Monday, August 1, 2011

Technology and Music Education

By Guest Blogger - Lindsey Wright
Lindsey is fascinated with the potential of emerging educational technologies, particularly the online school, to transform the landscape of learning. She writes about web-based learning, electronic and mobile learning, and the possible future of education. We are happy to have her weigh in on the use of technology in music education.

Music education possesses an endless number of benefits for students of all ages. However, most people first encounter music lessons while they are still in elementary or middle school.

Often these lessons are provided through the public school system and range from general music appreciation courses to band and choir classes. Students with a real affinity for music often take private music lessons in voice or in different musical instruments on their own time as an extracurricular activity.

Yet with the proliferation of technology in our everyday lives it is only natural to wonder if there is a way to merge an interest in music with the Web. The accessibility and versatility of the Internet actually lends itself very well to continuing a musical education. In fact, interested individuals will find that there are a number of online programs and tutorials dedicated to enhancing their knowledge of and appreciation for music. 

Many of these online courses are offered free of charge or at very low cost and cover a wide range of musical abilities from the complete novice to the near virtuoso. Even people who have not yet learned to read a single note of music will find an application that can introduce them to an entirely new language. For instance, anyone wishing to learn to play the piano can join the Discover, Learn, and Play website and get started instantly. Early lessons introduce the student to reading music and the concepts of rests and scales. As students progress through subsequent lessons their knowledge and skills grow as does the sophistication of their understanding. This particular site offers a variety of Individual, Family, and Group memberships to suit almost any need. These Lessons are available on 39 different instruments! 

The Active Bass website is another excellent musical learning resource available to users free of charge. Here students can click on a lesson and hear a demonstration, which can help them tell if they are playing the song on key. Along with the auditory component, students are also shown the music so they can read along and practice. The lessons are structured in brief, easy-to-master segments that allow students to feel an almost immediate sense of achievement when they successfully play a piece. 

Similarly, a lot of students want to learn how to play the guitar proficiently. For them, GuitarTricks is a reliable resource. Their step-by-step instruction guide introduces novices to guitar in a non-threatening and encouraging environment. Some lessons are available for free while others require a small fee. Either way, this is a learn-at-your-own-pace experience that allows students to challenge themselves and fit in their lessons whenever it is convenient. 

Music education is valuable in schools for a variety of reasons. Studies have shown that a musical education is critical to the intellectual development of children. Students who have grown up with music lessons often perform better in math and science courses and benefit from the discipline and hard work that the mastery of music demands. Music training even continues to benefit the student later in life. A recent study concluded that musicians tend to have well developed, highly functioning brains. 

Undoubtedly the challenge of music is good for the brain, but it is also a great way for people to keep alert and active throughout their life. Elderly individuals who regularly listen to or play music have less anxiety, report fewer instances of depression, and generally experience an overall beneficial effect from their interaction with music. If the study of music can so positively influence the lives of people of all ages, why are so many lessons aimed only at children? If more online music education content was aimed at people who are over 20 years old, all the way up to age 70 or 80, and beyond, the beneficial effects would be enormous. 

The benefits of music education flow naturally into other areas of study. Children who study music perform better in other disciplines. Additionally, music lessons have been shown to help children develop stronger social skills. With such lessons many children learn to overcome stage fright and experience firsthand the satisfaction that comes from learning a new skill. 

And by encouraging adults to indulge their interest in music on a long-term basis their lives are enriched. As they notice the mental stimulation they receive through the study of music, they will also find that their stress levels are reduced. Plus there is an innate sense of achievement that comes from taking on a challenging hobby. Every accomplishment is a victory in itself and anyone listening to the musician will derive pleasure from the experience. 

As adult students of music reap the benefits of their continuing education, they are more apt to become ambassadors of local and national school music programs.  Budget cuts often mean that arts programs are first on the chopping block, but this new trend may make people more proactive rather than just shrugging and thinking, “It’s only music class.” And new trends may begin to develop that could encourage more youngsters to start their own learning or even embark on a career in the music business. The focus would not necessarily be on an academic career, but rather on a path that may allow them to teach music to a broad range of students of varying ages and abilities by designing online music lessons. This could prove to be a very promising branch for the profession. 

Music education should really be for everyone and it certainly deserves a healthy dose of respect and appreciation.