many other features of the program now (the “idea” notepad, for example) that could be taught as well. These features have been added in recent editions of Sibelius, and they are definitely worth discussing. Finally, I would suggest also doing more with the Garage Band unit. I explain this further in my next section.

Additions to the Curriculum

There are so many pieces of software and hardware for music technology nowadays, and so many resources for combining them all. I think it would be extremely beneficial to this curriculum to explore a more diverse set of topics. Here are just a few of my suggestions:

  1. Podcasting and iPods-GarageBand is a great program for creating podcasts, and this is something that’s worth discussing in the course. Topics could include adding sound effects, publishing podcasts to a feed, and publishing to iTunes. Other iPod topics could include the multitude of iPhone/iPod Touch applications for music
  2. Live Recording-Add a live recording unit to Garage Band, talking (on a very basic level) about microphones and audio interfaces. A project could be to create a 30-second commercial in Garage Band using loops and synthesized sounds from Garage Band along with your recorded voice.
  3. Integration of Multiple Products-The semester should end with a culmination project, that includes the use of many of the different areas discussed. For example, create a 5-minute radio show in Garage Band, which includes spoken word (recorded via microphone), a musical excerpt (with sheet music notated in Sibelius), background sound effects and loops (from within Garage Band). The final products would all be posted as single episodes of a class-wide podcast, and not only would the students have a compilation of their work, but the teacher could easily grade each of the projects using a feed reader.

There are so many new pieces of technology that have become available over the past weeks, months, and years, and they are all extremely important to explore! There is only one course in the curriculum that teaches music technology, so it should be one of the most up to date courses. With the direction that the world is taking, music and technology will need to become even more tightly woven than they are already. The future musicians of the world need to be prepared to do that, and I feel that these modifications to the curriculum of this course will benefit the future of the music majors to graduate from the University of Miami.

11 thoughts on ““Computers, Keyboards, and Music” – A Curriculum Restructure

  1. This is an amazing post, It has so much to offer, I wish the “powers that be,” would read this and take notice. We need to listen to the students as to what direction of music technology should take, they live it and we should as educators take notice. I particularly liked your additions to the curriculum, using new techie toys, software, and putting it all together for a final music tech project, A technology project, in my eyes, is not a tech project unless you use at least three different programs or toys.

  2. I agree completely, and I'm considering bringing this post to the department chair to propose a change in the curriculum for the class… we'll see how it's received here and how the last few weeks of the semester go!

    Thanks for stopping by, Carol! So glad you enjoyed the post!

  3. I definitely agree… Us in the music teaching profession must be able to cope up with all the technologies available to benefit our students, as well as to make us more effective and efficient educators. These music teaching resources enhance our effectiveness in handling our tasks.

  4. when i took the class we had clavinova and korg experience, sibelius and finale, and a shorter unit on garage band. final was to recreate something using sibelius, if i recall correctly. excellent post. take it to gusman.

    (can you tackle the class piano curriculum next? :p )

  5. I actually already showed Dr. DeCarbo… he didn't make any significant comments about it, but did tell me I was a great writer 🙂

    And there's no way on the planet I'm going to try to tackle class piano… that's just a beast that is not worth attempting to tame!

  6. when i took the class we had clavinova and korg experience, sibelius and finale, and a shorter unit on garage band. final was to recreate something using sibelius, if i recall correctly. excellent post. take it to gusman.

    (can you tackle the class piano curriculum next? :p )

  7. I actually already showed Dr. DeCarbo… he didn't make any significant comments about it, but did tell me I was a great writer 🙂

    And there's no way on the planet I'm going to try to tackle class piano… that's just a beast that is not worth attempting to tame!

  8. Is there a class project due at the end. Like you have to compose your own piece of music incorporating most of the things you learned? My classes would have contests with the high ranking earning additional points to their GPA.

  9. Ed, we did not have a culmination project in our class, but I would definitely support having a culmination project in my restructure of the curriculum!

  10. Ed, we did not have a culmination project in our class, but I would definitely support having a culmination project in my restructure of the curriculum!

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